Bounce rate is one of those metrics that, like the Transformers, there’s more to it than meets the eye. At first glance, bounce rate is bad. It’s the people who hit your site and leave, how can that be good?
The fact is, there are two types of bounces. The first type is bad. These are the people who click on your site in search results and almost immediately close the tab or hit the back button. They’re people who are clearly not interested in your site, either clicking on it by mistake or just judging immediately that you don’t have what they want.
It’s not even necessarily a failing on your part, either. I’ll often find a product I want and Google for it, and sometimes I’ll click a link assuming it’s Amazon when it’s really Walmart. Walmart could sell the product just fine, but I don’t want to buy through them, so I bounce and go to Amazon.
The other type of bounce is a “good” bounce. Say a user searches for a reference guide on a particular PC part that you provide. They find your site and the page they land on is that exact reference guide. They have the information they want, they reference it, then they close the tab.
There’s nothing wrong with that, right? You satisfied a user. Well, the problem is, bounce rate requires two interactions to avoid. If a user arrives on your page, that’s one interaction. If they click on a link, interact with a page element, close a pop-over; those are a second action, and records a time spent on site.
If the user takes no second action, Google has no way to determine what the time spent on site is for that user. It defaults to zero and counts as a bounce, even if you perfectly satisfied the user’s intent.
All bounces are bad, even satisfied users, because they indicate that your site isn’t compelling enough for the user to want to stick around. There are, however, various tricks you can use to “force” a second action, to record non-bounce users as actual sessions rather than bounces. I’ve compiled a list of WordPress plugins you can implement to help you do this.
“Fake” bounces are caused by a user not having a second interaction with your page, so they don’t trigger that second data point to measure the time they spent on site. What if you could force an interaction behind the scenes to get that second data point without affecting the user’s experience on your page? That’s what this plugin does.
This plugin is extremely simple. Essentially, all it does is re-triggers the Google Analytics tracking code you use on your WordPress site every ten second. Any user that has been on your page for longer than ten second gets a second data point, or a third, or fourth, or as many as they have been sitting on your site. You don’t have to use the default ten second data point, either. You can choose to have it trigger more or less often in the settings page.
From the user’s perspective, nothing is changing, except maybe a slight browser indication that something is loading. You’ve probably seen this before, actually; when you’re idle on a page and you see the favicon reload abruptly, despite you having done nothing. It’s just an indication that some script or another executed, but it doesn’t refresh the page or otherwise disrupt browsing.
You might wonder if this is kosher with Google. After all, they have a history of nuking anything that doesn’t quite mesh with their idea of how metrics should be measured. The fact is, though, Google understands that the “satisfied user bounce” is a real metric problem. In fact, they actually published a blog post back in 2012 with similar code you can implement to execute this timed refresh yourself. Google is certainly not going to punish you for using a technique they promoted themselves.
Just keep in mind that this plugin just makes your analytics more accurate. It “decreases bounce rate” by simply accurately measuring which people bounced and which people didn’t. If your bounce rate is still high, you have other options as well.
I’m making this a whole category rather than a single plugin, because there are a lot of them out there. I’ll discuss a handful of them, but first, let’s talk about what they do in general.
You’ve pretty much definitely already seen an exit intent pop-up before. In fact, if you go to move your mouse outside of your browser window right now, this very site will trigger one. It’ll ask you to sign up for our mailing list, which, by the way, is pretty good and you should sign up.
The exit intent pop-over or pop-up, whichever terminology you want to use, is a lightboxed graphic and opt-in form generally. You can actually put anything you want there; something to pitch an ebook, something to get email subscribers, something to promote a service, something to provide a coupon code, it doesn’t really matter for our discussion today.
The important part is the action. The exit intent pop-up triggers when a user makes an action to leave the site. Generally, this means they tab away, mouse outside of the current window, or move the cursor towards the X for a tab or window. In some cases, these pop-ups are simply triggered on a time delay as well.
Now, an exit intent pop-up doesn’t actually stop a user from bouncing if they want to. What it DOES do is interrupts the user’s intended action with a change on the page. This makes them take a second glance at your page, where they might decide to take another action. If that action is closing the pop-up, sure, that’s an action all right. If it’s filling out the form, great! They become a mailing list member or claim a coupon code or whatever else.
The important part is already done; it triggers an additional action. This additional action is recognized by Google and makes the user no longer a bounce. That’s all you really need. Here are some options for your consideration.
There are, of course, other options. This post from WP Buffs contains 20 of them, for instance. They’re using affiliate links, so watch for that if you care.
Pagination is a tricky subject. When used appropriately, it creates an automatic additional action a user needs to perform if they want to see the full length of your content. When used incorrectly, it can be a huge hit to your site usability and your search ranking. That’s right; overuse of pagination is something Google will penalize.
To understand why Google penalizes it, you just need to recognize that it was exploited in the past. Users would take a 1,000-word blog post and break it up into ten 100-word sections, each of which was on its own page with its own little image. This isn’t bad on its own – it’s basically just SlideShare – but it becomes a problem when you realize that people added display ads to each of those pages as well. Suddenly one article was ten pageviews instead of one. Since users didn’t click on those ads all those times, and even if they did it wouldn’t be useful clicks, Google determined it was an exploit for money and decided to penalize it.
You can still use pagination, you just need to make sure that each page of a post has significant content on it, and that you’re not running display ads – or if you are, you’re running them in reasonable volume. A 2,000-word post could be split up into two 1,000-word pages, for example, but never 20 100-word pages.
Again, pagination can be great for your site, but it can also be detrimental if you overly-paginate posts that end up individually thin pages of content. Always make sure each page has significant substance. Also, don’t forget to canonicalize the URLs so you don’t get page 2 showing up in search results when you would rather page 1.
A related post widget helps reduce your bounce rate by showcasing other interesting content on your site right next to, in the middle of, or below the content that the user is already reading. It’s like display ads for other pieces of content on your site. It, too, is something you can see in action on this page you’re reading right now. You can see it in two places: the trending posts box to the right, and the related posts box below the article.
The idea here is that a user who is engaged with your content but who has not taken a second action might be tempted to do so when they see other pieces of content that could be of interest to them. If they click on another piece of content, they’re on your site longer, which is a benefit for your calls to action. It’s also a second piece of interaction that Google can record for your analytics, making the user no longer a bounce.
The only downside is that users are slowly starting to ignore these, primarily because of native advertising systems like Taboola and Outbrain, which make themselves look like related posts but take the user to other sites.
There are a lot of different related posts plugins you can choose from, but the most flexible and most useful of them I’ve found is Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.