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Bounce Rate and SEO
Posted on December 10th 2012
Seo (Ex)pert: We have analyzed your website’s stats, some of your pages are of poor quality, they won’t be able to be ranked well.
Poor You: Ohh!! I never knew that, can you please help me sort this out?
Many $250 later, again Poor You: Hey, I can’t see any tangible effect on my sales from your services…
The above conversation is quite common these days, I am sure, you must have been “Poor You” in many such instances. Bounce rate, one of the most talked about matrix and as I said, widely misunderstood concept, gained its popularity after “Panda Update” from Google which is essentially related with thin content, and thus, easy to relate with bounce rate and yes, easy to fool people around. Panda update and its widely misunderstood concepts are also prevailing in the seo society, but that’s another article for another day. Bounce rate, from its core definition, is the percentage of users who visited only a single page of your website and I think that this definition leads to such confusions . Alright, a visitor didn’t click any other page of my website, that’s not a crime!! We need to understand user sentiments here, and let me explain this with an example:
I did a Google search for “How to install Windows “, landed on a blog post explaining the same, I got the complete A-Z information on installing windows, I thanked the guy who took the pain of writing this blog post and left the website. I never felt like clicking on any other page of the website and thus will be counted as bounce in GA, but I got precise information on my topic and that’s what Google wants, best results to users according to their search queries. Same applies to Q& A websites, they provide point to point information about a given topic, no need to dig into the website.
Why Google doesn’t use GA data in rankings?
- Not all websites use Google analytics for tracking, though nowadays, most of the websites do use GA, but not all. Don’t forget that Omniture , Web Analytics and many other enterprise tools are also available to track website traffic and other data, it will be unfair to use GA data for rankings.
- Even those who are using GA, tracking scripts are often found to be placed incorrectly, which further hinders the data pool to be accurate.
- There are any number of Java Script experts who can easily game GA tracking code to manipulate GA data and Google has no control over it. For example, the piece of code below will adjust your bounce according to you:
Instead of ranting around Bounce Rate, you should focus on a matrix which is often overlooked and dies a natural death in your statistical analysis. Welcome Click Through Rate(CTR). Click Through Rate (CTR) from the SERPs themselves is an easy to use matrix. Whether or not a result gets clicked on is one of Google’s first clues about whether any given result is a good match to a query. We know Google has this data, because they directly report it to us. In Google Webmaster Tools, you can find CTR data under “Your site on the web” > “Search queries”. It looks something like this:
CTR plays a vital role in adwords and thus on your quality score(PPC). Though, the Adword algorithm is very different from organic search, CTR doesn’t need any analytics and search engine can easily calculate CTR, logic is very simple, Relevant results drive more clicks.
Can I Manipulate CTR?
Yes, you can. CTR by itself can easily be manipulated – you can drive up clicks with misleading titles and META descriptions that have little relevance to your landing page. Though CTR is easy to manipulate, search engines can calculate the time stamps between the click on serp result and when users hit back back button of the browser to return to serp. The lower the the time between a serp click and back button hit, will suggest that the content of the page was not good, thus user decided to look for an alternative. Bing called this time as “Dwell Time” and combination of CTR and “Dwell Time” is a strong matrix to judge the quality of SERP result. If you are trying to manipulate CTR, that kind of manipulation will naturally lead to low dwell time, though. If you artificially drive up CTR and then your site isn’t as good as it appears in serp, people will go back to the SERPs. Unfortunately, Google didn’t made this “Dwell Time” thing public but, Bing’s Duane Forrester wrote a post on “Quality Content” in which he talks about “Dwell Time”. But, I do believe that Google does use this time in order to calculate something called “Dwell Time” or maybe with some other name, there’s one piece of evidence that suggests strongly to me that they use dwell time as well (or something very similar). Last year, Google tested a feature where, if you clicked a listing and then quickly came back to the SERP (i.e. your dwell time was very low), you would get the option to block that site:
Recently, Google has rolled back this feature because of the social results in serps. The main objective of this feature was to block a site which does not provide useful information as suggested in SERP.
I hope the above information explains “How Bounce Rate could mislead you”. Instead of focusing on bounce rate, you should care about your snippets in SERP. If your CTR is too low then surely, something is wrong. May be either Description or Titles are misleading, you need to fix them ASAP.