Understanding Bounce Rate – Is It Bad For SEO?

The next question we're going to tackle in our weekly series, is perhaps one of the most misunderstood SEO metrics: Bounce Rate.

In fact, is bounce rate even an SEO metric at all?

TL:DR - It's not, but you should pay attention to it anyway.

What Exactly A Bounce Is - And Why Affiliates Probably WANT A Bounce

Google defines a bounce as a single-page session on your website.

This means someone visits your site, then leaves, without viewing another page on your website. If 100 people visit a page on your site, and 75 of them only read that page then leave, you'll see a 75% bounce rate on that particular page.

Wow, the majority of people reading your post hated it and left.

Or did they?

We'll address what a bounce means in terms of your audience further down the page.

But first, let's look at the more pertinent question...

Does Bounce Rate Affect SEO?

This is one of those myths that won't really die. Does your bounce rate result in better or worse rankings in Google?

The answer is no, for a few reasons:

1.) Bounce Rate is a Google Analytics metric that can be easily manipulated, and can go wrong if Analytics isn't set up correctly. Case in point, for a while HPD had a bounce rate of 3%. It's almost a guarantee that some other code on our site was messing with the GA tracking.

2.) Not every site on the planet uses Google Analytics

3.) There are multiple different things that cause a bounce, and only 1 or 2 of them are a sign of poor quality content. Google couldn't reward or punish a site for a bounce based off this metric, because it would be wrong.

Now, as Yoast point out in their article on the subject here, Google probably DOES have some way of identifying when somebody visits your site, and then presses the back button to return to Google and continue their search. It would absolutely make sense for them to take this into consideration with rankings.

It's just that Bounce Rate does not measure that particular thing.

Ok So What Does Bounce Rate Actually Mean Then?

There are generally three reasons for a bounce:

  1. Somebody finds your article, doesn't like it, and leaves.
  2. Somebody finds your article, gets the information they're looking for, and leaves.
  3. Somebody finds your article, clicks a link to a different site, and leaves (for example, an Amazon affiliate link. Woah wait...)

And even if the reason for the bounce is reason number 1..that STILL doesn't mean your site is poor quality. It could just mean the traffic source isn't a match for your content. Maybe their friend shared your article on Facebook, they clicked it out of curiosity, realized it wasn't for them, and left.

This is why Bounce Rate is a bit more complicated than most people realize, and why it's absolutely not a pure quality score.

So how do we dig deeper and decide if our bounce rate is a sign of room for improvement or not?

Ultimately, we should always be trying to improve our sites, so it is still worth paying attention to bounce rate from an optimization and user experience perspective.

Analyzing Bounce Rate

The first thing you should do, is look at bounce rate on a page by page basis. Looking at your site's average rate isn't going to give you enough of a picture.

With any particular page, you have to ask yourself, what is the goal of this page?

Is it lead capture? If that's the case, then you would indeed want to see a lower bounce rate. The more people who are using your optin form, the lower your bounce rate is.

Are there affiliate links to another site? If this is the case, then a high bounce rate could be a good thing. If people are visiting your page, reading it, then clicking affiliate links over to Amazon (or wherever), then that's a sign your site is working well.

To troubleshoot this particular page and see if it is living up to its goal, you'd want to do the following:

  1. Set individual tracking IDs for your affiliate links, and make sure people are indeed clicking them from this page.
  2. Install Clicky (an alternative to Google Analytics) and see if people are clicking the links.
  3. Use a tool like Sumo's content analytics or heatmapping to see what percentage of your page people are reading, and where they are clicking.

If your bounce rate is high, but people are clicking affiliate links and reading most of the article, you likely have nothing to worry about.

What if the article is informational, and people are just reading it, getting the info they want, then leaving? Well, that might mean you don't need to worry about bounce rate, but you should still ask yourself if you can utilize this page better. Can you add more internal links to money pages? Can you include an opt-in to capture emails?

Can you find a way to add affiliate links to that post?

What If Your Bounce Rate Really Is A Sign Your Content Sucks

While I've done a pretty good job here of explaining why bounce rate isn't a necessarily a bad thing. We still need to learn how to rule out the fact it COULD still be a bad thing.

There is still a chance that people are bouncing because they don't want to read the article anymore, or visit other pages on your site.

And there are two possible reasons for this:

1.) Your content isn't good enough

2.) Your traffic isn't a fit for your content.

So let's dig deeper in Google Analytics to see if we can find out the answer.

If we look at some of our top pages over the last week, we can see the bounce rates highlighted in the red box:

Now, if we click on last week's FAQ post, about rankings dropping, and then in the "Secondary dimensions" dropdown we choose "Source/Medium", we can see this:

I've highlighted two columns because there is an interesting interpretation on this.

People who visited us from sharing the post on Facebook had a lower bounce rate than our email subscribers. Why? Well, one interpretation is that our email subscribers don't need to click around and check out our other posts, whereas FB visitors might have been checking us out for the first time, and on average they looked around more.

This particular page didn't have any internal links to other posts on the site, so it might not be the best example.

However, I wanted to show you how to analyze the bounce rates of different traffic sources, because this can help you troubleshoot.

What if you've been sharing your posts on Pinterest and in Facebook Groups, and those particular sources have a high bounce-rate, whereas people who find your post in Google may have a low bounce rate? This would suggest your post is actually answering the questions of those who are finding it in Google (a good thing), while Pinterest/FB visitors may not be a perfect match for the content.

If this were the case, I'd say the post is probably fine, you just have not been getting it in front of the right people.

On the flip side, what if 99% of the people who visit your post are finding it in Google, but the bounce rate is high?

This was the case with one of my affiliate sites. It was getting a lot of traffic from Google, but had 95% bounce rate, and it had no affiliate links on it.

I did some digging, and realized that the post was an info article about whether or not you could use something indoors (I'm not going to reveal the keyword, but it was something like "Can you use BLA BLA THING indoors?". However, the post was ranking highly for a buying keyword related to "An indoor BLA BLA THING".

So people were looking for an actual item they could use indoors, and I was just answering whether or not they could use it. No wonder people were reading the article and bouncing. The article itself was not bad, but it didn't give  them exactly what they wanted.

Note: I've now changed the article to be a better fit, and the best thing is, it now has affiliate links related to what people are searching for.

Conclusion - Bounce Rate Is Useful - But Not For The Reasons You Think

So Bounce Rate is definitely a useful metric. It can help you understand if your content is doing its job, and if it's not, it can help you understand why that might be.

There are MANY reasons you could have a high bounce rate, and only one of them is a sign of poor quality content. It's more likely that your content is either doing its job, or just isn't matched up to the audience.

You don't need to try to arbitrarily improve your bounce rate for the sake of it. Having a lower rate isn't going to send a signal to Google that your content deserves higher rankings.

However, you CAN use bounce rate to identify situations where your content could need improving, or could need to be shared with a different audience, and for that, it's well worth learning how to dig deeper.

Just don't stress when your rankings aren't where you want them to be and you think your bounce rate is the purpose.

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