Bounce Rates Are Not a Ranking Factor for SEO
Bounce Rate Myth among SEOs
by Dr. William Sen
It is a big misunderstanding among many SEOs that bounce rate plays a significant role in ranking websites in search engines such as Google. Many SEO’s don’t know that having good bounce rates is not always a guarantee for good search engine rankings, and at the same time, a bad bounce rate is no cause for concern.
But, before I go into why bounce rates don’t matter in rankings, let me explain what bounce rates are:
What is a Bounce Rate?
When a user visits and jumps off a page, it’s called a bounce. For example, if the bounce rate is 90%, it means 90 out of 100 users left the page without engaging further on the website. This typically occurs when a user clicks on a link on the search engine results page (SERP), and jumps back to the search results by clicking on the back button on their browser.
Can Google Detect Bounce Rates?
I would like to explain why Google is not able to tell from the bounce rate whether a page was relevant to the user or not. Of course many SEOs would beg the differ, but they couldn’t be more wrong. I heard from famous and reputable SEOs that bounce rates would affect keyword rankings—the truth is that you need scientific computer knowledge in combination with information economics to understand why that is actually impossible.
When a user finds a relevant page in the search engine result page (SERP) and opens the website, a click is generated. Google can see this because of the Google Analytics code implemented on the website, assuming it is being used of course.
Now, the first question pops up in our heads already—and think about this for a moment:
Does this mean that the bounce rate cannot be calculated if the Google Analytics code was not installed on the website?
Conclusively, therefore, another question is important:
Does the bounce rate only play a role as a positive and negative ranking factor for the Google algorithm only if an Analytics code has been installed?
And if that’s the case, shouldn’t you consider not installing the Google Analytics code if you suspect high bounce rates to protect yourself from Google’s negative rankings?
We’ll get to the bottom of these questions right now:
If a Google Analytics code is installed on the website, Google can also measure the bounce rate. In this case, a bounce rate is high when a user opens a page and does not click on other pages on the website.
That’s the first problem right here:
So, technically speaking, Google cannot understand how long a user spends on a page unless a second click is generated in the same Google Analytics ecosystem.
Many SEOs rely on the fact that Google can calculate the website bounce rate even without having the Google Analytics code on the website—namely, when the user clicks on a link from the SERP, but then jumps back to the search engine results page (SERP)—also known as Pogo Sticking. In theory, Google would then acknowledge that the user came back to the SERP, and would know the content wasn’t interesting for the user. Not only from my own experience, but also after numerous discussions with famous SEOs, I am firmly convinced that this statement is a myth.
Why is that?
Many users open various tabs then return to the SERP. This does not mean the user returned because the page opened wasn’t interesting enough. After all, Google cannot measure or see if or how many tabs a user has opened. Other users, for example, found the content relevant, bookmarked it or saved it in some way, or shared it on social media channels, and returned to the SERP. So, returning to the SERP doesn’t mean that the user didn’t like the content. Furthermore, I see this daily on my client’s Analytics Reports that high bounce rates do not lead to negative rankings. Many keywords and pages have ranked high in the SERP for years, and yet still have a bounce rate higher than 95%. Therefore, empirical research shows that bounce rates are not a ranking factor.
The bounce rate has no ranking relevance for Google.
This also coincides with the simple problem I mentioned above:
If no Google Analytics code is installed, Google will not be able to measure the bounce rate anyway. If the bounce rate was a ranking criterion, Google would have to treat websites with Analytics Codes differently. And websites without the Google Analytics Code would have the freedom to offer bad content, so to speak, and Google would not be able to take notice of it. If this was correct, and SEOs would find that out, any SEO would avoid embedding the Google Analytics code. That would be the end for Google Analytics.
And that’s the information from an economic standpoint I was talking about above. Google cannot afford to use the bounce rate as a ranking criterion.
Below are some other facts that support this conclusion: Gary Illyes, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, said bounce rates are not being used to rank Google: Victoria Cushing.
And lastly, Matt Cutts made similar statements in the past. Although I do not fully trust all of Google’s statements, especially coming from Matt Cutts (I always thought he was not part of the Google’s core development team but enjoyed providing educational guesses), this claim on the other hand is very credible.
This article shows that there are still a lot of emphasis on other factors when it comes to rankings. Google increasingly relies on text mining to recognize the relevance of articles. In addition, the distribution of topics across the entire site naturally plays a major role.
Google has very sophisticated clustering techniques to detect if a website and its pages offer relevant content. Take this article that you’re reading right now for example. This one showed up in the SERP and you found it because the entire website at www.gobluemedia.com is about SEO, and Google is convinced that this content appeals to a specific topic/audience. If you are looking for a specific topic, you will find this article. If I were to create an article about selling mountain bikes, Google would not rank the article high because this website wouldn’t have any relevancy to the article. I could go on forever on what other factors play a role in determining the relevancy of content besides bounce rates.
What is bounce rate for then?
Now you’re asking yourself why bother with bounce rates then? Well, it’s still very important. Marketers can see if certain pages led to further engagement on the website. Therefore, we can answer questions like these ones from Google Analytics about bounce rates:
- Does the content on a certain page motivate the user to go deeper into the website?
- How well do teasers and other engaging elements and widgets work?
On pages with high bounce rates, you can see how well the page has managed to engage the user. Thus, the bounce rate is a very important indicator for SEOs. In the end, if your website provides high quality content, other factors besides bounce rates will help rank your content high on search engines. That’s what it comes down to.
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