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How the bounce rate of your website can affect your Google rankings

Does Google use the bounce rate of a web page to specify the position of that page in the search results? What does this mean for your website rankings and what can you do to get a better bounce rate?

What is the bounce rate?

There are two definitions: the bounce rate of your website is the percentage of visitors who see just one page of your website or the percentage of visitors who stay on your site for a small amount of time (only a few seconds).

The bounce rate helps you to measure the quality of traffic that your website gets and it also helps you to find out where your web pages could be improved.

Google's definition of the bounce rate

The Google Analytics documentation defines the bounce rate as follows:

"Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page). Bounce rate is a measure of visit quality and a high bounce rate generally indicates that site entrance (landing) pages aren't relevant to your visitors."

This Google definition already indicates that Google thinks that web pages with a high bounce rate aren't relevant to website visitors. If your web pages have a high bounce rate for a search term, Google might lower the rankings of your website for that search term.

Does Google use the bounce rate as a ranking factor?

Google has the ability to collect the bounce rate with the Google toolbar and Google Analytics. In addition, Google can measure the time between visits to their search engine by the same user and they can use the Google Chrome browser to measure the complete surfing behavior of users.

Last month, a webmaster performed a test that showed a significant ranking change as a result of a significant bounce rate change. The test is not very conclusive but chances are that Google really uses the bounce rate as a ranking factor.

The bounce rate alone might not be used by Google but combined with other factors, it could have an effect on the rankings. For example, Google could measure how many people start a new search for the same topic after visiting your web page. That would be an indicator that your website is not suitable for the chosen keyword.

What can you do to lower the bounce rate of your web pages?

A high bounce rate is usually a sign of a low quality web page. This means that your web page either doesn't offer what the visitor is searching for or the usability of your web page isn't good.

If you improved the contents and the usability of your web pages, you might lower your bounce rate from 75% to 65%. This would lead to a remarkable 40% increase in conversions (35 out of 100 visitors now stay on your website instead of 25 out of 100 visitors).

In addition to improving the usability of your web pages, you can lower your bounce rate by tailoring your landing pages to the keywords and ads that you run. If your landing pages offer the information that the searchers are looking for then you will get a lower bounce rate.

Lowering the bounce rate of your web pages has two major benefits: it's likely that you will get more visitors from search engines and you will get a higher conversion rate. The only exceptions to the scenario above are one page websites and web pages that offer very compelling content on a single web page (for example Wikipedia pages).

Search engines use many more ranking factors than just the bounce rate. If you want to get high rankings on Google and other search engines, you should make sure that your web pages offer all elements that are necessary to get high rankings.

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December 2008 search engine articles