The howdy blog

March 27, 2010

A Comprehensive Guide to Improving Bounce Rates

everything you need to improving bounce rates

Here's to hoping your bounce rate
isn't this high.

Bounce rates are an often misunderstood site statistic, and discarded way too quickly. They're a mysterious beast, because they mean something different to each website.

For example, a site selling a product will have vastly lower bounce rates than a blog. In fact, different pages on your site should have different bounce rates as well. It totally depends on the goal of the page.

So it's no wonder that most people ignore the bounce rate altogether.

What a tragedy! The bounce rate can be one of the most important metrics in your site's statistics.

If you understand how to analyze bounce rates, you can improve your sites in these ways:

  • learn more about who visits your site and why
  • improve your "landing pages"
  • improve organic SEO campaigns
  • improve keyword bidding in PPC campaigns
  • improve user experience across the board

(For more info check out Avinash Kaushik's article that has 5 ways to use bounce rate to improve your site. Classic.)

In short, improving your bounce rate improves your overall conversion rate.

Bounce Rate Definition

So what's a bounce rate? To put it in an equation:

Bounce Rate = Total Number of Visits Viewing One Page / Total Number of Visits

Or, to put it simply:

The Bounce Rate is the rate at which people leave your site after viewing only one page.

Simple enough, right?

What Causes High Bounce Rates?

Bounce rates are caused by any of these actions (thanks Wikipedia)

  • Clicking on a link to a page on a different web page
  • Closing an open windows or tab
  • Typing a new web address
  • Clicking the “Back” button
  • Session timeout (ie. left the browser open to go watch more Desperate Housewives)

But on a more birds-eye level, high bounce rates could mean that your site has some issues with user experience. High bounce rates could mean that there's

  • lack of trust qor a
  • lack of overall interest to the user

Lack of interest is something that can't always be helped. You're not going to please everyone who comes to your site. But lack of trust is something that you definitely should be worried about, and can easily be fixed with design. (More on this later. You might want to subscribe.)

The Caveat

Like we mentioned earlier, not every site will have the same bounce rate. This is especially true with blogs.

Avinash Kaushik says that blogs will have a much higher bounce rate than a normal site, and that's fine.

"They are a unique beast amongst online experiences: people come mostly only to read your latest post, they'll read it and then they'll leave. Your bounce rates will be high because of how that metric is computed, and in this scenario that is ok.

You don't want the bounce rate to be 98%, new visitors to your blog will still come and look around and read different posts etc. But I would not worry if my bounce rate for this blog is 50%.

Analyzing Bounce Rates

Jacob Neilsen shows us that every site has four sources of visitors that make up your bounce rate:

  1. Low-value referrers. These are your bounce rate killers, and you don't need to worry about them. These visitors come from places like Digg and other social news sites, and are historically not going to be your target audience. They're fickle and flighty, at best. They just don't stick around.
  2. Direct links. Scoring direct links from other sites as a recommendation are pretty good at visiting multiple pages on your site, and might be good candidates for subscribing to your content.
  3. Search Engines (aka "cha-ching!"). These are highly motivated visitors, and the most likely to buy products, click pages, and engage. They usually carry a low bounce rate, and if they don't you have some seriously bad mojo with your site in terms of user experience. These users should be gobbling up your pages, learning more and more about your site and performing some call to action (subscribing, buying, etc.).
  4. Loyal users. These visitors come regularly, and their bounce rate will vary. While they may engage (comments, etc.), they might also only have one or two page views before leaving. This could be because they're sharing the page, or they've already read your recent stuff.

A visual representation of the types of visitors. Graciously lifted from the usability mastermind Jacob Neilsen.

How to Improve Bounce Rates

Improving the bounce rate of a site can be done in many ways. It all depends on where the site is failing the visitor.

Improve your design

Oftentimes the most powerful thing a site can do is improve their overall design. Neilsen references a site design that improved bounce rates from 30% to 2.5%. Here are some ways to spruce up design for better conversions and bounce rates. Cleaner, clutter-free designs work best with clear navigation.

Deep linking

Deep linking is an art. Just because you've already written an article doesn't mean you can't update it with more relevant internal links to newer content.

Better calls to action

Are your calls to action weak? Are they not telling your visitors exactly what to do? If not, you should. People like being told exactly what to do.

Analyze what does and doesn't work

It's important to drill down in your analytics and figure out what's causing people to take action on your site, and what's turning them away. Go into your analytics programs, (Google Analytics is free and great), and check out the bounce rate of your pages. First sort by most successful bounce rate (low), and take note of the pages that are doing well. Then sort by worst bounce rate (high) and narrow in on what's causing visitors to leave.

Do you have titles that don't mesh with your content? Do people leave on pages with shorter copy, or longer copy? Where are they going when they leave? These are all important questions that your site analytics should tell you.

Look for patterns in the data. You can learn a lot about your visitors and what works best for them just by digging deep into the bounce rate information of your site.

Add Related Content

This is similar to deep linking, but still worth it's own bullet point.

Showing related content at the end of the copy or post is something that can boost the bounce rate considerably.

If your site sells products, upsell. Show related products, or other items "they might like". If you've got a blog, show related posts at the end of entries. The best part about showing related content is that it usually happens automatically with plugins. Aside from installing them, they just work.

If you've got a blog, there are plugins that do this for you automatically (Wordpress, Drupal). Most shopping cart software has this feature too, either through modules or by manually specifying related products.

If you're wanting a bit more information on bounce rate and how to use it, check out Avinash Kaushik's 5 minute presentation below.

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