Keeping visitors on your website is a key component to success. The more time a visitor spends on your site, the more likely they are to follow through with whatever action you want them to take, whether that’s subscribing to a newsletter, purchasing a product, or making an inquiry.
For the past year, my bounce rate has averaged 3.5%. If I remove a couple of short events from my stats that drive that number higher (and which appear to be related to changes in Google’s algorithm), it’s averaged under 2%. That means for every 100 people who visit my site, 98 of them click through to at least one other page.
Below is a screenshot from my analytics account for the past month, showing my 1.79% bounce rate. Now, I’m not getting millions of visitors per month, but I do get enough to make this a statistically accurate percentage (it’s based on numbers much higher than what most political polling pools are made up of).
My site is a blog, so bounce rates that low might not be possible on more sales-driven sites. But the principles I’ve used to keep my bounce rate low can be applied to virtually any type of site, whether it’s a blog or a sales site, to lower your bounce rate.
Now, the good news is that there’s nothing complicated in what I’ve done. My site uses a stock template with some minimal customizations. There are no expensive plugins or anything else that every single site owner out there can’t afford to do.
1. Simple, Easy to Find Navigation
Navigation on the site is located in two places: the first is above the header, at the very top of the page. This navigation bar provides links to all pages on the site. It’s simple to find, stands out due to the contrast between it and the rest of the page, and only includes a handful of links. This makes it very user-friendly.
The second navigation option is located in the sidebar. At the top is a search bar, which makes it easy to find relevant posts in the archives (where there are over 300 posts).
Then there’s a banner that links to an internal page, followed by social media links that go off-site. This might seem counter-intuitive for keeping a bounce rate low, but there’s a trade-off. If a visitor is going to leave my site, I’d definitely prefer them to leave by going to one of my social media profiles than to just simple click their back button.
Next are category listings and tag clouds. The category list is purposely kept short: 12 categories in total. Anything longer becomes cumbersome and unusable. You want to make sure that your category listings will all fit on your user’s screen at the same time, without the need for scrolling. The tag cloud is more organic, with the most popular tags larger than the least popular.
From there are more widgets, subscribe buttons, and a recent posts feed. These are mostly tertiary navigation options, and aren’t widely used. But, considering there is relevant content spanning the entire length of the page, it makes sense to use more of the sidebar, as long as there’s still sufficient white space. This wouldn’t necessarily be the case, though, with a design where the sidebar is also included on individual post pages (more on that in “An Uncluttered Design” below).
The big thing here is that there’s no fancy, complicated navigation. No assisted search. No mega drop-down menus. It’s no more complicated than it absolutely has to be. Granted, such simple navigation won’t work for every site, but the basic principle of not making it more complex than it absolutely has to be is a good one to follow regardless of the number of pages on your site.
2. Every Single Page Counts
This is probably the single biggest thing you can do to lower your bounce rate: make sure that every single page on your website is useful, interesting, and well-laid-out. Visitors aren’t likely to just land on your home page, or even one of your carefully crafted landing pages. They’ll land on whatever page shows up for them in search results, or whatever page they found linked through social media.
If they land on a page that’s hard to read, has a poor design, is boring, or otherwise loses their attention, they’re going to head straight for their back button.
On my site, every single article I publish is something I hope will be useful and engaging for my readers. I don’t post for the sake of posting; I post when I have something to say.
3. An Uncluttered Design
A simple design makes it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for. Consistency is also key. Every page on my site has the navigation at the top. No matter which page a visitor lands on, they’ll see that navigation bar.
That doesn’t mean that every single page on your site has to look the same. The individual post pages on my site have a single-column layout (sans-sidebar) and a white background behind the content. The font size is also larger than it is on the front page, which adds to improved readability. But regardless of whether you’re looking at the home page, an interior page, or an individual post, you’ll get an uncluttered and simple design that makes it easy to focus on the content.
4. Tag Clouds
Tag clouds are a great way to let visitors browse for useful content. While they don’t work well for every site, they’re great for blogs or other sites with article-style content (they even work well for e-commerce sites with a large volume of products).
One key to effective tags, though, is to be consistent in which tags you use. Don’t use multiple variations on the same keywords, but rather select from the list of tags you’ve already created whenever applicable. This makes your tag cloud smaller and more easily used.
5. Post Excerpts on the Home Page
For those times when visitors do end up directly on your home page, only displaying post excerpts rather than full-length posts almost guarantees click-throughs. Make the first couple of paragraphs of your posts interesting and engaging. Avoid copy that tries too hard or goes for the hard sell. The goal is to get your visitors to click through to more of your content.
I generally use post excerpts that are two to four paragraphs long, depending on the content and the length of each, as well as the overall length of the post.
6. Links at the End of Each Post
Since I don’t have a sidebar on the individual post pages, there’s a section at the bottom that lists the categories and keywords that the post is tagged with. (The category is also listed at the top of each post.) This makes it simple for visitors to find related posts.
Keeping the links at the end like this makes sense on a blog, where a lot of readers will be scrolling down to see comments on the post. Internal links also mean that there’s more opportunity for visitors to click through to other pages, rather than clicking their back button.
7. Regular Updates
This one is vital, especially for lowering your bounce rate when it comes to return visitors. Even if you update your blog on a daily basis, not all of your regular visitors are going to come back every day. So if they know you’re likely to have published more than one post since their last visit, they’ll click through to more pages.
The key thing to realize here is that lowering your bounce rate isn’t difficult. It’s all about creating a better experience for your visitors. At every step of the way, you should be asking yourself if what you’re doing is providing more value to your visitors. If you are, then you’ll likely see a decrease in your bounce rate. If not, then don’t be surprised if it has the opposite effect.
Bounce rate is only one small portion of your website’s overall success, but it is an important one. Lowering your bounce rate can help you get more out of your current visitors, and it makes sense to focus on that before you focus on growing your overall site traffic.
About the Author: Cameron Chapman is a freelance designer, blogger, and the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.