Keeping a Low Bounce Rate

Posted on March 18, 2013

Bounce RateOne important, yet often overlooked quality metric in the world of search is that of “bounce rate”. Often confused with “exit rate”, bounce rate is defined as the percentage of visitors that land on the site and immediately leave, without browsing anything else. Exit rate, on the other hand, refers to the percentage of visitors who actively click away to a different site from a specific page, after viewing other pages on your site.

Here, a “bounce” is defined as a visitor who only visits a single page, and leaves without viewing anything else before a specific amount of time has passed. There is no industry standard governing the minimum or maximum amount of time a visitor must spend on the site for a bounce to occur.

A high bounce rate indicates one of two different problems with your site, either you’re attracting the wrong kind of visitor to your page, or you’re attracting the right kind of visitor, but they leave as soon as they have what they want.

The second reason can be interpreted as good or bad, depending on the kind of website you’re running. Imagine if you’re running a question and answer site, where people enter questions and get short, yet relevant replies. As a result, they leave right away, but come back often. This is one instance where a high bounce rate is normal, and perfectly OK.

But what if you’re not running a question and answer site? Most of the time, the reason you’re driving customers to your website is so that you can convert them into paying customers, and its in these instances where a high bounce rate is fatal. You want customers to stick around and engage with you, preferably driving them down a conversion tunnel that ends with them making a purchase. In this case, anything you can do to increase the amount of time your visitors spend on your site will improve your bottom line.

Below are a few things you should take into consideration when building your site:

1. Avoid Pop-ups
Pop ups disrupt the user experience. Period. There are a few fringe cases in which they offer something useful to visitors, but for the most part avoid them like the plague.

2. Use an intuitive navigation scheme
This should be obvious, but it bears repeating. Users should be able to get to the info they need quickly and easily, and the path that they need to take should be obvious from their perspective. If a visitor (and potential customer) can’t find what they’re looking for, then they will just get up and leave the site, perhaps going to a competitor.

A good tool to help you solve bad design problem is a heat map, like the one provided by CrazyEgg. A heat map shows you where visitors are clicking, allowing you to spot bad design elements and optimize your site so that the most relevant information is easily accessible.

3. Make sure your graphical design doesn’t suck
Visitors these days are increasingly web-savvy, and have even lower tolerances now for bad design than they did a few years back. Your website should be graphically attractive, yes, but more than anything else it should be readable. Poor design has become a sign that your website isn’t legitimate, and directly impacts visitors and the way they perceive your business and the quality of your products.

4. Optimize site so that it loads quickly
Loading speed has already been confirmed as a ranking factor for many search engines, and it directly impacts user experience. You only have a few seconds to make a good impression on new visitors, don’t make them spend those seconds waiting for your site to load.

5. Make your website mobile-friendly
This is more of a recent development, but lately people have been accessing the web from mobile devices, and this trend is expected to grow over the next 20 or so years. It’d be silly not to take advantage of this. Note that mobile usability does not just refer to graphical and design compatibility, but also to how readable your website is on mobile devices. Ensure that they can find the information they need just as easily on your mobile site as they can on your desktop site.

6.  Design information around priorities
This point has more to do with what your page is -for- more than anything else. When the goal of your website is to convert visitors into paying customers, there tends to be two ways to do this. You can convert visitors through the use of landing pages, which is the shortest and most direct route, or you can have them go through a conversion tunnel that’s designed to qualify visitors and drive them towards converting.

When building a website, make sure that your conversion points are clearly visible, and that visitors can immediately determine what your page is for and what they can expect to find.

7. Segment information so as to make it more readable
Information on your website should be segmented and organized into groups so that its readable, and easily digested by visitors. A good example of this is the use of header tags on blog posts.

8. Optimize to ensure consistency between pages
When designing a page, landing or otherwise, ensure that the experience that you deliver falls in line with what your visitors are expecting from the page, design-wise. This is a problem often experienced in the paid search and display advertising realms, often when advertisers don’t ensure a consistent experience between ad copy and landing page copy/design. The result is a high bounce rate and low conversion rates.

9. Be mindful of ad placement
Web users these days have developed a condition known as “ad blindness”, where they consciously ignore anything that looks like a web advertisement or banner-shaped, and anything that’s large and colorful (supposedly traits of a good, eye-catching advertisement) ends up being ignored nowadays.

Furthermore, Google has started penalizing websites who use too many advertisements, especially those of non-standard sizes. So too many advertisements are a bad thing for your website, if you look at the top high-performing ad networks, you’ll notice that the best publisher sites have fewer intrusive ads.

10. Load third party content only when it’s needed
This is a practice known as “lazy loading”, a process by which content is loaded only when its needed. It’s used to great effect on Mashable, where you’ll notice that content isn’t loaded until you’re scrolling towards it. Features like this greatly improve your users’ experience, and in the hands of a good programmer, it can be coded in quite easily.

11. Manage color contrast properly
Proper user of color contrast makes your site less painful to look at, and can turn a dull looking site into an exciting one. Use color contrast to draw your readers’ attention to elements of a page to enhance its effect.

12. Make your messaging clear and obvious
When a user lands on your site, you only have a few seconds to convince them that your site is worth staying for. One of the most important things to do is to make sure your visitor understands, right off the bat, the purpose of your site. Taglines are great for this purpose, or if you don’t have one, you could simply state what it is you do there. In other words, if you sell mattresses, say “we sell mattresses!”

13. Remove distractions from your site
Distractions like video and audio that automatically play when the page loads are absolutely horrible. They break the experience, are highly annoying, and shouldn’t be used at all.

14. Offer visitors the option of browsing related content
Its a good idea to offer some kind of “related content” section on each page, perhaps with a hook to draw people in. This way you increase the number of pageviews, and if the related content is good, then you can also increase the amount of time that visitors spend on your site.

15. Offer a great search feature
Nowadays, its almost unforgivable to not to have a working search bar in your website. Google makes it easy to add a search bar to your website, and doing so opens up the possibility of internal search analytics, providing you with more data you can use to improve your web page.

16. Open external links in new windows
As an avid web surfer, this is something I feel everybody should do. If you’ve got a link that leads off-site to somewhere completely different, make sure you have it open in a new window. This can be achieved by adding “ target=”_blank” ” to your anchor tags. That way visitors can view relevant sites while keeping yours open.

17. Make your search box visible
If you already have a good search feature built-in, make sure to feature it prominently enough on your site so that people don’t have to search for the search bar. People can’t use what they can’t see.

18. Make sure your 404 page is helpful
Nobody likes cryptic error pages, and 404s are encountered often enough on the web to become jokes on their own. Make sure your 404 states in no uncertain terms that the page can’t be found, and offers useful information, such as links to other parts of the page where they might find the information they’re looking for.

If nothing else, at the very at least ensure that it’s design is consistent with the rest of the website. Many websites turn their 404 pages into humorous works of art, and that’s fine too.

19. Keep it readable
This is separate from the “bad design” consideration posted above. Instead, we’re referring to how difficult it is for readers to comprehend your content.

20. Split up long posts
Not everybody has a large attention span, in fact, statistics have shown that people’s attention spans are shorter than ever before. So when writing content for your site, make sure that you don’t end up with a giant wall of text that resembles your most boring high school textbook. If possible, shorten the content, and when that’s not possible consider breaking it up into parts/chapters or adding pagination to make it easier to read.