Is a High Bounce Rate Bad?

Is having a high bounce rate bad? It depends. In this post, we will be looking at bounce rate in association with other factors to help you spot a bad high bounce rate from a high bounce rate you don’t need to be worried about.

One of the positive impacts of Google’s Panda Update has been that more people are taking a look at the overall quality of content in their website and removing low quality, low engagement, low value pages. This is something I’ve been advocating for quite a while with a yearly content audit.

You need to take a holistic look at the page and the larger role it plays on your website, not just its bounce rate, before you determine quality… 

First, let’s take a look at the problem from a theoretical standpoint: Is a high bounce rate bad? When is a high bounce rate something you don’t need to worry about? While each algorithm package has a slightly different technical definition of bounce rate, a bounce means that a person came to the website, viewed one page, and left. However, assuming this is always a “bad thing” is a bit naive. Sometimes the page answers a person’s question, solves their problem, or gives them the information they wanted. It does such a good job that users don’t need to do anything else. Want an example? I run some travel websites. As we know, airlines and government websites often have horrible SEO and architecture. So I often take the top questions people are searching for and create a collected FAQ page for these queries. One of my pages has a high bounce rate of over 85%. However, by using a service like crazyegg, I can track clicks on the print button. Over 45% of the people who visit the page print it. It’s pretty hard to say that page isn’t doing its job.

Now let’s look at some actual numbers. Here are some stats from my analytics about pages with a high bounce rate.

You can see the bounce rate is very high. If you were concerned only with bounce rate, you might kick those pages into the “low quality” bucket and schedule them for a rewrite or deletion. However, what you really need to do is look at time on page as well. You can see that people are spending a lot of time on those pages.  Because they are reading them, the pages do have some value.

Let’s look at another set of pages.

We can see these pages have a high bounce rate as well. But if we look at the time on site for these pages, we see a very different story. People are only on these pages for a short time. From a search engine perspective, that’s probably a bad signal, so those pages are candidates for updating, rewriting, or deleting.

Some other factors you might want to look at as well are adsense revenue or affiliate commissions. Its possible that a page with a high bounce rate might occur because people are clicking the ads (making you money) or clicking an affiliate link (also hopefully making you money). You need to take a holistic look at the page and the larger role it plays on your website, not just its bounce rate, before you determine quality and decide if it needs to be updated or removed.

You may also want to read is Is Having a High Exit Rate Bad.

What are the takeaways from this post:

  • Regularly perform a content audit on your website. Identify pages with high bounce rates.
  • Look at other factors for the page, such as time on site, advertising revenue, affiliate income, social bookmarking, printing, etc.
  • Try to rewrite, update, enhance, or promote these pages first. It’s often a better choice in the long run.
  • Only eliminate pages that don’t earn their keep, are outdated, and can’t be saved.
  • In some cases you may want to put these pages in a non spider-able archive. This makes sense when they have value to users on site but little to none from a search engine perspective. Examples include old newsletters or outdated PDF files.

photo credit: Photospin

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