It happens to everyone. Users come to your site, they look around for a moment, then they leave. They bounce off your page and back to the search engine. Some convert, some explore, many do neither. This is a scary thought for many marketers. If they aren’t sticking around, they aren’t exposing themselves to your ads, affiliate links and calls to action. How do you reduce your bounce rate and keep that traffic on your site?
Determine the Reason for Bounces
There are two reasons users bounce off your website. Either they find nothing at all that interests them, or they find exactly what they wanted. The first option is an issue; something in your marketing is attracting people under false pretenses, telling them they’ll find something they don’t. The second is also an issue; if the users find what they want immediately, there’s no incentive to stick around and explore. Some will anyway, but many will just go their own way, having satisfied their curiosity.
Remember that bounce rate is not the same thing as exit rate. A bounce is a person who came in from a search engine or link, viewed that single page, then left. An exit is someone who clicked a few internal links and browsed your site before leaving, presumably satisfied. Exits are not the problem here.
Fix Issues that Cause Bounces
Get rid of pop-ups and other obstructions. Anything that gets in the way of a user reading your content is a distraction. Some users back away out of spite or a feeling of being insulted. Others are distracted and leave.
Enhance your user interface. Your navigation and UI are incredibly important. A user needs to be able to intuitively navigate towards content that may interest them. Use a heat map to find where users are clicking that isn’t clickable, and to recognize and eliminate buttons no one clicks.
Optimize your code. If your site is slow to load, even if it only takes a second or two, you lose visitors. Remember some people have slow connections and limited bandwidth; a slow load time is a sign of a site that uses more resources than they want to allow.
Be visible on mobile devices. More than half of global web traffic is going mobile. If you lack a mobile version of your site, you’re shunning a massive amount of valuable traffic. Mobile traffic is interested, local and ready to convert, moreso than desktop traffic.
Avoid the typical ad placement. Most veteran Internet users are aware of the usual top banner, sidebar and footer advertisements. They instinctively ignore anything placed in these areas, often whether it’s an ad or not. Shake up your design a bit to promote the important ads and content.
Create a tagline header. Particularly useful for blogs, a tagline is a brief one or two sentence blurb about the primary topic of your site. Consider it the elevator pitch; you have 10 seconds to grab the user’s attention. Make use of that time wisely.
Fire anyone who sets a video to autoplay or, god forbid, embeds autoplay music. Those tactics haven’t been valuable since Netscape Composer was the best HTML editor available. Autoplay videos are at best a distraction. At worst, they are a negative mark against your brand. Embedded music is even worse.
Intelligently present related content. Analyze the type of visitor that usually views a particular piece of content, and set the related articles to content they might also be interested in. Intelligent related links help draw in users to other pages.
Use internal search. Even if it’s as simple as a Google search box with the automatic insite: appended to the query, a search box makes finding content on your site approximately a billion times easier. Users are trained to use search from a young age; they’ll easily navigate your site if you give them that chance.
Create a site map or archive page. Both serve the same purpose. They provide easily readable links to the pages on your site, all in one place. This helps users find other content quickly, and it provides search engines with a site map and an easy way to locate other content. Don’t worry about excess link density hurting your SEO; Google loves site maps.
Front-load valuable content in your articles. Most readers don’t bother with anything below the fold, and those that do will often be skimming. If you can’t front-load your value, at least bold the critical sentences to make them stand out to a skim.
Promote social sharing buttons. Oddly enough, the mere presence of social sharing buttons reduces your bounce rate. Users see you have the confidence to put your content out there, and they see the number of shares your content already has; it’s a measure of trust in your brand and your content.
Include an author photo. A simple, casual, trustworthy photo presented by the side of the title or in a sidebar on a one-author blog helps lower your bounce rate by making you a more public face. Even if you’re posting a picture of the CEO of your company on a blog written by a freelancer, the presence of a picture helps. It puts a face to the words and automatically boosts confidence.
Include contextual internal links. When your content links to other articles you’ve written, you show that you’re confident in your older content. You also entice readers to open a link in another tab for future reading. Contextual links work better than sidebar links, though they both are beneficial to SEO.
Create an index of your most popular content. Chances are your popular content is popular because it’s interesting and valuable. Giving users ready access to a list of your best content gives them something else to do on your site once they’ve read their landing page.
Set target=”_blank” on external links. When a user clicks a link on your page, does it open in the same window or in a different window or tab? If it opens in the same window, that user is being taken away from the content they were reading. If this happens on their landing page, it’s a bounce. They may come right back, or they may prefer your reference over your content.
Interact with your users. If you ask them questions and encourage them to comment, they’re more likely to do so. This makes them feel more engaged, and they’re more likely to explore the rest of your site. Surveys, polls, questions and solicitations for suggestions all work.
Break up long content. Readers don’t read long posts, they skim them. That’s why so many sites have broken their articles up into two or three pages. Making a top ten list into a slideshow reduced bounce rates further. Pagination is easy for SEO as well, with the rel=next and previous tags.
Make sure your content is great! Valuable content is the best way to get readers to visit and stick around. A call to action is fine, but it’s the value before it that keeps users with you. If they don’t like what they’re reading, they’ll leave before they even see your call.