Bounce rates really do matter.

Face it. We all think our web sites are better than they probably are. This holds true for web professionals as much, if not more, as it does for everybody else. We build our websites and apply themes and designs to them that we find attractive and we want to believe everybody else does too. And it may be true that people find them attractive, but then again, why aren’t they sticking around? Why are we experiencing high bounce rates on well designed sites?

The issue of bounce rates has been widely discussed and and theories abound and are written about and contested all the time. As far as I know, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a definitive article anywhere that could claim with 100% certainty that bounce rates have a specific effect on SEO and Rankings. Google itself has not really been a great source of information on Bounce Rates and rankings, rather they are a little bit more quiet on the subject than I think a lot of web professionals are comfortable with.

We do know several things about Bounce Rate and how to reduce it though. It’s important to try and reduce it where it makes sense to do so. On a single landing page with no outbound links – no links at all – and a single call to action (get on my mailing list) it doesn’t really matter. There are only two possible outcomes of a visit to a landing page: bounce or sign up. But for web sites, we know the following:

  • If a user hits the back button, it’s a bounce
  • If the user closes the browser, it’s a bounce
  • If the user click a link to an external web site, it’s a bounce

I’m not claiming this list to be 100% “IT” as far as what constitutes a bounce, but these three things are the main things that you may be able to control. Let’s break those three things down further:

If a user hits the back button, it’s a bounce

Well, obviously. Right? Well, not exactly. The person may land on your page and stay there and read. They may have loved what you wrote, or the content of the page, or the product or service you’re selling, and they just go away satisfied. This is more likely true if they searched for something and landed on one of your blog posts. They landed, read it, and hit the back button. This is not a bad thing. Maybe people end up on the home page and read it, and then hit the back button to go back to what they were doing before. They may have bookmarked your site for later and will return for more. Maybe they found your site because it was a link on another web site or blog, an ad, a shared social media post… and they just wanted to get back to what they were doing. That’s not bad either.

If a user closes the browser, it’s a bounce

Ah… this is exactly like the back button, isn’t it? They land on a blog post, read it and love it, then they’re done for the night. Or they have to go back to work. They land on your home page and are impressed, but hey I gotta run. Not necessarily a bad thing, then, is it?

If a user clicks a link to an external web site, it’s a bounce

Once again, we’re talking about activity that may have nothing to do with your site or content. But this one IS your fault. You should make ALL external links open in a new tab or page so that your site stays right there. When they close the page that was opened due to the distraction of the hyperlink, your page will be right there and it may be that the user says to themselves, “oh, yeah! I forgot about this site” and continues on to read more, checking out different pages, reading a few posts… that’s something you can control. Don’t let external links become bounces.

So are bounces really important? Should I worry about it?

Well that all depends on the bounce rate itself. When you have over 90% bounces on your site, it might be a symptom of “Crappy Web Design” and it could just be that simple. Maybe your site has content exactly matching what the visitor was searching for, but they take one look at your site and think you aren’t as serious about your own business as they’d like to see in order to personally rank YOU as the best site they could have landed on and stay and keep reading and exploring.

If the visitor landed on a page of your site – any page – and hits the back button within less than 20 seconds, chances are that one of two primary reasons for a quick bounce have been realized: your SEO it not good or your DESIGN is not good. Those really have to be the two most important organic concepts here, and lets throw away the spreadsheets and the charts and the graphs and the blowing of smoke up our own asses: it’s either the content doesn’t match what they searched for or the site is not attractive and they leave. It’s that simple.

The rest of the bounces could be, well, not that important because of the reasons I’ve already stated, and if you really get into the analytics you can compare dwell rates to bounce rates because dwell rates will tell you how long they stayed on a page before bouncing. This isn’t the group that’s the problem. But wait, now I’m going to confuse you some more.

Maybe if your site wasn’t marginally attractive and instead they land there and immediately feel comfortable with the content and the design, they might not close the browser or hit the back button at all. They might just stay on your site longer than they intended to and they just might check out more content than they were searching for.

So how important is web site design, then?

Very important. It’s just as important as the content you create to feed the hungry masses. You know the hungry masses. The millions upon millions of people out there with a desire to learn about one thing or another. People have come to expect a certain standard and are easily turned off by bad design.

So what am I really talking about when I talk about design? It’s not just the graphics, the colors, and the placement of elements that matters. It’s the level of social integration. For example, can they log in with Facebook to comment? Can they share your great article with all of their various favorite social networking sites? Can they easily find you on Facebook, Twitter, G+, Youtube, and LinkedIn, to name a few? Is your site easy to navigate? And does it look good? Notice I put “does it look good” last?

How good does Wikipedia look? How about Google? Or Bing? They’re not too concerned about aesthetics at all. I think Bing is a bit more “eye candy” than Google but Google is still the best place to go to search for stuff particularly because it’s NOT eye candy. This is the point Microsoft misses with Bing. They can’t beat Google by making Bing more “fun”. When I’m searching for something, I couldn’t give two turds if the search site is “fun”. I tried Bing for a while and even signed up for their rewards and even though I’m a Microsoft Certified dude, they can’t even pay me to use Bing!!!

Your site needs to be clean, easy to read, easy to navigate, be tightly integrated with Social Networking, be responsive and display elegantly on any type or size of device or screen, and have content people can use to determine if your company and your offerings are where they will put their money. It’s as simple as that and it isn’t any more complicated.

Clean, simple to use, mobile optimized, social friendly, and of course, search optimized.

You don’t need dramatic colors, flash displays, enter pages with “fun animated stuff”.

Take my web site for example. I’ve changed my site design at least half a dozen times in the past couple of years, and I still got high bounce rates. Over 90%. I got a fair amount of traffic for a dull, boring consulting web site, but my bounce rate was very high. I kept telling myself that if Google didn’t think it was important enough to talk about too much, that it was probably OK. Until the last site design change.

Check out the Bounce Rate after I changed my site design this last time, only days ago:

Wow! For the last 90 days my bounce rates were mostly over 75%. But look what happened in the last 9 or 10 days. It dropped below 25%. Here’s a closer look at the same bounce rate data, but for only 30 days. I wanted to show you 90 days first so you would know that I’m not kidding when I say I had high bounce rates for a long time until I changed the design to what you see now.


This incredibly dramatic drop in bounce rates are directly attributable to the theme change and two additional changes I made on the site: I removed my picture (yeah, I know ha ha) and I removed some language that I always liked but realized could be taken the wrong way. And the bounce rates dropped below 25%. A drop like that is not an anomaly, because it dropped almost immediately and remained consistently low after the changes were complete.

Now if this doesn’t convince you to stop trying to design web sites as if they were art projects and start designing them as if they were important points of contact between a business and their customers, nothing will.

Have an AWESOME Day!