So what exactly is a website's bounce rate? It's simply a measure of the proportion of your visitors who show up, then leave after having visited nothing more than the page they arrived on. A bounce rate that's too high means something is wrong with your site – it's too boring, too irrelevant, or just too hard to figure out. Keeping a low bounce rate means you're doing a good job of interesting (or enticing) people to go beyond the first page, and burrow deeper into your site content. It also helps Google know that search terms used by visitors to your site are relevant to them, and subsequently helps improve your site's search engine rankings.
Although there's some debate as to whether Google uses raw bounce rate as a direct factor in ranking a website, it's obvious that a bouncy website isn't going to generate a loyal following, and low repeat visits means lower site traffic, both of which contribute to dragging your website to the bottom of the search pile.
Reducing your website bounce rate is not rocket science, but it does require thought, effort and patience. Identifying your typical visitor's profile is an important first step:
- Why do people come to your website?
- Who are they – old, young, male, female?
- What are they looking for?
- Where did they come from?
- What website did they go to after leaving yours?
- What did they do once they were on your website?
The answers to questions like these are crucial to understanding your website's visitors' behavior, and – more importantly – what motivates their visit. You'll find (free) resources like Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools to be of great assistance in identifying your visitors' behavior. Armed with plenty of information, you'll be a lot better placed to identify problem areas ... and get to work on correcting them.
One of the most common causes of a bouncy website is irrelevant content. Identifying which keywords are used by your visitors to find your website helps a lot to understand what their expectations are when they get there. If you disappoint them, by providing something other than what they're looking for, they'll leave.
Relevant content also needs to be accessible, and it's important to write for the audience you're looking to attract. It's pointless being the 21st century's Shakespeare, and a total waste of time paraphrasing Chaucer, if your website is all about celebrity gossip for the under-15s. Trust me, they'll bounce right off your site faster than you can say "Twilight".
Empty websites, or ones that are just too light on content, leave visitors with the impression that they've been short changed – they made the "effort" of searching and clicking, and will be none-too-happy if all you have for them is 2 short paragraphs and a picture. Meeting expectations is one thing, but you also need to provide opportunities to explore and discover your site content. "Surfing" is half the fun of being online, so give your visitors interesting waves to ride – even ones they might not have anticipated.
Finally, rendering your website navigation difficult is a sure-fire way to make visitors flee, and it isn't all simply about menus. Cluttering your pages with too much distracting (and irrelevant) visual content doesn't make people like your website, it just confuses them and drives them away. Keeping a clean, easy-to-navigate site with consistent menus and other relevant navigational elements will help your visitors find their way around (and encourage them not to bounce off right away).
When you're next working on your website, don't forget that a website is a lot like a magazine in the dentist's waiting room. Too much fluff and people won't keep flicking through the pages, they'll just toss it aside and get another one. As you start to make a website (or when you're reworking or updating your site content), you need to ensure that you maintain a good balance between interesting content, appealing design and easy navigation. Never ignore a website or page that bounces. It doesn't matter how great your website builder is, or how talented a webmaster you are - a bouncy site means you're not getting through to your visitors. And if you can't communicate with your public, then you might just be wasting your time.