LBD #015: Is it good for SEO if people stay longer on your site?

TL;DR & Summary

Every social media platform wants to have you on its platform for as long as possible. Why? That’s how they make more money. The more time you spend on their platform, the more ads they can serve you.

Does that mean you too should focus on having people for as long as possible? Because it’s evident that that’s how social platforms make more money.

In this issue, we are going to decode if bounce rate being is ranking factor is a myth or not.

Most marketers believe that Google uses bounce rate as a ranking factor. You’re not at fault if you too believe that to be true. Some of the most trusted sources, Rank Fishkin tweeted claiming that bounce rate is a ranking factor. He’s not completely wrong, because search engines clearly would use such metrics.

However, the bounce rate is very subjective & manipulative. Therefore, I want you to focus on the right thing than wasting time on what search engines neglect.

The whole point of worrying about bounce rate is to improve ranking & hence the traffic.

Here are 3 simple things you should know about bounce rate:

  1. Focus on user engagement rather than bounce rates
  2. Worry about bounce rates only if you’re running paid ads to generate leads or run ads across your site
  3. The bounce rate doesn’t directly affect search rankings. At least not directly (Evidence provided)

The bounce rate is the percentage of single-page sessions on your site. The problem with the bounce rate is that one can easily fool the system by manipulating it. Furthermore, the bounce rate is highly misleading. But isn’t UX an important factor to rank pages?

That’s the confusion.

If bounce rate was actually a ranking factor, how would search engines measure it? What’s the threshold below which it’s considered a bounce-off? A user leaving your page doesn’t mean it’s not useful.

What if the user found what they’re looking for immediately upon landing on your page and leave? This will increase your bounce rate but on the other hand, it’s actually helping users with exactly what they’re looking for.

You should strike a balance between seeing the bounce rate as a single and seeing it as a ranking factor. One can’t discard the bounce rate altogether, since there are major players claiming bounce rate to be a ranking factor. Even Hubspot included bounce rate in their post as a ranking factor.

SEMrush’s claim that bounce rate is an important ranking factor

Why can’t bounce rate be used as a ranking factor?

The line between bounce rate being a ranking factor or just a signal or relevance is very blurry. However, there are some logical reasons why it can’t be.

  • The bounce rate is misleading at times. Search engines can’t really tell if a user is actually on your page without their tracking code (for example Google Analytics tracking code) installed on your site
  • Not every website has Google Analytics installed. This makes it impossible for Google to track the interactions of users on your page
  • There’s no standard threshold for the bounce rate. How long should the user be on your page, leaving after which isn’t considered a bounce-off?

If you use Google Analytics to measure the site performance, you’ll have to face data related to the bounce rate every time.

Here are some technical details you should be aware of.

#1 A lower Bounce Rate doesn’t mean higher rankings

Google’s official document on How search works.

Google has clearly stated that they use “interaction data” to determine the relevance. A lower bounce rate means that the page is relevant. However, that’s not the case always. People have several tabs open. Even if the tab is active, chances are the user might be busy doing something else. Only when the user is actively interacting with the page can the search engine know the activeness of the user.

Rand Fishkin has carried out experiments several times to see if CTR & bounce rate change how pages rank. It was nearly a tie.

So it’s evident that CTR & bounce rate might create some ripples. But it doesn’t take long for the algorithm to figure out that it’s just some noise & settles the SERP back to normal.

#2 When should you focus on Bounce Rate?

Only if you manage a site that monetizes only by serving ads, like Facebook or any social platform for that matter. If you run a blog running Google Adsense (or a similar ad network), then it might make some sense to get obsessed with the bounce rate. The more time you on your blog, the more money you make.

When you need to track the behavior of logged-in users, bounce rate plays a vital role. It tells you the time spent on your platform and the rate at which people leave your platform.

Another scenario I can think of is when you run paid campaigns to generate leads. If you have a high bounce rate, that means either you’re not targeting the right audience or the ad copy isn’t resonating. In either of these cases, the bounce rate, in no way affects SEO. It’s all for user experience.

The bounce rate doesn’t serve any business objective, neither yours nor Google’s. Instead, you should focus on engagement on your page. That’s how you’d make a business out of the pages. If users aren’t engaging with your pages, how are you going to make money? Simple math.

Here’s how you can keep the users engaged on your pages:

  1. Incorporate copywriting
  2. If you use ads, make it less annoying
  3. Give what users want, right away
  4. Make your pages load faster. Be mobile-friendly
  5. Focus on the experience of the users

#3 Does the bounce rate affect your search ranking?

It clearly doesn’t. Matt Cutts said in 2010 that Google Analytics (not the tool, but the data) isn’t a ranking factor. In 2015, Gary Illyes replied to a tweet saying Google doesn’t use bounce rate as a ranking factor.

Bounce rate can’t affect your search rankings since the measurement is unreliable for obvious reasons. It simply measures, the number of single-page sessions of users on your site. This clearly doesn’t give any evidence of the helpfulness of your site or a specific page. Because search engines can’t understand anything about the intent of a user upon landing on your page.

There also have been studies, where relations between high on-page time and higher rankings were found. Even those studies don’t claim that bounce rates affect SEO since there’s a lack of evidence despite strong relations.

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