When Bounces Affect Your Rankings


Both Google and Bing have indicated that your sites bounce rate can affect your rankings in the SERPs (how much is a separate issue). This has caused some confusion among website owners, chiefly because what constitutes a bounce means different things to different people (and different analytics platforms). Let's talk about bounce rate, what it means and when a bounce will and will not affect your rankings.

What is a Bounce?

Broadly defined, a bounce is a visit that hit your site and then left right away. Analytics platforms and search marketers alike tend to define a bounce in one of two ways:

A short visit: Some marketers measure a bounce as a visit that took less than a certain amount of time, for example visits of under 1 minute.

A single-access entry: Many analytics platforms define a bounce as a visit in which a user did not visit any pages on the site other that the one that he/she landed on.

When hearing that search engines evaluate bounce rate as part of their ranking algorithm, many website owners hit the roof. After all, what if a user bounces from the site because they immediately find exactly what they're looking for? Sometimes a visit doesn't have to be very long or over multiple pages to be a totally successful user experience!

Settle down. Search engines know that. They're not unfairly judging you based on your total bounce rate.

What is a Bounce, to a Search Engine?

To a search engine, a bounce means something different than it does to your own analytics. When it comes to using bounce rate as a signal, search engines are only looking at people who click on your site in the SERPs and then immediately click back to the search results. Not people who visit your site and then leave by clicking a link or typing in a different URL, and not people who visit only one page but don't return to the search results. Call it the Back-button bounce rate.

As with many search ranking factors, it helps to think WHY search engines would want to take Back-button bounce rate into account. When a search engine evaluates a page to rank for a certain keyword, they want to know: will people searching for this keyword find what they're looking for on this page? Visitors who click on your page and then immediately return to the search results clearly haven't found what they are looking for; if they had, they would stop looking, right?

How Low Does My Back-Button Bounce Rate Need to Be?

No website is going to be the very best experience for 100% of searchers. Some people are going to click the Back button no matter how awesome you are, and search engines get that, too. Additionally, some industries have higher bounce rates than others (for example, in retail niches where customers are doing a lot of comparison shopping, Back-button bounces are commonplace).

Search engines have gotten pretty good at figuring out what industry you're in, and what other websites are competing in your niche. As long as your Back-button bounce rate is comparable to (or better than) your competitors', you're in fine shape.

Focus less on getting your bounce rate below a certain threshold, and more on getting your bounce rate as low as you can. One way you can do this is to take a look at which pages on your site are getting traffic from which organic search keywords, and make sure that those pages are, in fact, good matches for the search intent behind their target keywords. Working to reduce your Back-button bounce rate this way isn't just beneficial for search rankings; its good for your customers, too.

More about bounce rates:

About the Author: Ruth Burr

Ruth Burr has been working in SEO since 2006, both in-house and agency-side. She's currently working as the Lead SEO at SEOMoz. Ruth's passions include data-driven decision making, quality content, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

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