There has been some debate over the last few years as to whether search engines like Google use bounce rate as a ranking signal. To figure this out, let’s take a quick look at the history of bounce rate and its relationship with search engines.
It stands to reason that bounce rate would directly affect a website’s rank. User-engagement is a vital indication to search engines that a website is providing a good user-experience.
The confusion regarding Google’s assessment of bounce rate stems from comments one-time company spokesman, Matt Cutts made at a SMX conference in 2012. Danny Sullivan among others tweeted that Cutts says Google does not use bounce rate.
That may well have been the case in 2012. At that time Google’s algorithms were not as powerful as they are today and keyword matches were not as accurate. It was therefore harder for people to find websites that satisfied their search query.
However, now search engines have matured, evidence suggests Google and other search engines do rely on bounce rate as a ranking factor. Google Analytics data certainly indicate a significant correlation between search engine rankings and bounce rate. However it’s more likely that search engines such as Google and Bing look at whether a user returns to the search result page after clicking a search result and if they return, how much time they spent on the site before returning to the results page. Lots of users returning to the search result page after clicking on the same search result? Then expect that result to move down the rankings.
What is bounce rate, anyway?
Bounce rate is a metric in Google Analytics that records the percentage of visitors to a website that leave after viewing only one page – thus they leave from the same page they arrived and do not explore your website.
Because of this, a standard viewpoint among digital marketers is that bounce rate is a measure of the quality of visitor arriving at your website. They think bounce rate is for there benefit and not Google’s; a short-sighted view to say the least.
Whilst it is true that websites receive low quality visitors relatively frequently which pushes up the bounce rate, there are several other site metrics Google can use alongside bounce rate to measure the estimated quality of a website.
Bounce rate may be an unreliable metric on its own. But when compared alongside data showing the average length of a visit and the number of unique visitors to a particular landing page, Google sees a bigger picture.
How does Google rank websites?
Google uses a wide range of metrics to assess the quality and effectiveness of a website. Other than the odd tit-bit, the search engine giant has never revealed exactly which metrics it uses, but logic suggests user-engagement is a key measurement of quality.
The mission of Google and other search engines is to provide end-users with a choice of websites that satisfy their needs. The list of results produced by a search engine must be relevant to the search query and resolve the intent of the end-user.
Asking a computer to understand the mind of a human is a tall order. We know search engine use keywords to match search terms, but search engines also want to partner sites that provide a good user-experience (UX). Which means delivering websites the end-user finds useful.
How to optimise your site to improve bounce rate
UX branches off into its own category of requirements, but essentially search engines reward companies that publish content that offers value to the reader, has a website that is easy to navigate on multiple devices and are a reputable business people can trust.
Google therefore uses bounce rate and other user-engagement site metrics to determine the effectiveness of a website and a business. If you have a high number of visitors leaving within a minute, it is a strong indication to search engines that you are not providing end-users with a good UX for the search query they used.
This is why it is important to publish keyword specific content and deliver in-depth information visitors are most likely to want answered for a specific search term. It is also important that your content is well written and enjoyable to read.
Your website should have an aesthetically pleasing design that is easy to use. The site architecture should be logical and call to actions clearly signposted so visitors know where to go next. If end-users have to search for information they will give up and leave.
Evidence indicates Google does use bounce rate as a ranking factor against specific search terms. Ensuring the content on any given page is likely to satisfy a specific search query will reduce your bounce rate and increase your search engine rank. But more importantly it will increase your conversion rate.