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Google Algorithm Update – Is Bounce Rate a Ranking Signal?

User Bounces in the Post-Panda World

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Google Algorithm Update – Is Bounce Rate a Ranking Signal?
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Update: Looks like we have a direct answer now.

Forget for a moment everything you think you know about Google and how they rank content. Put yourself in the role of a person who is tasked with ranking results. One result gets clicked often, but most of the time the user only stays on the page for a few seconds (if that), returns to the results page, and clicks on another result.

Meanwhile, another result on the same page gets clicked on a lot too, but when users click on that one, they stay on the page longer, and don’t even return to the results page to find another result to click on. Nor do they refine their query. Which page is most likely the one that has the better content for that particular search?

Should bounce rate be a ranking signal? Comment here.

Well, being a human, you have the luxury of looking at both pages and making that call. Now, pretend you’re not a human. You’re a computer algorithm tasked with ranking the world’s information for the majority of searchers. While you have over 200 signals that can help you determine which one should rank higher, wouldn’t this be one that could help?

This is not exactly bounce rate, but it’s related. In this case, it is the bounce in the direction of back to the SERP, and while there has been a lot of discussion and argument about whether Google uses actual bounce rate as a signal, it seems pretty likely that they are looking at this specific element of it.

SearchMetrics, after releasing data about the Panda winners and losers in the UK, said, “It seems that all the loser sites are sites with a high bounce rate and a less time on site ratio. Price comparison sites are nothing more than a search engine for products. If you click on a product you ‘bounce’ to the merchant. So if you come from Google to ciao.co.uk listing page, than you click on an interesting product with a good price and you leave the page. On Voucher sites it is the same. And on content farms like ehow you read the article and mostly bounce back to Google or you click Adsense.”

“And on the winners are more trusted sources where users browse and look for more information,” the firm added. “Where the time on site is high and the page impressions per visit are also high. Google’s ambition is to give the user the best search experience. That’s why they prefer pages with high trust, good content and sites that showed in the past that users liked them.”

WebmasterWorld Founder Brett Tabke wrote in a recent forum post, discussing what he calls the “Panda metric“, that “Highly successful, high referral, low bounce, quality, and historical pages have seen a solid boost with panda.”

In a recent video from Google’s Matt Cutts, on ranking in 2011, he talks about increasing site speed, and how this can keep users on your site longer (IE: not bouncing), you can increase your ROI. Speed is a ranking signal. We know that. Speed can reduce bounce rate. Even if Google doesn’t use bounce rate directly, there is a strong relationship here.

A reader (hat tip to Jordy) sent us this link from Matt McGee at SearchEngineLand, posted last June:

Bounce rate and rankings? Matt [Cutts] says Google Analytics is not used in the general ranking algorithm. “To the best of my knowledge, the rankings team does not use bounce rate in any way.” He tiptoed around this question a bit, choosing his words very carefully.

The part about tiptoeing is somewhat intriguing in and of itself, but it’s also important to note that this was nearly a year ago, and the Panda update was not announced until just this past February (and has even been tweaked since then).

We also picked the brain of SEO vet Jim Boykin. We asked Jim how important he thinks bounce rate is. He says, “I think that some aspects of bounce rate are very important in the post-panda world.”

“It’s important to note how Google defines Bounce Rate,” he adds. This is below:

“Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page. Use this metric to measure visit quality – a high bounce rate generally indicates that site entrance pages aren’t relevant to your visitors. The more compelling your landing pages, the more visitors will stay on your site and convert. You can minimize bounce rates by tailoring landing pages to each keyword and ad that you run. Landing pages should provide the information and services that were promised in the ad copy.”

He also points to how it is defined in Google Analytics:

“The percentage of single page visits resulting from this set of pages or page.”

“Personally, I don’t think that a single page visit is a bad thing. To me, it tells me the visitor found what they were looking for. Isn’t that what Google would want? If I were Google, I’d want a searcher to find the answer to their search on the exact page they clicked on in a search result…not 1 or 2 clicks in. If I were Google, I’d look more at ‘Who Bounces off that page, and returns to the same Google search, and clicks on someone else, and then never returns to your site,’ but I’m not Google, and that’s just my ‘if I were Google’ thoughts”.

Regardless, it can’t be a bad thing to strive to make every page of yours the best page of its type – the solution to the searcher’s problem. At its heart, that is really what the Panda update is about. Really, that’s what search ranking is about in general. Delivering the BEST result for the query – signals aside.

As far as links, while Boykin says it’s “kind of” fair to say that making sure your links point to quality pages can have a major impact on how Google ranks your site post-Panda, he says, “The final solution should be to remove or fix the low quality pages, and thus, all your links would point to ‘quality pages’.”

Again, this should improve bounce rate.

“I think most agree that there’s a ‘Page Score’ or a ‘set of pages score,’ and when that has a bad score, it affects those pages, and somehow ripples up the site,” Boykin adds. “It could quite well be that if you have a page that links out to 100 internal pages, and if 80 of those pages are ‘low quality’ than it just might affect that page as well. A lot of this is hard to prove, but there are some smoking guns that can point in this direction.”

“Bounce rate is important, and yes, many sites that got hit did have a high bounce rate, but comparing this to sites/pages that weren’t hit doesn’t exactly show any ‘ah ha’ moments of ‘hey, if your bounce rate is over 75%, then you got Panda pooped on,’ because the bounce rate Google shows the public is missing many key metrics that they know, but don’t share with us.”

I think the best advice you can follow in relation to all of this is to simply find ways to keep people from leaving your site, before they complete the task you want them to complete. That means providing content they want.

Is bounce rate important in the post-Panda world? Tell us what you think.

Google Algorithm Update – Is Bounce Rate a Ranking Signal?
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  • http://inoutside.biz Imelda Ortega Suzara

    The lesson is that you need an interesting informative website relevant to the keyword search or the viewer will leave your website and find the next one on the search page. The most popular websites where viewers spend hours are social media and video websites: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube. Lots of interesting content and interaction between the content providers and their viewers. Thus, most businesses should shift their online strategies to include social media and video in their websites to get viewers aka potential customers.

  • http://www.electric-reviews.org Mark Demers

    When it come to ranking- Beef up the quality on your site and let the rest take care of itself. Bounce rate should only figure in if that page was visited by a real person from Google so they could see what`s really there.

  • http://superiorwowguide.com/wow-hunter-leveling-quest-guide/ Paul Burkhardt

    It would make good sense for bounce rate to be part of SE’s ranking algorithm as it is based on the users good or bad initial experiance on the page or site. Even if it is not a factor now it’s my guess that it very well may be it the future.

    • Harold G.

      Let me try this again:

      Bounce Rate DOES NOT, and WILL NOT, ever be used as a ranking factor for the simple reason that it is not demonstrative of a negative, or irrelevant visit. A simple example that qualifies the aforementioned is when a visitor hits your home page and sees enough relevant content and imagery to be compelled to call the big, shiny 1-800 number at the top of the site for more information. The visitor got enough relevant information right from the home page thanks to your very focused, well-designed and, again, relevant layout. This happens all the time. Hence, the the number of page views isn’t what’s important; it is the relevance of your content.

  • http://www.localbiznovascotia.com Paul – Local biz Nova Scotia

    I think there is definetely some confusion of what exactly what “bounce rate” is. It’s definition is somewhat vauge as well
    and perhaps it would help if google updated its analytics terms.

    For instance – What is the difference between someone landing on a home page and immediately leaving (within 3-5 sec) and someone staying on and reading some content and leaving after say 45 secs?

    We have 2 bounces clearly by googles call but visitor #2 may have benefitted from that 45 sec visit and perhaps learned something.

    • http://soberlivingsearch.com Tom Rees

      I think you are touching on how Google COULD use analytics somehat effectively, but it is definitely not with the bounce rate. We can see how bounce rate can be manipulated, how people can get good info off a bounce page etc. What not many people have talked about which the reader above comments on, is time spent on site, perhaps number of page views, but also the raw visitoror numbers. If a decent number visitors show up and they are spending an average of say 5 minutes on the site, what could tell Google a site was more popular and had interesting information on it? How long someone spends there. Of course that is kind of meaningless if you only get 10 people. But if you have thousands a people a month spending longer than average on the site, that definitely adds up to a site that shows good value to readers, and I believe they would use these numbers before trying to take bounce rate into account.
      My site is an example, where it shows sober living houses across the country. Alot of managers want to check their own sites out in the standings and can do that in a matter of less than a minute thus giving a high bounce rate. But for the people looking for houses they stay a while and have numerous page views, showing the site is doing its job for the “searchers”. Find Sober Livings or related Halfway Houses easily and fast.

  • http://www.todsscarpe.net/ Tod’s Sito Ufficiale

    Bounce rate, like many metrics can very easily be manipulated by the site owner. A bounce is calculated when there is only one pageview in the visit. HOWEVER, a site owner can programmatically generate a second pageview. So even though a visitor might only see one page, Google Analytics would register 2 pages and thus NO bounce

  • http://www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au Bruce Williamstown

    Bounce rate? who would have thought? I wonder how that is doing for all the people who use programs like senuke to drop their signature everywhere? these incoming visitors are likely to be curious if anything and not targeted visitors. Seems like some of the automated seo methods may be taking a big hit.

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    This is really very interesting, many thanks for discussing it. Remember to also stop by our website. We’re firm that offers Seo services, Web Page Design, Customized Software package Development and IT innovations in Philadelphia.

  • http://thewebtaylor.co.uk Web Design Portsmouth

    I do not agree this should be used in the algorithm, like you have mentioned in this article, the human should be the one to make this decision!

    Also for people who do get a high bouncerate, how are they supposed to improve on this and refine their website to contain the content that people want to see?

    Another move by google that shows their arrogance

  • http://www.w3origin.com/ SEO India

    Great news, its good for a common user. Now i hope better search result will come out.

  • http://konccepts.com/blog/ Som

    I don’t think that bounce rate affects on ranking . If I don’t use Google analytics , Google can’t be able to calculate my bounce rate. So.. how will the bounce rate affect my ranking? and I am agreed with @Joe Dundas & @Jack Fisher. What they described is logically true.

  • http://www.memebridge.com Will.Spencer

    I have a half a dozen sites which were penalized in Panda II and a half a dozen which were boosted in Panda II — I have sites on both sides of the fence.

    Looking at my data, there is absolutely no correlation between Panda II and any of these variables::

    * Pages/Visit
    * Average Time on Site
    * % New Visits
    * Bounce Rate

  • http://www.stellarinfo.com/digital-media-recovery.htm Photo Recovery Software

    This is very important factor when we promoting our business online and if your bounce rate is high it means user is not comfortable to use your website. So reduce bounce rate and get top rank means if your bounce rate is low surely your website is very high quality.

  • http://www.cuscoperuflamencotravel.com/ Luz Medina

    Regardless, it can’t be a bad thing to strive to make every page of yours the best page of its type – the solution to the searcher’s problem.

  • http://www.peruadventuretrek.com/ Gina Ferro

    Personally, I don’t think that a single page visit is a bad thing. To me, it tells me the visitor found what they were looking for.

  • Adam Catley

    As most other comments left here I have an issue with “Bounce Rate” as a metric.

    The reason being is that our website is an information site, not sales, therefore we optimise our keywords to ensure deep links into relevant content.

    Unfortunately most customers are naturally disengaged with the our services and our goal is to provide our customers with useful relevant content that they don’t have to click through to after landing on our site. This means we have a high bounce rate which we consider to be good!!! Admittedly we do make sure that the time spent on page is also at a level to ensure that customers have time to read the content!

    From my point of view lets hope Google doesn’t take this into account, and I have to say we have lost any prominence since the launch of Panda!

  • http://www.seonorthamerica.com Tom Aikins

    You would think that bounce rate would have some effect on rankings regardless of what Matt Cutts says. If Google is trying to rank content, which should be just about impossible for them to do in a normal way, ie, reading, then bounce rate would seem to indicate whether or not people are impressed with the content they find on a site.

  • http://oceanofweb.com ATUL

    very good video.. I dont know but why my sites bounce rate is very high. Can anybody pls help

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lung-cancer-symptoms2 Lung Cancer Symptoms

    I’m realistically not as well familiar with this topic but I do like to have a look at blogs for layout strategies and exciting subjects. You surely described a topic that I more often than not really do not care substantially about and made it especially fascinating. This can be a great weblog that I’ll take note of. I by now bookmarked it for long term reference. Lung Cancer Symptoms

  • http://familybusinesstips.com/2011/05/google-analytics-bounce-rate/ Joe Shaw

    Let’s say you wrote a page called ‘Understanding your Google Analytics Bounce Rate’…. if someone searches for that reads your post and are fully satisfied, then you’ve delivered the answer to their question.

    Why would it matter if they left? It’s a little backwards when you start trying to figure out how to hold them on your site just to improve a metric.

    To me it’s the exact opposite of a quality visit.

    Don’t get me wrong, if someone is on your site for 5 seconds and then clicks the back button… that would make sense to call it a bounce.

    I don’t know… surely google is smart enough to know the difference.

    Just my two cents!
    Joe Shaw

  • http://www.clicklab.com.br Jens

    Excellent article!

    This is, for me, the essence of what Google is doing/should be doing:

    “Personally, I don’t think that a single page visit is a bad thing. To me, it tells me the visitor found what they were looking for. Isn’t that what Google would want? If I were Google, I’d want a searcher to find the answer to their search on the exact page they clicked on in a search result…not 1 or 2 clicks in. If I were Google, I’d look more at ‘Who Bounces off that page, and returns to the same Google search, and clicks on someone else, and then never returns to your site,’ but I’m not Google, and that’s just my ‘if I were Google’ thoughts”

    (my emphasis)

    Google is too clever to simply say low Bounce Rate == high page quality. As Boykin says in the quote above, there are ways for Google to include Bounce Rate in the calculations while taking other factors into account.

  • http://www.seoppcsmm.com Asif Anwar

    Hi Chris,

    What you are talking about is SERP Bounce, not the regular bounce that makes the bounce rate score. Bounce Rate still can happen even if you are not on Google/Bing/Yahoo. So, we need to have them separated: 1. SERP Bounce 2. Regular Bounce.

    Re: SERP Bounce and whether it is a ranking signal?

    I have recently blogged about SERP bounce. It is based on the recent search feature “Block all example.com results” update by Google, when you make a SERP Bounce. In the article by Google, they said:

    We’re adding this feature because we believe giving you control over the results you find will provide an even more personalized and enjoyable experience on Google. In addition, while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.

    So, this very paragraph confirms that SERP Bounce is not a ranking signal. Rather it is a quality factor, just like the search wiki. One reason I think that this can not be a ranking signal, because if I am serious, I’d visit each page one by one and see all the results. If I like a page, then I would Ctrl+Click it. And there are 100s of ways my intention can work. So, using SERP Bounce as ranking signal would be injustice to really good and authority pages.

    Re: Regular Bounce and Whether it should be a Ranking Signal

    I don’t believe this private user data like Bounce Rate that happens beyond SERP, is not be something Google would be using as ranking signal. Where would Google get the data? Google Analytics? That will threaten the use of GA then. And there will also be ethical issue that Google is forcing webmasters to use GA scripts.

    Again, every news page on CNN.com is highly bouncy. i.e. people leave without reading other pages or news. It does not make the page less quality. So, the usual bounces that make the bounce rate score should not be a ranking signal.

  • everet John

    I have a question.
    I search for the answer.
    I find a page via Google Search Engine.
    I visit page and get my answer. I then leave/bounce
    Bounce would be a horribly unreliable ranking factor.

  • http://www.brettb.com/ Brett

    According to Google Analytics, my “best” sites have the lowest bounce rate. Go figure…

  • http://www.clinicsource.com/soapnotes.aspx FionaGibson

    Going to be more hard if you know to interest how our billing is working??