Many sites suffer from high bounce rates, but they may be overlooking simple ways to improve their most important page metrics.

Bounce Rate is arguably the most important metric in content analytics, but in my experience, also the most misunderstood. Several of my clients have asked me why they have “such high bounce rates,” but few of them know how bounce rate is calculated. Even fewer understand what a high (or low) bounce rate might imply, other than missing out on some quality site traffic.

I know my clients aren’t alone in their confusion. Before my days as a Content Marketing Strategist at Brafton, I was responsible for web enrollments at an electricity supply company. Bounce rates haunted my dreams, but I felt helpless to improve them. A few years and more than a handful of bounce rate blunders later, I feel it’s my responsibility to share what I’ve learned.

What is bounce rate, really?

Practically speaking, bounce rate reflects the percentage of visitors who left a page directly after landing on it. Somebody clicked a link, did a search or typed in your URL. Then, they arrived at your site, but left to another site without taking any further action. They might have clicked the “Back” button, closed their browser or typed in a new URL, but they definitely didn’t stay on your site.

In technical terms, bounce rate is defined a bit differently: A visitor session in which trackpageview is called only one time in the Google Analytics tracking code. When I noticed that one client’s home page showed a bounce rate of 0 percent, I was impressed until I realized that they had some custom code that triggered a new event to occur after the first trackpageview.

Companies must work to keep their bounce rates down through regular content analytics monitoring.

Alternatively, if all your pages have a bounce rate of 100 percent, your Google Analytics tracking code may not be registering pages. 

Don’t confuse this with your exit rate!

An easy way to distinguish bounce rates from exit rates is to keep this in mind: Every visitor session on your website will generate an exit on one page or another. As long as the person isn’t clicking around your website for eternity, he or she will leave eventually. Only visits that include just one page view will generate a bounce.

Alright, I get it – but how do I bring my bounce rate down?

1. Get rid of moving parts

Moving pieces or surprise pop-ups require your guests to constantly re-learn your site’s landscape. Even image rotators have been shown to under perform when compared with a static image.

2. Make your site mobile friendly

Over 20 percent of total web visits now come from tablets or smartphones, and this share is steadily increasing.

3. Make your site attractive

People may be clicking away if your site is unattractive. Unfortunately, this can be a hard one to fix, because it is such a matter of preference. Look at your competitors’ sites and try to imagine being one of your prospective customers. Which would you like better?

When in doubt, ask a friend for some tips, or check out this cool color scheme generator if you’re colorblind like me. So at least your site looks spiffy now! This means visitors will actually start to consume the content available on your company pages.

4. Create more relevant content

If your company sells cloud management software, please don’t write blogs about the local fair, your daughter’s most recent piano recital or the art of slipping on banana peels. Unless, that is, you found a really creative way to link these topics back to what your visitor really cares about: How your software will help them make money.

5. Host content that’s useful

Are writing about the topics that your audience is searching for? Great! Now identify what your audience’s goal is. Are you helping them reach that goal? If not, they may leave and find somebody else (your competitors) to help them.

If you’re not helping visitors reach their goals, they may leave and find somebody else (your competitors) to help them.

6. Cut back on overly aggressive linking strategies

By putting a surplus of links on your page, you might be offering visitors too many options, which indicates you don’t know what your customers want and need from you.

There are very few circumstances that would require giving users more than just a handful of options to click. Also, having too many links looks spammy to Google and could hurt your search rankings.

7. Make your 404 page interesting, fun and useful

Lots of websites have non-existent pages that still get indexed by Google. Ideally, you would delete these pages, but if you absolutely can’t avoid having them, at least make your “404-Page Not Found” page a bit more interesting. Here are some fun examples of 404 pages to inspire you.

8. Deliver what your content promises

Your visitors’ expectations are one of the most important determining factors of bounce rates. If they think they’re going to get one thing out of your content but get something else, they’re going to leave. It’s simple as that. One good way to make sure you are setting expectations correctly is to test your Ad copy and meta description on some friends or co-workers.

9. Make it easy to engage again

Visitors might leave your site if they are overwhelmed by options for further engagement. When I go to a restaurant, I like to have options, but not so many that ordering a meal becomes a difficult decision. It also makes me feel like the chef doesn’t know what her clientele wants or doesn’t have a specialty. The same goes for visiting websites.

It's important to use social buttons to encourage internet users to come back for more content.

Give your visitors a handful of reasonable actions to take. I suggest offering traffic the option of viewing related articles, downloading a gated piece of content like a whitepaper or contacting you.

10. Provide a clear engagement pathway

On the other end of the spectrum, you might not be providing visitors with clear options for further engagement. Going back to my previous example, if the restaurant only offers steak and chicken, but I’m really in the mood for shrimp, I’ll take my dollars elsewhere.

11. Make navigation easy

No website will please everybody, but if you manage your options correctly, you’ll have a great website for 85 percent of your target audience, and an okay one for the rest. You know what the majority of your prospective customers need to know, and what actions they would like to take. Your navigation should reflect that.

12. Make your pages load faster

The faster your page loads, the faster the user gets what they want. Pretty simple stuff. What might surprise you is just how impatient your site visitors are. Any pages that take longer than 2 seconds to load are probably hurting your bounce rate.

13. Check that your external links work

Make sure the external links on your site actually open in new tab or new window. This is a bit silly, but I’ve seen companies make the mistake of embedding links that don’t work. This is an easy fix as long as your users haven’t changed their browser settings.

Sometimes, bounce rates aren’t your fault. Have you ever accidentally clicked something? 

14. Give accidental visitors a compelling reason to stay

Sometimes, bounce rates aren’t your fault. Have you ever accidentally clicked something? I have. There’s nothing you can do to prevent this from happening, but you can create such a great on-site experience that even accidental site visitors stay and clickthrough to other pages.

15. Target only the most relevant keywords

Search engines make mistakes too. Google, Yahoo, Bing may display links to your site even when somebody searched for something completely different. It’s hard to counter this kind of incident, but you can cut it down by creating content that’s hyper relevant to your core offerings, so search engines don’t misinterpret what users will find on your site.

16. Check your backlink profile frequently

Other webmasters might mistakenly include links to pages on your site that don’t really give their users what they were looking for. You can keep this to a minimum by regularly monitoring your site’s inbound links and asking webmasters to remove any irrelevant (or even spammy) references.

Perform regular maintenance

Search engine optimization is not something you can set and forget. Great SEO demands attention and frequent tune-ups. The good news is companies can do a lot to improve the most important metrics, like bounce rate, by paying attention to their content analytics and taking action to give their users better search experiences.

Colin Campbell is a Content Marketing Strategist at Brafton and lives at the intersection of sales and marketing in the digital world. He graduated from St. Lawrence University with a degree in Global Studies and loves travelling. Some of his past adventures included living in a commune in Ethiopia, interviewing executives in Shanghai, and back country skiing in Montana.