What Bounce Rates Mean for SEO
On-page engagement hasn’t always been a component of search engine optimization, but it is now.
Slowly but surely Google has made user experience part of its ranking algorithm. Google wants users to be satisfied when they land on a page from clicking a search result.
How does Google determine if a searcher is satisfied? We don’t know.
For years SEOs have sought ways to evaluate user satisfaction. Many incorrectly believe the bounce rate is one method. It’s reported in Google Analytics, after all.
Bounce Rate Defined
“Bounce rate” is the percentage of visitors from an external source that land on a page and leave without navigating to another.
Don’t confuse bounces with exits. The latter is visitors that leave a page even if they came from an internal link.
There is no good or bad bounce rate. A high bounce rate could mean the page delivers what visitors seek, or it could mean the page is lacking.
Google understands this, too, stating repeatedly that it does not use bounce rates as a ranking signal.
To find your site’s bounce rate, navigate in Google Analytics to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. There you will see the average bounce rate and the rate for individual pages.
Bounce rate is a helpful metric only compared to other pages on your site — to identify (and understand) pages with an unusually high or low bounce rate.
A high bounce rate could indicate a slow load, poor design, confusing content, or other flaws. (It could, again, also mean the page responded to visitors’ needs without having to explore the site further.)
Once you have identified pages with a higher than average bounce rate, track what visitors are doing on those pages and the elements they interact with.
Microsoft’s user behavior tool, Clarity, is helpful for identifying on-page experiences.
One of the most beneficial Clarity reports is “Quick backs,” which lists pages with a very high percentage of visitors that click the “Back” button. Clarity is the only free tool that provides that insight — the content prompting visitors to go back to where they came from and why.
Back-button action is more informative than the bounce rate because unsatisfied visitors tend to return to search results, a process called “pogo-sticking.”
Pogo-sticking and dwell time — the amount of time spent on a page — are long-rumored Google ranking factors. I’ve never seen Google confirm either, however.
We do know that Google tracks back-button actions because it suggests refinements to those returning users.
To use Clarity, install its tracking code and allow a couple of days to accumulate the data. Then go to “Quick backs” and save a segment. Next, navigate to “Heatmaps” to see the list of pages that triggered back-button actions.
Clarity also provides page recordings and heatmaps to see each visitor’s activity on a page and which part prompted him to leave. The result is a helpful evaluation of the user experience for those pages.
Clarity is just one of many heat-mapping tools. Some connect easily to a WordPress site.
Bounce rate is an unreliable metric of visitor satisfaction. High or low bounces require further research. Regardless, bounce rate is not a direct ranking factor in Google, but it could identify issues that are factors, such as poor content or slow loads.