Common reasons for a high bounce rate and how to fix them

Posted by Chris Woods on 6 Feb, 2017
View comments Marketing
If you’re seeing alarming figures in the bounce rate column of your website analytics, you’ll rightly want to reverse the trend.

A high bounce rate can mean many things but, the immediate worry is that visitors are arriving to your site – possibly in the wake of your search marketing, paid search, social media and content marketing efforts – and then quickly departing without stopping to browse or buy. The good news is that a high bounce rate CAN be fixed. Here are some of the more common reasons for higher rates and how they can be tackled…

First things first, what is a bounce rate?

As a quick refresher, bounce rate is defined as a visitor arriving on your site and then leaving again by returning back to the referring page or search engine without conducting any other actions, or browsing elsewhere through your site. Essentially, that visitor lands then bounces back away from your site to wherever they came from. This term is particularly vital in terms of search engine traffic and more specifically paid search, as these visits which have provided no value whatsoever, have still eaten up some of your marketing budget. In fact, any effort made to bring new visitors on site will be in vain if those visitors bounce right away so a high bounce rate can have more than a financial repercussion, it can also mean time and other valuable resources are wasted.

If you’re using Google Analytics, you can find your site’s bounce rate under the Audience Overview tab. This will break down the percentage so you can see the overall visitor bounce rate or break it down to show the bounce rate purely for new visitors. Returning visitors are less likely to bounce when they return to a site they’ve used before.

Before we get into the top reasons for high bounce rates, it’s also worth mentioning that although you can look at bounce rate as a site-wide metric, it can also be broken down by page, or a selection of pages. Looking deeper at how your site performs in this way is a useful method of identifying what is and isn’t working in terms of visitor reaction to page content.

So what are the most common reasons for a high bounce rate?

Poor quality content

Before we move on to some of the more technical or strategic improvements you can make to improve your bounce rate, let’s start with an obvious yet often overlooked basic. Poor quality site content (or page content) is a common culprit for pages that underperform and seem to repel visitors they attract at alarming rates. If your bounce rate is high for a particular page – perhaps higher than your site average overall – chances are, your content isn’t pulling its weight.

Thanks to the advances in web design and functionality, it’s easy to be guilty of focusing on the overly complex facets of user experience and conversion techniques while ignoring the more basic of needs. Key to these is the need for unique and compelling landing page content. A poor choice of image accompanied by too little or too much text which is either dull or simply un-optimised for your audience is a deadly combination when it comes to time on page. 

Each landing page should have a high quality, flowing narrative that is relevant both to the page itself and to the visitors being channeled to that page. Copywriting for the web is a greater challenge than many website owners realize, hence the recent rise in agencies and freelancers providing specific web copywriting services.

If your page bounce rate is a cause for concern, the most logical first action is to have a good hard look at the content. Seek independent feedback from a small quota of your target audience. From there, you can make any needed modifications. The copy needs to hit the target, so depending on your focus for the page, to be engaging or informative, factually correct, and so on. You can also tweak the copy by focusing on a more compelling introduction, swapping out a few pictures, lengthening or shortening content or establishing a more suitable and engaging tone of voice.  Change each element in turn, paying attention to the bounce rate following the change to get a better handle on what is and isn’t helping your bounce rate blues. 

Poor quality backlinks

Having poor quality backlinks can be particular issue for longer established websites. Following SEO trends of old, many websites earned top SERPs via aggressive - and sometimes unethical - link building techniques. The focus was on obtaining links regardless of the individual quality of each one. Fast forward to your current day high bounce rate issue, and it’s possible you might just have found the source of your depressing analytics statistics.

The issue with poor quality, unethical link building is that on top of potentially bagging you penalties or even removal from search engine results, they can drive extremely poor quality traffic to your site. Often, poor quality links use misleading anchor text in order to drive a click through, meaning the resulting landing page is far removed from what the visitor expected to find. Cue a fast exit to another site that does have the information the visitor was looking for. This method of link building sets your site up for a high bounce rate by delivering a large volume of inappropriate traffic.

While your link building practices may be top notch now, it is possible that poorer quality links were the norm back in the day. You’ll first need to audit your site’s existing backlink profile to confirm what kind of links are pointing to your domain. Look for ones that have little relevance to your core business, come from suspicious or irrelevant sources or tracts of links with identical anchor text.

Once you’ve highlighted potentially harmful and poor quality links, you’ll need to take steps to have them removed. Less is more when it comes to building a linking profile so aim for a smaller number of highly relevant links as opposed to masses of poor quality ones to improve your bounce rate in the longer term.

Slow page load times

Page load speed is a big ranking factor for search, particularly on mobile sites, and rightly so. Remember, search engines are a tool for user convenience. They exist to help users find the content they want to see, quickly and easily. Quickly being the pivotal point in this case. You could have the greatest content in the universe on your site but if users are having to wait an unexpectedly long time for it to load, they aren’t going to stick around and wait. Search engines acknowledge that slow loading times are a big user experience factor, hence why it impacts SERPs so greatly.

In order for your analytics to register a site visit, only the very basic behind the scenes code needs to load. The user may be looking at a blank screen or half loaded images. If your site doesn’t meet the grade in this respect then you can expect to see a substantial impact on your bounce rate. You may find that overtime, your SEO progress is also affected.

Make testing your page load screen across various devices a priority. How fast should your page load? The answer really is always going to be ‘as fast as technically possible’. Though there are studies that suggest significant increases in bounce rate (page abandonment) if visitors are left waiting more than two seconds.


Poor marketing campaigns

This is one of the harder hitting reasons for high bounce rates and one that many marketers can be overly defensive about or simply don’t consider. If you are investing time, effort and money in marketing your website then inevitably one of your initial goals is to drive traffic.

Many brands and businesses still see online performance as a simple number crunching game and believe that keeping the top of the funnel as wide as possible will inevitably bring results. Now while there is some merit in that approach, there’s also a very strong case to be made for starting with a highly targeted niche audience rather than going straight for mass awareness.

Mass appeal is very difficult for some brands due to the nature of their product or service. Even where a mass appeal is possible, it’s likely that within that mass audience, subsets will exist with certain demographics requiring a different approach. As a very basic example, this could be the difference in approach needed to appeal to men versus women.

Inevitably, a blanket marketing campaign with messaging designed to bring visits at any cost without necessarily portraying what it is they have to offer, can lead to a high bounce rate and lots of irrelevant traffic. These types of campaigns touch many, converting ad impressions into visits at an impressive ratio, but often will fail to to deliver a substantial visit to action rate due to having such generic landing page copy.

When you start new marketing activity, play close attention to the bounce rate of the selected landing pages for that campaign. You need to know not just how much traffic you’re driving, but how that traffic is reacting to your landing page. There is a natural tendency to look only at sales or other conversion types for a page. While these may be acceptable at first glance, if you consider the bounce rate factor and look at the total traffic sent to page versus positive on page actions, you might find that your spend isn’t worthwhile. It could be that a majority of your conversions are coming from a small group or audience demographic and the rest of your traffic is existing pretty quickly. Isolate the niche set that is sticking around, tailor your campaign to that audience and you should see a reduced bounce rate and higher overall conversion rate for far less activity. 



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