SEO can be a difficult field to be in as you are entirely at the mercy of the search engines. Google alone updates its algorithm hundreds of times a year and at least one of these will be a significant update that can considerably impact your rankings (both positively or negatively). In order to endure these updates and ensure your website continues to thrive through every new algorithm, SEO specialists have to work out exactly what search engines are using to rank sites and predict what they will be using in the coming months and even years.
Everyone knows that there are certain ranking factors that Google pays attention to. A secure and easy to navigate website, page speed, mobile friendliness, backlinks and social signals to name a few. One factor that has even the experts stumped, however, is bounce rate.
SEO experts have debated the relevance of bounce rate to search engine rankings for years, yet it still remains unclear. As a result, website owners are spending their time and resources to lower their bounce rates, with no guarantee that this will mean higher rankings. Founder of SEO authority Moz, Rand Fishkin tried to get to the bottom of the bounce rate fallacy by running a series of tests where he intentionally increased the bounce rate of various pages on his site over the course of a number of days. His results were inconclusive. However, Backlinko analysed 1 million Google search results and concluded that low bounce rates are associated with higher rankings.
To add to the complexity of the issue, Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of Search Quality, said that Google does not use bounce rate or other Google Analytics metrics in ranking algorithms.
Why Google Wouldn’t Use Bounce Rate as a Ranking Metric
There are a number of reasons as to why Google wouldn’t use the bounce rate metric that can be seen on Google Analytics as a ranking factor.
It Isn’t a Reliable Indication of Quality: Bounce rate does not accurately determine user engagement as it doesn’t factor in the amount of time spent on the page. It is also highly variable across industries and different types of content, for example, blogs tend to have bounce rates of 70-90%, while service sites are only 10-30%. Some webpages are not created with the purpose of leading visitors through to other pages; Google wouldn’t want to punish these sites.
Google Doesn’t Typically Rely on Analytics Data: Bounce rate is a metric that can be found on Google Analytics. While Google Analytics is an integral tool for many digital marketers and web developers, the search engine doesn’t rely on this platform for ranking cues. Google Analytics was designed to give web owners access to their web data and analytics, not the other way around and Google is already collecting all of this information in its own databases.
Some Websites Don’t Use Google Analytics: According to W3Techs’ estimates, only about 54% of all websites use Google Analytics. As such, the Google Analytics’ bounce rate cannot be used as a ranking factor.
However, while Google doesn’t necessarily use Google Analytics’ bounce rate as a ranking factor, it does still affect SEO.
How Bounce Rate Relates to Other SEO Factors
The most important thing to take from this article is that it’s not necessarily important whether Google is tracking bounce rate through Google Analytics and ranking your web page on this metric. The important thing to note is that while bounce rate may not be a direct ranking factor for Google, it does indirectly affect SEO factors that Google uses.
Having a high bounce rate is often a symptom of weaknesses in your wider SEO strategy. The following SEO problems may cause a high bounce rate on your site:
- Slow Load Speed: Bounce rate increases as page speed goes up, meaning that the slower the first page visited is, the more people only visit one page.
- Low-quality Web Design: Internet users visit millions of web pages every day. If yours doesn’t make an impression, they will just skim it briefly and move on, creating a bounce.
- Site is not Mobile Optimised: The slower your mobile pages load, the higher your bounce rate will be. Mobile websites loading in 3.3 seconds have a 20% bounce rate as mobile users don’t want to wait.
These problems are fixable and are often addressed when an SEO expert is brought in to look at the website. This is why fixing the bounce rate on your site can help your search engine ranking. The problem only arises if the focus is entirely on fixing the bounce rate rather than the underlying issue that is causing the high bounce rate.
The key to successful SEO is to remember that while your bounce rate may not directly affect your page ranking, it is still something that website owners should understand and be able to improve upon.