One of the big challenges in search engine optimization is reckoning with Google’s complicated, multi-faceted, and ever-changing algorithms. Simply put, there are a number of different factors that can impact your website’s performance on the search results page, and though these factors are weighted differently, they all deserve some level of consideration.
Today, we’re going to take a look at one metric, in particular: Bounce rate. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the extent to which bounce rate impacts search rankings, if at all. We thought it might be clarifying first to define the term, then to weigh the evidence for bounce rate as an important ranking signal.
What is Bounce Rate?
The best way to think about bounce rate is that it measures single-engagement visits to your site. In other words, it’s a metric that denotes the number of people who visit your site but then leave without viewing any additional pages.
Bounce rate is something you can monitor from your Google Analytics dashboard, which should give you some indication that it’s at least somewhat important in Google’s estimation. It’s also worth noting that a high bounce rate is often assumed to be an indicator of poor site quality, though we’d say the situation is considerably more complicated: A high bounce rate may point to low-quality content, but it could also suggest a poorly designed site navigation, slow loading times, or any number of related concerns.
Does Bounce Rate Impact Search Results?
Now let’s get back to our initial question: Does bounce rate actually make a difference with regard to your website’s visibility on the Google search engine results page?
According to Google’s John Mueller, the answer seems to be no. Last year, in a webmaster hangout, Mueller addressed the topic directly, saying: “I think there’s a bit of misconception here that we’re looking at things like the analytics bounce rate when it comes to ranking websites, and that’s definitely not the case.”
Mueller’s comments are certainly in keeping with tradition. To name just one example, Google’s Gary Illyes addressed the issue on Twitter, all the way back in 2017. Again, the message is pretty clear: “Bounce rate is not a good signal.”
These are just a couple of examples, but the point is this: Over the years, Google’s engineers have been remarkably consistent in their message that bounce rate does not qualify as a ranking factor, and does not directly impact organic search results.
The Importance of Bounce Rate
As you can probably imagine, though, the real story isn’t nearly so neat and tidy. While bounce rate doesn’t directly affect organic search rankings, it does have an indirect effect on a number of other metrics that Google cares about deeply. As we noted above, bounce rate often reveals much about low-quality site design, slow loading times, poor mobile optimization, and more.
Here, we’ll notice the importance of considering different website criteria together, rather than in a vacuum. For example, bounce rate can be a clarifying metric when you consider it in light of time-on-page. If you have a low bounce rate (i.e., very few single-engagement visitors) and high time-on-page (i.e., your website visitors tend to stick around for a while), that means your page probably offers compelling content and an overall positive user experience. And those are things that Google cares about very much.
Why Track Bounce Rate?
All of that’s just to say that, in our estimation, bounce rate should not be considered a ranking factor. Google has said repeatedly that it does not directly impact search rankings, and we’re happy to take them at their word.
With that said, bounce rate is an important metric for you to track, because it can tell you so much about the overall quality and efficacy of your site. Especially when you consider it alongside other metrics, bounce rate can be a helpful way to assess the success of your website. And, if your bounce rate isn’t what you’d hope it could be, that can point you down some potential avenues of course correction, including various initiatives to improve your site’s user experience.
To put all of this a bit differently: Improving your bounce rate will not, in and of itself, help your site to rank better. At the same time, if you see your bounce rate going down, that’s usually a good sign that your site is providing something relevant and useful to the end user, and that typically bodes well for your prospects in the search rankings.
Questions? We’re Here to Help.
At enCOMPASS, we’re always happy to talk with our clients about different ways to assess site quality and performance, and to offer some strategies to improve rankings or enhance user experience. Feel free to contact us directly any time you’d like to chat.
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