July 14th, 2008 by Craig
Reducing high bounce rates is a hot topic in the SEO world, and web site owners are looking for answers. I tell them not to worry so much because within that high bounce rate is a wealth of knowledge that they need to apply.
The high bounce rate itself is a direct result of the approach a web site owner is using to generate their traffic. Visitors leaving a site is not necessarily a bad thing depending on how, and why they arrived in the first place. It is important to engage a visitor and give them a reason to click another link, but understanding the visitor’s motive for being on a site is also important information.
The ultimate goal is to convert a visitor into a customer, but understanding that not all visitors need to be customers will help a site owner focus their efforts in the right place. That place is to make sure that the web site properly serves the needs of the “loyal customer”. A real customer is someone who likes the site, returns often, and purchases the product or information being sold.
So, to make sure this type of visitor remains loyal, the site needs to be perfectly designed and easily navigated buy a customer. There is nothing worse than having a visitor arrive at a site ready to learn, engage, or buy and then having that visitor leave because the site is not user friendly.
A proper look into the factors of a site’s bounce rate can reveal a gold mine of information. The information should be used to help the owner of the site strengthen their position among the competition. Some of that traffic leaving the site is extremely valuable in branding the site as an authority on a particular subject. If a site is packed full of good information, some visitors will scoop up some knowledge and leave. That is alright too. A site owner has to learn to let go of the tire kickers and use them for the value they provide. That value is an increased awareness of the site, and if built properly, an increased search engine ranking due to the site’s relevance and popularity.
It is really up to the web site owner to make sure they are making the most of information provided to them by their bounce rate. A high bounce rate is not always bad, and a low bounce rate is not always good. When I see a low bounce rate, I’m happy for the success but realize there are other things that need to be done to bring in traffic. A high bounce rate is simply an indication that tweaks need to be made to the design of the site in order engage the visitor. As long as the site is serving the needs of its targeted customers, everything else is just icing on the cake.
Real customers are brought in by the search engines. These people are actively seeking information. If the bounce rate on those visitors is high, serious work needs to be done to better optimize the site and provide more benefit to a visitor. It is this type of visitor that needs to be converted into a customer to insure short term success. Traffic coming in from other sources can be converted but should be looked at as potential customers.
Way too much attention is focused on the behavior of visitors brought in by social networks like digg and stumble upon. These visitors are great because they increase traffic but by their very nature, they are just the there because they are reacting to information they receive as part of their social networks. These visitors are very low value. They didn’t search for a product or service and if those visitors bounce it does not really matter. They get a glimpse of the site, and there is a chance they might click around and become interested. There is also a chance they might bookmark the site and return at a later time.
The important thing to remember here is to learn to let go of these visitors and see them as merely a bonus.
Another trap people are falling into is worrying too much about the traffic created through direct links to other sites. Again, the number of visitors that come in this way is terrific, but those visitors just arrived because they were on a different site. It does not mean that they are in the market for the product or information being provided. The chance to expose the web site to them is awesome. But they can only be thought of as those “potential” customers. It is not fair to say that anything was lost by not converting that traffic into a sale. This traffic is also best looked at as a way to increase the presence of the site and make it more valuable to people using the search engine.
Perhaps the most misdiagnosed information from a bounce rate study is the behavior of those visitors that are already loyal to a site. They come there because they like it. The content and design of the site is geared toward keeping them as customers while new customers are groomed. However, the simple fact is that these people will not purchase something every time they visit. They may return several times without any sort of real conversion but the key is to let them come and go as they please. Do not be discouraged by this type of visitor’s behavior.
So even though there may be a high bounce rate on a site, the origin of the incoming traffic has to be analyzed before any real conclusion can be drawn. There are many reasons why a visitor might come to a site and as long as a site owner is serving the traffic that comes in from the search engines, there is no need to panic. A high bounce rate is an opportunity to look at the information and make changes when appropriate. It is not a call to abandon ship or do anything drastic.