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Getting users engaged with your content can result with a sale, subscription, bookmark and return visit. One of best ways to increase reader engagement is to make sure that your site architecture interlinks related content and displays them in a way which encourages the user to click around. If the first article doesn’t result in a subscription, the second might.

A term commonly used to measure visitor engagement is the bounce rate, which is the percentage of initial visitors who leaves your site after arriving at the entry page. These are visitors who ‘bounce away’ after arriving without viewing other pages on your site. You can easily find your site’s bounce rate by using stats tools like Google Analytics.

A low bounce rate means that visitors are exploring your website in greater detail. This can be inferred to mean that they are more engaged with your content. In a recent article, Jakob Nielsen suggested that the bounce rate remains an important metric.

Given growing bounce rates, we must stop using “unique visitors” as a metric for site success. Site tourists who leave a site immediately ratchet up the unique visitor count, but don’t contribute long-term value. On the contrary, bouncers should be considered anegative statistic: the site failed to engage them enough to entice even a second pageview.

Nielsen suggested that the bounce rate must be analyzed separately for four main different sources of visitors: low-value referrers, direct links from other sites, search engine traffic and loyal users. The reason for this is simple: visitors relate to your website differently, depending on their needs. The originating source indicates observable behavior patterns.

A loyal user might visit your site via a feed reader and exit after reading a new article because he/she is up to date with your archives. A user with a desire for very specific knowledge will visit your site through a search engine and can be easily tempted to click around. A casual visitor might hit one of your pages while browsing through social channels like StumbleUpon.

The point to note is that bounce rates will vary depending on the source and hence, they should be analyzed in comparison to previous sets of similar data and not across different sources. For example, the performance of search engine referrals should be measured against previous bounce rates and not against another visitor source like Digg.

Measuring Your Bounce Rate Against Overall Site Goals

However, comparing the historical bounce rates across different visitor sources will show the value of the traffic you’re receiving. Assuming that low bounce rates result in purchases, subscriptions or return visits, you can find the best performing traffic source. The important thing is to ultimately plot the bounce rates for each source against your overall site goal.

Apart from the referrer source, several other issues influence variations in bounce rates. For example, the purpose of your website, its current design and the goal of the specific entry page. It’s difficult to determine a standard bounce rate to use as a yardstick, although analytics expert Avinash Kaushik does offer some suggestions in an excellent article:

Bounce rate is a metric you’ll easily find in all web analytics tools… It won’t have all the answers for you, but it will help you focus very quickly on what’s important, show where you are wasting money and what content on your site needs revisiting. As a benchmark from my own personal experience over the years it is hard to get a bounce rate under 20%. Anything over 35% is a cause for concern and anything above 50% is worrying.

Understanding that blogs are a little different from other static sites, Avinash suggests that a 50% bounce rate for blogs is somewhat normal and a 75% rate would be a cause for concern.

Yardsticks can be useful but as I’ve mentioned, its important to not just observe bounce rate alone but its movement and impact on a specific overall goal like conversion ratios. As you are unable to ascertain the bounce rates of your competitors or peers, you need to focus more on the historical performance of your own site and study trends to discern visitor patterns.

Are lower bounce rates resulting in more purchases or subscriptions? Which type of visitors often result in high bounce rates and are there ways to change that by manipulating on-the-page elements such as link placement? What are your high-traffic pages and how can bounce visitors from it to other conversion-friendly pages on your site?

Improving Your Bounce Rate and Getting More Page Views

There is much to write on this topic. Each website has different goals or requirements so I’ll not delve too much into details but talk about overall strategies. First of all, the bounce rate is very much influenced by what is visible to the visitor. They are much more likely to click to another page when they are presented with very relevant links, call-to-actions or information.

It’s all about optimizing webpages and connecting them into a unity which adds value for both the loyal reader and the visitor who’s coming in blind from a referral site or search engine. Assume that your visitor knows nothing about your site. Assume that they want more information. Make navigation points easy to access, position links around content.

Nielsen suggests that a 2-step program to lower your bounce rates:

  1. Test your site with a group of users. Ask them to enter your site from specific pages. Get feedback based on their experiences. This will give you ways to improve.
  2. Expose next steps. Give visitors actions to take if they are interested in the current page. Add links to more information at the bottom of the copy or within content.

There are many ways to orient your visitors and the most important principle is to make the links highly visible and relevant to the current page. Let’s look at the BBC, a news site which I’ve always admired for their excellent interlinking practices. Here are screen-shots of individual story pages. Take note of the well positioned links on the sidebar:

Colombia Single Page

Burma Single Page

For publishers, the BBC content model shows how pages can be well integrated into a cohesive unit, thus encouraging users to bounce from the entry page to another. From the examples, you’ll see that content producers can include many additional links:

  1. Links to feature articles with in-depth analysis
  2. Links to other news articles on the same topic
  3. Links to a dedicated reference page dealing with only the specific topic
  4. Links to a comment section/forum to invite participation by readers
  5. Links to a Back story or general background information
  6. Links to a multi-media presentation (audio/video)

You can do the same for other static sites that aren’t publications. Just keep in mind that the main goal is to anticipate user interest and needs by creating web pages which continue to funnel them from the original entry page to other parts of your site.

To best achieve this, you should regularly analyze your bounce rate, while studying your competitors and testing your site with a group of users. After amassing data, implement changes to your site and see if the bounce rate improves. Also, determine how it affects your goals. Finally, make changes if necessary.

If you’ve not paid any attention to your bounce rate before, try starting today. It might help you to dramatically improve your website.

Posted by ABDUL SABOOR Thursday, October 8, 2009


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