How Important are Bounce Rates for SEO, Really?

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Out of all the SEO metrics, few are debated as much as a website’s bounce rate

There’s no shortage of debates to choose, from, either. 

Is bounce rate an official ranking factor recognized by Google? Is a low bounce rate always more desirable than a high bounce rate? Does bounce rate factor in how long a user spends on a page? Does a higher bounce rate mean that your copywriting is no good?

These are all hotly debated questions within the SEO community, and many sources will provide different answers. 

It turns out there are a few reasons why bounce rate is such a polarizing metric, as there’s far more to it than meets the eye. 

According to the experts, a rate of 26 – 40% is considered a reasonable bounce rate, with rates over 70% being seen as bad – but is that always the case?

In this article, we’re going to clear up all the confusion surrounding bounce rates once and for all. That way, you’ll know how to optimize your bounce rate in the most effective way possible for your business. 

Read on to learn how important bounce rates are for SEO, as well as how you can improve your rates if they aren’t in the optimal range. 

What are Bounce Rates?

A bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors that only view a single page on your website before leaving, without making a purchase, filling out a form, or interacting/engaging with anything beyond the page they landed on. 

Therefore, if you have a high bounce rate, it’s a sign that lots of users are engaging in single-page sessions

To many digital marketers, a high bounce rate is always a bad thing. It means that customers aren’t engaging with your content or the products/services you’re offering. As such, they go to great lengths to lower bounce rates

Yet, are high bounce rates and single-page sessions always a bad thing?

Here’s where the topic gets a bit more complex, as it will depend on the site content on each page. 

For example, a high bounce rate on an e-commerce site is typically a sign that your copy, call-to-action, and product images/videos need work. That’s because the goal of e-commerce sites is to encourage user engagement, either by purchasing a product or entering their contact information. 

However, there are certain types of web pages where engagement beyond a single page is necessary.  

Understanding bounce rates for different types of webpages 

Here’s something that a lot of SEOs don’t realize – bounce rates DO NOT include how long a user spent on a page. 

An educational or informational webpage is bound to have a higher bounce rate due to its nature. Theoretically, a user could spend three hours consuming the content on one of your pages before leaving, and it would still count as a bounce.

While you may automatically perceive that as unfavorable, the user may have had a wonderful user experience and might eventually make a purchase based on what they learned from your website. 

That’s why some website owners have difficulty interpreting their bounce rates. 

Misinterpreting bounce rates: an example 

If your goal is to have the lowest bounce rate for ALL your web pages, regardless of their nature, you may wind up shooting yourself in the foot. 

How’s that?

Let’s say that one of your web pages is informative in nature and serves to educate users on a topic that relates to your products and services. 

As such, users tend to land on the page, consume its content (don’t forget; they may spend hours doing so, and you won’t know by bounce rate alone), and then bounce. 

Since ‘high bounce rate bad’ is the mantra shared by most SEOs, you want to lower the bounce rate, so you split it up into two pages – which forces interaction on behalf of the user. 

While that will lower your bounce rate, it’s more inconvenient for your visitors and can hurt your user experience

So if you notice some individual pages with high bounce rates, consider the nature of the content first before trying to lower it. A higher bounce rate isn’t that big of a deal if it’s an informative or educational page. 

If it’s a landing page intending to increase conversion rates, however, a high bounce rate is definitely a cause for concern, and you should do what you can to lower it. 

Are Bounce Rates an Official Google Ranking Factor?

Another hotly debated topic involving bounce rates is whether Google includes them as one of its ranking factors for SEOs

Matt Cutts (former head of Webspam at Google) publicly denied Google’s use of bounce rates in their ranking algorithms, which put the topic to bed for most. The consensus then became that bounce rates don’t affect SERP rankings. 

Yet, some experts refuse to believe that bounce rates have no impact on SEO, but they can’t seem to agree on how. 

Backlinko once famously stated that they found lower bounce rates directly correlated to higher search engine rankings – despite not being an official factor. However, in-depth tests from Rand Fishkin (Moz’s founder) were inconclusive. 

He experimented with a group of different websites by intentionally increasing the bounce rate to see the effect it had on SERP rankings. The results were split down the middle, with half of the websites seeing changes in rankings while the other half neither went up nor down. 

Due to the conflicting results of the research, it’s hard to say whether bounce rates impact SEO or not – yet one thing is undeniable – bounce rates are NOT an official SEO ranking factor for Google. 

That’s not to say that improving your bounce rates on certain pages won’t have a highly positive impact on your search traffic and revenue; you just need to know what to look for (more on how to improve your rates in a bit). 

What are some average bounce rates?

When analyzing the data, you’ll quickly notice that different industries and different types of websites have varying bounce rates. 

Once again, this is due to the fact that bounce rates don’t include how long users spend on an individual page

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the average bounce rates for various types of websites:

infographic on the Breakdown of bounce rates of various websites

E-commerce and retail sites

On average, these websites have a bounce rate of 20 – 45%. Notice that the averages are on the lower side, which has to do with the nature of the content (to encourage interaction to make a sale or generate a lead). 

B2B sites

The average bounce rate for business-to-business (B2B) websites jumps up a bit to 25 – 55%. The higher average is due to how the B2B sales process works, which is more educational and informational than e-commerce (due to the longer sales cycle). 

Lead generation websites

The average bounce rate hovers between 30 – 55% for web pages geared at generating leads only. 

Landing pages

General landing pages have a higher average bounce rate of 60 – 90%. This is due to the nature of some landing pages, as some aren’t always designed to convert. If your informational landing pages have a high bounce rate, that’s not always a cause for concern. 

Blogs, portals, and dictionaries

These web pages have the highest average bounce rate, coming in at a whopping 65 – 90%. Yet, as we’ve discussed before, it’s only natural for these page visits to end in a bounce since their primary purpose is to inform, educate, and entertain. 

You can use these averages as benchmarks for your different web pages

If you notice that your e-commerce pages are higher than 45%, you should strive to lower them. Yet, if your blogs have a bounce rate of 70%, you’re well within the average. 

In short, a high bounce rate isn’t always a bad thing, so it’s crucial to consider the context for higher bounce rates if you run into them. 

The difference between exit rate and bounce rates 

Before we move on, it’s essential to distinguish the difference between two similar metrics that you’ll find on Google Analytics; bounce rate and exit rate

While they have very similar-sounding names, they refer to two very different user actions. 

Bounce rate refers to users that land on a page and then leave without performing any actions. 

Exit rate is the overall percentage of users that left that page, even if they didn’t land on it. 

Thus, the key distinction between a bounce and an exit is if the user landed on the page or not. 

Let’s consider an example to make this concept clear. Say that a user searches for your website and lands on page A, your homepage from Google. After hanging out for a few seconds, they hit the back button on their browser and returned to the SERPs. 

Would this be considered an A) bounce or B) exit?

If you guessed A), you’re correct. It’s a bounce because the user landed on your page from a search engine and then left without taking any further action. 

In scenario two, the user lands on your homepage from Google but doesn’t immediately back off. Instead, they click through to page B, one of your product pages, and take a quick look around. After a brief moment, they close the window and leave. 

In this instance, that would count as an exit for your product page, not a bounce. It won’t be considered a bounce for your homepage either since the user clicked through to another page. 

Why Doesn’t Google View Bounce Rates as an SEO Ranking Factor?

Now that you know bounce rates AREN’T one of Google’s 200 SEO ranking factors, why is that?

Is there a specific reason why they chose to exclude this metric from their algorithm?

It turns out there are more than a few reasons why Google doesn’t bother including bounce rate as an SEO metric, even though it’s measured by Google Analytics (GA). 

Here are the four primary reasons why your overall bounce rate that appears on GA won’t affect your rankings. 

Infographic on Why Google Doesnt View Bounce Rate as SEO Ranking Factor

#1: Bounce rates don’t accurately measure the quality of a website 

We’ve already gone over the different average bounce rates for e-commerce, B2B, and blogs – and you’ve seen how widely they vary. 

As such, it’s next to impossible for Google’s algorithm to determine the purpose of each page to account for its bounce rate. As an example, if Google DID use bounce rates as a ranking factor, almost all blog pages would immediately get punished for simply doing what they intended to do. 

The problems with bounce rates don’t end there, though. 

Beyond the varying averages, image pages also cause issues when using bounce rates as an official metric

Why is that?

It’s because websites that have a lot of images that show up on Google searches will have some of the highest bounce rates. It makes sense if you think about it – a user searches for an image on Google, clicks on it to view it or save it, and then backs out of the window. 

That would cause the bounce rates for those pages to skyrocket, leading Google to punish them if the bounce rate was a ranking factor

Thankfully, bounce rates don’t affect SEO, as their unreliability would wreak havoc on many websites, even well-optimized ones. 

#2: Google doesn’t use Google Analytics data 

Many hold the false assumption that Google looks at GA data when ranking websites, which isn’t the case. 

While some may claim that Google gives preferential treatment to users of Google products (such as GA, GSC, and others), there’s no evidence to back this up. 

Moreover, if it was true that Google was favoring users of its products, that could place them in hot water legally. 

Not only that, but Google Analytics is exclusively for website owners and marketers, not for Google itself. 

After all, where do you think the data found in GA comes from? The fact is that Google already has the tools it needs to crawl, index, and rank websites without having to look at the data found in GA. 

Matt Cutts put this issue to bed when he claimed that Google Analytics data has no bearing on Google search results. 

That’s why it’s best only to use GA data to inform your SEO and marketing strategy, not as a way to get inside the head of Google’s algorithms – as they don’t pay attention to it. 

#3: Google Analytics is easy to manipulate 

There’s another reason why Google ignores GA – it’s inherently unreliable and easy to manipulate. 

In particular, it’s quite easy for users to filter out bot behavior and manipulate other statistics within the application. 

With such a volatile nature, it’s no wonder that Google excludes all GA metrics from its search algorithms. Otherwise, it would be too easy for anyone to manipulate search data directly affecting rankings. 

#4: Not all websites use Google Analytics 

Last but not least, not every website uses GA, which is another big reason why Google ignores it. 

That may seem surprising to digital marketers, but the reality is that only 54.3% of sites use GA – leaving over half the internet unrepresented. 

Not only that, but there are also sites out there that use analytics tools, just not from Google. Other popular analytics apps include:

If Google were to use GA metrics for their search algorithms, they’d be excluding all the websites that use these other platforms. 

The Pogo-Sticking Algorithm 

All this isn’t to say that Google’s algorithms don’t have a way to determine how many users are interacting with your site vs. how many up and leave immediately – they do. It’s just that they have a more accurate metric than bounce rates to do it. 

Enter Google’s Pogo-Sticking Algorithm, a metric similar to bounce rate but different in that it’s far more accurate. 

It’s how Google measures user pogo-sticking – which refers to users who view a site for a few seconds, then ‘pogo-stick’ back to the SERPs. 

What’s the benefit of this?

It’s more accurate than a user’s bounce rate, which, as we’ve already discussed, can be either good or bad. Yet, pogo-sticking is always considered bad, as it’s a clear indicator that the user is dissatisfied with your content. 

Whenever the algorithm notices that a specific page has pogo-sticking AND a high bounce rate, then and only then will Google count it as a negative toward search rankings. 

Even then, Google doesn’t look at the same type of bounce rate that you see on GA. Instead, they have an improved bounce rate that considers long clicks and short clicks. 

A long click is when a user stays on the page for a while, and a short click is when they immediately leave. As such, this version of the bounce rate DOES factor in how long a user spends on a page, which is why Google uses it. 

How to Improve a Bad Bounce Rate 

Infographic on How to Improve Bounce Rate

Even though Google doesn’t pay attention to the bounce rate you see in GA, that doesn’t mean that it’s still not a useful metric for both marketing and SEO purposes. 

As stated before, you just need to know when a high bounce rate is a cause for concern and when it isn’t (see the section on average bounce rates). 

For instance, a high bounce rate on an e-commerce page designed to convert is cause for concern. Users could be leaving due to a slow page load time, the lack of a convincing CTA (call-to-action), or a variety of other issues. Here are some candid suggestions on how to improve faltering bounce rates. 

Use bucket brigades 

A reason many users bounce on a website is if the copy is too drawn out or boring. If the copy on your website features long, unbroken paragraphs, this is bound to happen. 

That’s where bucket brigades come in to save the day. 

A bucket brigade is an isolated, short snippet that hooks readers in to learn more. In fact, you can find them strewn throughout this article. Examples include:

  • Why is that?
  • What can you do?
  • Fun fact:
  • The truth:
  • How does that help you?

These are incredibly effective for keeping readers on your page because they encourage users to continue consuming your content. So if you notice large gaps in your content, bring in a bucket brigade to bridge them. 

Improve page speed 

A notorious cause for users to split from a page before taking further action is slow loading speed. 

Fast internet speeds have spoiled us in recent years, and the average user is very impatient when waiting for a site to load. If it takes longer than three seconds, don’t expect anyone to stick around. 

Page speed also matters to Google, as you’ll have to pass the Core Web Vitals test to rank high in the SERPs. 

How can you find out if your page is loading properly?

Try using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, which will give you a score of 1 – 100 based on how quickly your website loads. What’s even more useful are the recommendations it makes for improving your speed, so pay close attention. 

You should also ensure that your web pages load quickly on mobile devices as well. 

Cater to search intent 

The most important tip for improving bounce rates is to ensure you fully cater to user search intent. 

In other words, you need to provide precisely what users are looking for if you want them to stay on your page. 

If you’re only optimizing your content for search engines and not real people, your bounce rates will suffer as a result. That’s because people are looking for answers to their questions, not vague reiterations of existing content that uses keywords and internal links to rank higher. 

With every piece of content you create, ensure that you satisfy the user intent behind it. That’s the best way to improve your bounce rate and rank higher in the organic search results. 

To find the most effective version of your content, try implementing a/b testing and go with the version that generates more traffic and has a lower bounce rate

Final Takeaways: How Important are Bounce Rates for SEO?

By now, you should better understand bounce rates and how they affect your SEO. While the bounce rate you see on GA isn’t an official ranking factor, it’s still a valuable metric if you know how to interpret it properly.

Remember that bounce rate DOES NOT include how long a user spends on a page, which is why certain types of webpages will have higher bounce rates than others. 

As long as you factor that into your strategy, you shouldn’t have problems lowering your bounce rates. 

Do you need help forming a winning SEO strategy at your company?

Then don’t hesitate to try out our five-star managed SEO service, HOTH X. Our SEO experts will help you devise a strategy to get you to the top of the SERPs in your field and improve your bounce rates, so don’t wait to reach out.   

 

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