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Top Reasons for High Bounce Rates and How to Fix Them

By Lara BerendtAug 22, 2016

high-bounce-rates

The last thing you want visitors to think when they arrive on your website is “Nope.” You want them to be interested, engaged and driven to explore your content and your brand.

High bounce rates indicate too many people are arriving on your site and abruptly leaving without clicking to another page, doing an internal search, completing a form or otherwise engaging. Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page sessions on your site, a measure of visitors who leave from the same page where they entered. (Exit rate, on the other hand, measures the percentage of traffic leaving your site from a particular page, regardless of how many pages they visited during their session.)

So what’s a good or bad bounce rate? While you may see rates ranging from 20 percent all the way up to 90 percent, average rates can vary by website type, industry and page type.

Average bounce rates, though, often fall between 40 and 55 percent. Once you see more than half of your visitors exiting your site quickly, you will want to examine why.

With all of the resources available online, people just aren’t willing to stick around for a subpar experience anymore. So let’s look at some of the top reasons for high bounce rates and what you can do to address them.

1. Your site design has issues

We internet users are capable of visceral reactions to design. When people arrive on your site, anything that makes it look like it will be a painful or unpleasant experience to interact with your content can make them reflexively hit the back button.

Some businesses are repelling visitors with an outdated look and feel. If your site has cheesy animations, out-of-touch 3-D gradient effects or retains the fully left-aligned layouts of the early 2000s, users might assume your information is similarly out of date or, worse, question whether your company is still in business.

Another big turnoff? Clutter. Visitors form near-immediate impressions of how easy it’s going to be to find the information they’re looking for. If an entry page is packed with too much stuff, they might flee in search of a simpler resource.

If there’s not enough white space on your pages to break up sections and provide visual relief, people might judge your content too tiresome to read. One study even found that white space increased comprehension by nearly 20 percent. The image below compares a cluttered, densely packed site with one that gives users some breathing room with sufficient white space.

image01.pngImage source: Hubnest

Keep an eye out for inappropriate contrast between text and background colors. If you’ve ever landed on a web page featuring gray text on a white background, you might have opted to save your eyes the pain of trying to read it. Bright white text on a black background can also cause serious eye strain after prolonged reading.

Finally, are you in the 23 percent of small businesses whose websites are not mobile-friendly? In 2016, people are less tolerant than ever of web experiences that leave them squinting, pinching and zooming on their phone or tablet. One study showed mobile visitors' bounce rates were nearly 10 percent higher than desktop visitors. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, users might not have the time or patience for exploration.

image05.pngImage source: Google Inside Search

Action item: Site design update

Make sure your web design offers:

  • A modern aesthetic that builds confidence in your brand
  • A clean, uncluttered user interface that encourages engagement
  • Enough white space to make reading and scanning pleasant
  • Eye-appeasing color contrast between fonts and backgrounds
  • A mobile-friendly experience that looks and functions great on any device

2. You’ve neglected usability

You can have a beautiful, cutting-edge design but your site can still be rife with usability issues. If people show up with a problem they need to solve and are met with a hard-to-navigate or confusing experience, they’ll do an about-face.

First, you need to meet the bare minimum of people’s expectations for websites. Don’t let creativity get in the way of usability by not following UX conventions. Don’t be tempted to reinvent the wheel with an overly abstract site infrastructure or an unexpectedly gamified interface. Asking users to work to figure out how to use your site can mean losing them before they surpass the learning curve.

Poor navigation often takes the form of too many menu options or plopping the menu in a weird location where users aren’t accustomed to seeing it. Keep navigation menus simple and position them where users expect: at the top of your site (and on mobile layouts, tucked behind a hamburger menu, off to the left or right side).

image02.jpgImage Source: Kissmetrics

A confusing information architecture tells users it’s going to be hard to find what they’re looking for. Your primary navigation and all other links and buttons need to be labeled clearly and intuitively, reflecting a well-organized underlying hierarchy.

Action item: Usability testing

  • Put together a focus group or use some of these online user testing tools
  • Pinpoint the aspects of your site that are creating hiccups for users
  • Test page layouts, menu structures and organizational hierarchies until you find what works for your audience

3. You’re having technical difficulties

Sometimes high bounce rates can be improved with a simple fix because something's broken or not loading correctly. Users who are met with an error message or a gaping hole in your content (broken video player, perhaps?) can’t be blamed for quickly moving on.

image04.pngImage Source: DKS Systems

If your load times are too slow because of large images, scripts or third-party plugins, it can turn visitors away fast. According to one survey, most people will only wait 6 to 10 seconds for your page to load before abandoning it.

Action item: Technical audit

4. Your content needs some love

No one comes to your website to experience your design or user experience. They come for the content, and they want clear and concise answers to their questions.

One surefire way to send visitors running is serving them a mass of dense text that isn't scannable. No one wants to rack their brain and strain their eyes to slog through a wall of words. Too many brands have mastered the art of formatting content with handy lists, skimmable headings, bold words and visual reinforcements for users to spend time suffering through big blocks of exhausting copy.

image03.pngImage Source: ProtoFuse

Your content also isn’t going to hook visitors if it’s focused on your company instead of on user needs. Self-centered, promotional messaging is a huge turn-off in 2016.

Is it possible you’re barking up the wrong keywords? If one of your web pages is ranking high in search for a keyword that doesn’t accurately represent the page’s content or your products and services, that content needs a closer look. Similarly, if you targeted the wrong keyword in a paid search campaign, you could be drawing in the wrong audience. As soon as those visitors realize they’re on the wrong track, they’ll reach for the back button.

If there’s no clear next step of engagement, users are more likely to leave without interacting with your site. Every core site section, landing page and blog post on your site needs to drive visitors to a specific action. Too many calls-to-action, as shown below, can also confound users into leaving without engaging.

image00.pngImage source: Crazy Egg

And if the primary call-to-action on a visitor’s entry page contains an external link, you’re essentially sending visitors offsite before they’ve had a chance to check out your great content. This will show up in your site analytics as a bounce—the visitor only saw one page before leaving.

Action items: Content audit and updates

  • Perform keyword research to make sure your content helps you rank for the right terms
  • Develop or update your buyer personas to help create content that addresses real user needs
  • Map content to the buyer’s journey to identify the best calls-to-action for each page on your site, encouraging visitors to explore—not leave
  • Revisit dense content, breaking it up and reformatting for scannability

5. Everything’s normal

Sometimes bounces happen because users find just what they were looking for—quickly, on their entry page—and they don't need to look further. This is the tricky thing about bounce rates: They can be driven up by users leaving after their needs have been met. Keep this in mind when tracking your metrics.

Leaf pages are a prime example. Think of these as final destinations for a topic on your site—like the end of a branch in a tree diagram—such as a page that provides details about an event. Your site visitor might just want to verify the event time, date and location. Once she has that info, she leaves because she found what she came for.

Get to know your site metrics, then optimize

Remember that a high bounce rate on someone else’s site might be a healthy rate on your site, and a high rate on your home page might be normal for one of your landing pages. Explore your site data and set reasonable benchmarks for your page types. This infographic offers some benchmarks you can use as starting points. Then get to work on some of the suggested actions above to address these common issues.

To learn more about how to take an incremental, growth-driven approach to your company’s website, get our eBook, High-Performing Websites that Last.

Download the High Performing Websites Guide

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Lara Berendt
The Author

Lara Berendt

Lara Berendt is an editor and content strategy consultant with a background in journalism and B2B marketing. For ten years she's helped craft content for publications and businesses across a range of industries—from staffing and financial services to tech manufacturing and traditional print media—forever striving to optimize people's communications and the strategies that inform them. Learn more at laraberendt.com.
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