Bounce Rate as a Ranking Signal

I received an e-mail from a reader who was interested in a post talking about bounce rate, and how that might be used by search engines as a possible ranking factor. The concept is that a higher bounce rate would be seen as an indication that a site is of relatively poor quality. For example, does a bounce rate of more than 70% mean that you have a bad site? That’s pretty high, right?

Bounce Rate Definition

First let’s start with a definition of what it means. There are two possible definitions – one is how long the user spends on your site. For example, if they are on the site less than 15 seconds, it is considered a bounce. The other measurement is the number of page views by the user during their visit to your site. For example, they see only one page and leave.

Your analytics package uses the page view approach, because they can’t measure time on site, because they don’t know how long you spend on the last page you visit. A search engine, however, does not know how many pages you visit (unless, using Google as an example, they leverage the Google toolbar or Google Analytics data), but the search engine can tell if you did a query, went to a site, and you were back at the search engine doing a query again 5 seconds later.

So what is an acceptable bounce rate? As with everything else on the web, the answer is that it depends. For example, if you have a reference oriented site, and the user gets the answer they are looking for as soon as they get to your page, they may simply leave. This is an example of a scenario where the fast exit from your site is actually an indicator of quality. The user got what they wanted very quickly.

Do search engines use Bounce Rate as a Signal

Do search engines use this as a signal? It is certainly possible that they could. They all have the ability to collect data by various means. They certainly have the ability to see how long (or short) the interval is between visits to their search engine. I asked the question of Matt Cutts and all Matt would say is that the signal was potentially a noisy one, meaning that it would be prone to error.

If they do use it as a signal, various types of filtering would need to be applied. For example, you would want to look at classes of sites in the same category as one another and compare their bounce rates. If Ford Motor Company has a higher bounce rate than General Motors, that might mean that the GM site is a better site. However, you would not want to compare the Ford Motor Company site to the Amazon web site. Their businesses and web site goals are just too different.

Another things you can do is look at many different signals together. For example, you look at bounce rate, and you look at bookmarks, you look at social media tags from sites like del.icio.us, etc. Each signal by itself maybe noisy but you don’t treat any one signal as an indicator. Instead, you look at the cumulative weight of all the signals together. In other words, if one signal says something negative, it doesn’t really matter. If 3 signals all look negative, you now start using it as ranking factor.

My sense is that bounce rate is something they use in a filtered manner, perhaps as I have outlined above. It does provide information, but it must be used judiciously. When signals like this are misused it can lead to lower index quality. All of the search engines want to highest possible quality index, because that leads to market share.

Don’t forget usability

Last, but not at all least, don’t forget about usability. High bounce rate may be an indicator of usability problems on your site. If you have a 70% bounce rate and you may be able to do things to make the site more functional for users, you may be able to lower the bounce rate to 60%. This could lead to a 33% increase in conversion – which is not something to sneeze at.

The usability perspective is the best one to use in evaluating bounce rate. You potentially get two wins for the price of one. More visitors from search engines, and a higher conversion rate. For that matter, a more usable site is more likely to get tagged more often on del.icio.us and other social book marking sites too.

Comments

  1. Mark Neigh says

    If analytics packages use the page view approach how does that effect sites built completely in Flash with Flash deep linking?

  2. says

    We have found that segmentation decreases your homepage bounce rate down to single digits. When the human visitor only has 2 -4 links to choose from they click one out of curiosity. This leaves you with more pages viewed, higher CTR, lower bounce rate which lead to more conversions and better CPA.

    It is my professional SEO opinion that engines are definitely tracking and calculating bounce rate for Universal Ranking. A month ago Google Analytics changed the way they figured bounce, with complaints they switched it back. This movement in the analytics camp signifies that they do use bounce rate… if not we optimizers definitely use it as an indicator of human interaction and the “like ability” of our client sites.

    Best,

    SEharness

  3. says

    Hi Mark – you ask an excellent question. The answer will vary greatly be package. However, for many packages, I suspect that an all Flash site that lives all at one URL will look like a single page view. As a result, every visit will look like a bounce.

    Major analytics packages do offer ways to solve this problem through the use of additional tagging. Google Analytics just announced something along these lines.

  4. says

    You said it best with what you said last.

    Usability is the key. If your site isn’t usable, then it’s bounce rates and other metrics are going to suck granite.

    Isn’t the bottom line in measuring the success of any site going to be whether or not the users got what they wanted out of it? Not sure what you call that one, but once I get a name for it, I’m going to bottle it.

  5. says

    This would make it so easy to bounce your competiton I am not sure how it could be used. It has been used at times by Google ( you could see the tracking in the source at times), but most likely for datamining. So that is pristine. But as soon as it would get out that they are using for SERPs, amazingly every high ranking site would get less time on their pages. Hmmm. Can you say DirectHit?  Here is an article from 1999 about that technology: http://www.marketposition.com/blog/archives/1999/12/scoring_better.html

  6. says

    Great article. I was driving home from a client meeting yesterday pondering how, in the light of link abuse, could search engines establish the quality of a site. I figured bounce rate must be a useful metric, Googled it today and bingo, this article.

    Thanks.

    d

  7. says

    I am with Tim’s post [above]

    “This would make it so easy to bounce your competiton I am not sure how it could be used”

    If bounce rate is factored in with any weight then it will take about 5 seconds before some script junky writes a little ‘visit a million sites for 1 second’ tool. There are too many variables, I look at a lot of sites for only the time it takes to load the page – just because I don’t like the design doesn’t mean that others don’t find what they want by clicking around the site for half an hour.

    ^
    ^
    There you go.. just force people to click more pages – hide your content.

    Can’t see it happening myself – but then man on the moon probably wasn’t something I would have considered either :)

  8. says

    If I post the google .js file on my homepage for ww.cdncc.com and not on the other 1000 subpages on my site will it skew the results negatively?

    If someone enters at a subpage and leaves through the main homepage will that not reflect badly (they would appear to only visit one page, seeing as thats the only one with the code)?

    If I include the code on multiple pages does the surfer load the js file each time or is it loaded just once and referenced from the cache for future pages. I am concerned my viewers will have slower downloads if they need to download the javscript file every page.

  9. says

    Paul – I have actually measure the response time of the Google JS, and it appears to execute in a few tenths of a second. On the sites I am involved in, we don’t worry about putting it on every page.

    I am not sure why you would want to put the JS only on the home page, as you lose much of the value of the tool by doing so.

    That noted, Google does not count a visit to one page of your site, followed by a click to another site as a bounce. What they can track is that someone clicked on a search result to your site, and then came back to the search engine really quickly.

  10. says

    Like many potential factors Google could use it can be ripe for abuse, so they have to be tight lipped about it, if they come out and say this is an important factor that they use to rank sites then people will jump on it.

    Also as they say there is allot of ‘noise’ if you compare sites from the same industry you can still run into problems, firstly how do you classify what industry a site is? Many sites have different purposes, some want a high bounce rate, have a look at virgin.com, they want people to get off this site as quickly as possible, and go to the appropriate virgin business.

    Overall I think they may use it but just not weight it strongly as a ranking factor because of the potential vagueness

  11. says

    Do Google really can use Google analytics data into its algorithme?
    I should read the general conditions ;-)
    Thx for an answer (by mail if possible)
    Patrick
    ps: great article, very interesting, i think that within a short period of time google or the next google will change the search business by using great quality indicators up to the bounce rate (i’ms still looking ofr it ;-)

  12. says

    As the spammy side of the link building industry has devalued linking as an accurate indicator of quality they have to be looking at ways of weeding out the spam using an algorithm as opposed to relying on their search quality team. IMHO

    d

  13. says

    @Funny – that is not a bounce, that is a referral.

    Also @Funny – why compare industries? Rankings are compared by search phrase. Advantages and dosadvantages resulting from bounce rates effect different search phrases differently, just as on-page factors and inbound links.

    @Jaak – those are all bounces. If you bounce after 1 second, you bounce. If you bounce after 10 minutes, you bounce. This is not a black abd white measurement. It absolutely needs to be a complex algorithm, as much as it needs to be able to distinguish between real people and bots.

    I wrote an ebook on how to optimize a website for lower bounce rates: http://www.seo-writer.com/books/sticky-seo.html . You might find some answers in there.

  14. says

    I have found that bounce rates is one of several factors of determining ranking, but it might be a higher factor then previously thought of. Generally, if a site has a LOT of pages of content and users stay on a site for longer periods of time and view more then 2-3 pages, then that sites ranks better then a site that has a higher bounce rate and less pages of content. The fact that Google would take this into account seems to make common sense to me. They would be foolish not to.

  15. says

    David – Just view’d your ebook and just by browesing through it, I can for sure gain a few more tip.
    I’ll let you know how I get on

    Thanx

  16. says

    I am looking around for a bit of general advice regarding bounce rates, and what is considered acceptable. I am new to this SEO stuff, and I am finding that I am spending a lot of time looking for information.

    Any help please.

    Also going to read the e-book.

    p.s. interesting article

  17. says

    Hi Luke – Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to your question. To illustrate, a site that is a reference site may have a high bounce rate, because users may visit one page, get the answer they want, and then leave. For this type of site, this could be considered a good result, and a high “bounce rate” as measure by your analytics tool or the search engines may be desirable.

    So there are 2 ways to think about the right answer for your site:

    1. What are the bounce rates of other sites in your industry? Of course, this data is probably hard to get.

    2. Conduct landing page optimization tests, using tools such as Google Website Optimizer (https://www.google.com/analytics/siteopt/). Use this to see what types of changes to your site lower your bounce rate, while increasing total conversions at the same time.

    The latter is probably the best strategy. Hope that helps!

  18. says

    I agree with @Eric Enge and others who say that the bounce rate is not the whole story. I suspect that Google factors in the time spent on the page. If they did not, then they would be devaluing a lot of the best informational pages on the web — pages that provide answers without requiring the user to visit another page on the site.

  19. says

    hiii
    first thanks for this post
    .Like many potential factors Google could use it can be ripe for abuse, so they have to be tight lipped about it, if they come out and say this is an important factor that they use to rank sites then people will jump on it.

  20. says

    Hi Mark – you ask an excellent question. The answer will vary greatly be package. However, for many packages, I suspect that an all Flash site that lives all at one URL will look like a single page view. As a result, every visit will look like a bounce..

  21. says

    A high bounce rate can also mean the landingpage was spot on and no additional browsing for the right page was necessary.

    Or the topic is wide and could not be tailored for a large audience.

    But in most cases high bounce rate is bad.

  22. says

    Answer to:
    Could someone tell me what’s the easiest way to know how long someone stays on your site?

    Install Google Analytics
    Go to “visitors”
    Go to “visitors trending”
    Go to “Time on site”

    Nice post!

  23. says

    Nice article,
    As said before I believe a high bounce rate could also be proof that it is a worthwhile site. For example, a visitor decides within a split second to follow the call to action.

    Isn’t the Internet the new media to serve our needs by finding and filtering information quicker than the old school media?

  24. says

    Hee!

    First: Thank you for posting!

    I’m going to ask a question I’ve seen more in the comments but I’ve seen no answer.. What is an easy way to keep visitors on your site?

    Thanks

    • says

      Hi Amy – a great question! Unfortunately, there is no easy answer, but here are some thoughts:

      1. Start with an analysis of what it is that people are really looking for when they come to your site. I know that can be hard at times, but try to use your existing traffic to get this info. For example, put a poll on your site and ask them. Don’t have much traffic yet? Run a PPC campaign on the keywords you want to rank for to get it.

      2. Analyze what your competition does. Do they answer the need you found in step 1? Is there a way that you can do that better than they did? If you can figure out how to do this in a way that is better and/or unique you will be in great shape.

      3. Build whatever you found in step 2.

      4. Measure and test it. Test it using conversion testing and polls of your users.

      This may not be the easy answer you were looking for, but it is really the best answer, and the one that should best stand the test of time. To give you some specific ideas, here are some that might help:

      1. A cool tool that solves a problem for the user. Best if this tool is unique from what others offer.

      2. User generated content specific to your site topic. You may need to seed this, but you can do that using sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

      3. A unique UI that draws the user in and gets then to engage with your site.

      Hope that helps!

  25. says

    Bounce rate is a difficult aspect. Our site has a low bounce rate on our main keywords but some longtail keywords have a big bouncerate. And i have no clue why… :(

    Great post btw!

  26. says

    Bounce rate is always hard to interpret right.

    I.e. in Analytics if the visitor enters a page from the search engine and stays there for some time and then returns to the search page, analytics counts a bounce. Solution: trigger any kind of event happening on your page after for example 20 seconds (discussable).

  27. says

    hello , I think it’s not true in the google analytics side , but in the serp yes google use this as a signal when someone click on a result in google then hit the return button or previous button in the browser and click on another result in google result page , then google say this website is more relevant than the previous one , when a lot of people do the same then it’s definitely not an accident in this situation the site may be overpassed by the other one in google eyes

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