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Meet My Old Friend, Bounce Rate

August 19th, 2010 | | Basic SEO Tips, Search Behavior, Usability

In an SEO agency, one of the most difficult challenges is relaying SEO actions and improvements back to client contacts and their teams. Whether it is a lack of SEO understanding or just the overwhelming excitement over the possibility of an increase in search conversions, clients inevitably (and quite understandably) want to see SEO results immediately. However, the SEO process is a long distance run when compared to its short distance PPC companion.

Many factors play into SEO efforts including the competitive search landscape of the industry in question, the current state of a website’s SEO foundation, and the overall flexibility of a site’s architecture. Thus, as a marathon runner, search engine optimizations can take months of basic website adjustments and enhancements before significant improvements in search engine rank can be reported back to the client. In the meantime, like a high school senior waiting by the mailbox to see if they have been accepted into the university of their choice, clients impatiently wait to hear back how many of their target keywords are ranking on the first page.

Ultimately, the beginning of a search engine optimization process is an exciting time for both the client as well as the SEO agency.  For the client, there is the promise of an increase in website traffic, new relevant customers, and an opportunity to get a step ahead of the competition. Therefore, the first step in the process is to manage client expectations and provide them with measures, other than search engine rank, that they can easily understand and report back to their teams. For me, this is when I usually call on my old friend, bounce rate.

Bounce Rate for the Client

Bounce rate is a wonderful metric because for a client, it is easy to understand and very important to their brand in the online setting. Furthermore, for the SEO agency, bounce rate is easy to monitor, easy to report on, and something tangible the client can put their interest into while the site is being optimized to rank in higher search positions.

Additionally, bounce rate serves as a very effective introduction into the world of website optimization, especially for a client that is a little less knowledgeable on the subject area. To briefly elaborate, clients can quickly identify bounce rate as a good evaluation of their overall site design, architecture, and content (all key components in the SEO process) and then translate that statistical information to a consumer’s initial experience to the client’s brand, service, and company. In the end, this will present the ideas of relevancy and consistency in the mind of your client and should aid in explaining some of the SEO processes to them (for instance, building a keyword theme throughout a single webpage).

Defining Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is a statistic available in almost all website analytics applications. Basically, a “bounce” consists of a searcher landing on a webpage and then leaving that webpage before ever visiting any other pages within the site. Google analytics does a pretty adequate job when explaining the term:

Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page. Use this metric to measure visit quality – a high bounce rate generally indicates that site entrance pages aren’t relevant to your visitors. The more compelling your landing pages, the more visitors will stay on your site and convert. You can minimize bounce rates by tailoring landing pages to each keyword and ad that you run. Landing pages should provide the information and services that were promised in the ad copy.

In the case of SEO, the “ad copy” can be merely thought of as your organic search result. After entering a search query, a searcher is enticed by your organic search title and description, and upon clicking, they are taken to a landing page. Similar to PPC, this first introduction to your website/company/service/brand/etc. needs to be not only user friendly, but also relevant to the searcher’s initial search query.

Evaluating Bounce Rate

Are you excited, yet? Me too, but, before we venture out and start exploring the value that bounce rate can provide, it is important to keep in mind that bounce rate is a rather unique and potentially misunderstood metric. Therefore, there are a few details that both an SEO professional and a small business owner need to comprehend before evaluating success from this analytics stat.

Bounce rate vs. Exit rate

First, and most importantly, bounce rate is not the same as exit rate. As a general rule, I tell clients: Everyone needs to exit your site, but nobody needs to bounce. By definition, exit rate is the percentage of users that leave on any particular page during their visit based on the number of visits to that page. So, where a site visitor who bounced has only seen one page on a website, an exit counts as a visitor who may have seen two or more pages on your site and then navigates away from your site.

To continue comparing, bounce rate is very useful for evaluating landing pages. A high bounce rate on a landing page can mean a site visitor is determining the webpage to be irrelevant to their needs or too hard to navigate and find what they need. On the other hand, a high exit rate on a page may call out a particular page on your website that is distracting the from the user’s experience with your website.

Do not compare your bounce rate with other sites

It is also important to keep in mind that bounce rate is not a measurement that is often best compared with other websites, including competitor websites.  A number of factors could cause a particular company to have a much higher bounce rate than any other companies. For example, if your company shares the same name with a different company, your site has a higher chance of attracting irrelevant, unintended traffic, thus causing more bounces and a higher bounce rate. However, your competitor that has a unique name that no other company uses. Theoretically, they would have a lower bounce rate average because they see less irrelevant traffic.


Finally, blogs also deserve a measurement system of their own. Many times, users may visit a blog from an outside source, read the blog post that peaked their interest, and then, bounce off the page that they landed on. Thus, for a blogger, the goal was completed because the reader read the entire post, but the site’s bounce rate was negatively impacted due to the reader only reading one blog before leaving.

General Rule for Bounce Rate

Due to the above intricacies of bounce rate, there is no general rule for quality bounce rate scores.  Obviously, every website needs to establish its own quality bounce rate and aim to maintain that percentage. Personally, for most of my clients, I evaluate my non-paid search bounce rate as follows.

< 25% Great

25 – 35% Good

35 – 50% Okay

50 – 60% Worrisome

> 60% Concerned

Keep it in Perspective

Bounce rate is a wonderful metric to monitor for both SEO professionals and the clients looking for tangible results. It can provide a lot of value to your website optimizations and give a client a perspective to look at other than their search engine rank.

Finally, the rubric above satisfies most of my bounce rate needs, but it may not provide the best results for your client or company website. This guide as a whole should help you wrap your head around how you can use bounce rate more effectively in your SEO campaigns.

Okay, you be careful out there!

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