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Why your organic bounce rate is high and ways to fix it

By Alexandra Gavril - November 16, 2015

You’ve put a lot of effort into creating a great website and of course you want people to visit and to stick around. You want them to spend more than a few seconds on your site, perusing content, and, eventually, you want them to buy from you or sign up for your service.

But if you’ve followed all the steps to properly optimise your website, why do people spend so little time on your site? What’s causing your visitors to leave and what can you do to increase the time they spend on your site?

In this post we’ll walk you through possible reasons why your organic bounce rate is high and how to fix it. But first…

What is bounce rate?

Bounce rate refers to the percentage of users who arrive on your site and then quickly leave without visiting any other page. It basically tells you if are attracting the right audience to your site and if you’re meeting their expectations.

So if your visitors land on your site and immediately hit the back button, close the window or tab, click on an external link or type a different URL into their browser, they are counted as a bounce. To learn more about bounce rates, including where to find yours in Google Analytics, make sure to read our post on why visitors leave your site so quickly and how to get them to stay.

So why do people “bounce” and, more importantly, how can you entice them to stay for longer?

1. People aren’t finding the content they’re looking for

Not finding the right information is one of the most common reasons why people decide to leave a website. Think about it – visitors arrive on your site looking for specific information, whether about a product or a service that you’re selling or advice on how to solve a problem. If they can’t find it on your website, they’ll obviously leave and search for it elsewhere.

But here’s the thing – leaving quickly is not always a sign that they haven’t found the right information. It can also be that they actually did find what they were looking for, which means that there are cases where a high bounce rate isn’t necessarily bad.

When you’re looking to take steps to improve your bounce rates, you should first look at the type of content that you have on your site or blog so you can better understand what’s going through users’ minds..

Your content is informational

Sometimes if your aim is to educate people, you can have a high bounce rate even if your content is doing the job its suppose to. For example, if a user runs a search on Google for “how to fix a dripping tap” and they find your article, they read it and then leave your site. They might leave because your guide wasn’t what they were looking for, but they may leave because they found it useful and managed to use your advice to quickly fix their issue. However, since they’ve only visited one page, that visit will be counted as a bounce, even though your content has benefited them and has served its purpose.

To fix this, you can add, as an example, a 30 second delay in counting the bounce rate – also known as adjusted bounce rate. So if you have informational content, try to determine how long it would take on average for users to read it. Then tell Google Analytics to count a session as a bounce only if the user spends less time on the page than your average. Here’s an excellent post on how to track adjusted bounce rate.

So for example, if you decide that it should take a user about 45 seconds to read an article, a bounce should be counted only if the user spends less than 30 seconds before leaving your site. Also keep in mind that few people read everything so make sure you allow enough time for them to go through at least half of the article. This ensures that users who spend 30 seconds or more have enough time to read the article and aren’t counted as bounces.

Your content is mixed

Bounce rate should also be interpreted depending on the intent of the user. For example, if a user runs a search for “marathon shoes”, that can either mean that they want to learn more about these types of shoes and how to choose the right ones for a marathon; but it can also mean that they’ve passed the research phase and are ready to buy.

Although two users can search for the same thing, their intent can be different. If you get a big bounce rate for generic searches, it can also mean that your users’ intent might not match the intent of your web page. For example, if someone is searching with the intent to make a purchase and they click through to a blog article, they’re highly likely to go back to the search results and try another result.

If you sell products online and you also have a blog where you provide generic information about your products, you should make sure that the intent of each page is as clear as possible so you don’t rank with the product page when people are actually looking for more information or with your blog page when they are ready to buy.

To fix this, you should target more specific phrases such as “how to choose the best shoes for a marathon” if you offer information or “buy marathon shoes” if you want them to buy. Targeting a generic keyword like “marathon shoes” on both a product page and on a FAQ page or a blog doesn’t provide a clear intent.

By making your pages’ intent more obvious you will start receiving visits from more specific and relevant queries and your users will not bounce as much.

2. You’re not delivering on your promises

Your bounce rate can also increase because you’re promising something in your meta title that you’re not able to deliver.

Search engines display your meta title and description in the organic search result snippets like in these examples:

So if a visitor is searching for information on Java courses in London and when clicking on your result they are sent to a landing page that gives general information about Java, then the visitor is likely to bounce. Why? Because they were expecting to find specific information about the course, and not a generic page.

Delivering on the promise you made in your meta title is very important. Your site might be talking about different products and services, but a visitor arrives on it to learn more about what your snippet said you offer. So make sure you do exactly that. Your title and descriptions are supposed to be a short summary of your landing page – if you stick to this rule, your title will never be deceiving.

3. Your UX is terrible

Providing your visitors with the best user experience (UX) is critical. If your web design is cluttered, full of flash animations and what seem as infinite blocks of text, you can be sure that that page will have a high bounce rate. On a similar note, if your visitors need to spend time trying to understand your website, how to navigate through it or what they’re supposed to do next, your bounce rate will also be on the higher side, no matter how awesome your content is.

Here are a few UX tips to take into account:

  • Don’t make your visitors feel dumb (or make them think you’re dumb). Provide them with clear and obvious paths to get the content they may be looking for. This means making navigation easy. If you want them to move around your site, you need to provide them with a clear and intuitive navigation structure. Don’t leave anything to their guess work.
  • Your content needs to be attractive, both in terms of graphical treatments and readability.
  • Design for your target audience. Not for yourself or your friends. This means you’ll need to get a better understanding of your visitors’ behaviour on your site. For example, heat maps are a great way to gain visibility into where users might be trying to click, giving you insight into what should be clickable. A great tool for this is Crazy Egg.

Check out this webinar to learn how to provide a better user experience to your visitors, and how this can help grow your revenue.

4. Your mobile UX is terrible

Here’s the thing: having a mobile-friendly site is ideal but having a mobile-usable site is critical. So if you notice that a big percentage of your mobile visitors are bouncing, it may mean that your mobile UX is terrible and needs to be fixed. In this day and age, websites can only be effective if the content can be accessed from a mobile device and tablet.

In addition to design compatibility and accessibility, being mobile-usable also means that the content on your site needs to be simple and clear enough that people on the go can easily make sense of what they need to do to find information or to contact you.

5. Your pages take forever to load

This pretty much goes without saying, but we’ll say it again: there’ nothing that affects bounce rate more than having a web page that takes ten seconds to load. Not only is page speed a confirmed Google ranking factor and is a must for good UX, but it can negatively impact your search rankings and destroy your conversion rate.

Here are a few free tools you can use to check how fast your pages are loading and to get recommendations to reduce page load speed:

6. Incorrect implementation

A high bounce can also be a result of incorrectly implementing the tracking code to all your pages. Check out this article to learn how to verify if your tracking code is working or not.

Other things that can cause a high bounce rate

There are many more things that can get your bounce rates high, including:

  • Too many ads and pop-ups. Users find these annoying, which is why they leave so quickly.
  • Low quality content. If there are too many grammar errors or if the content seems automated, users will immediately question the legitimacy of your site.
  • A design that is too flashy or chaotic with too many graphical elements or colours will most likely drive visitors away.
  • The lack of a call to action and no related articles/products won’t entice users to go to a second page.

Your turn now

These are just a few things that can cause a high organic bounce rate but there are many more. And this is where you come in. What other things have you learnt from analysing your bounce rate? Have you managed to improve your bounce rates using the advice above or trying other things? Share your experience in a comment below.