Why is My Homepage Bounce Rate So High?
Over the past few months, I've received dozens of questions about homepage bounce rate so I decided to dedicate a blog post to it. I'm glad to see executives and marketers getting more involved with website optimization. I think it shows the true evolution of web marketing.
Let's start with a definition of Bounce Rate:
The percentage of visitors that visit one page on your website that exit the site before visiting another page.
Hence the word "bounce"... Here's a quick example. Tom sees a paid search advertisement for xyz company. He clicks through the ad and hits the homepage (more about why this could be a problem later.) He quickly scans the page and doesn't find a call to action to what he's looking for and promptly goes back to the paid search listings. That's a bounce.
I figured that providing a list of some of the most common problems would be a smart way to build this post. So without further ado: (in no specific order...)
1. Your homepage doesn't speak to your personas (types of buyers)
I have mentioned this about a dozens times in related posts, but in my opinion, the best way to optimize your website is to determine your customer personas (types of buyers) and then build persuasive scenarios based on those personas. The days of pointing visitors to a website and simply listing a navigation and a quick intro are gone... I gave a quick example of persona development in my last post (HD TV buyers) if want to reference it.
2. Confusing Homepage Layout and Content, So What Exactly Do You Sell??
Let's say you are speaking to your personas (as mentioned above) and you still experience a high bounce rate. If that's the case, then there's a good chance that your homepage isn't laid out properly. As part of an abbreviated persona development project, my client learned that their customers tend to look for a search box when they hit the homepage of an e-commerce site. As a result, they moved their search box to a more prominent location on the page, improved their search algorithm, and improved the way their search results are displayed. Now, that's a great example of learning from your customers and making the appropriate changes to your website structure. And, they utilize a robust web analytics package to analyze their site activity to ensure the changes they made to the site are working. It's a constant evolution. That's just one example, but you should look at how you introduce your company, your text navigation, the visuals you have on the homepage, the lingo you utilize in the copy, the dimensions of your site as compared to your average visitor (via your analytics package), how quickly your page loads, etc.
3. External Campaigns Driving Visitors to Your Homepage
This can inaccurately bump up your homepage bounce rate and is a common problem that I see in web marketing. For example, paid search campaigns that lead to the homepage of your website, email marketing for a specific promotion that lead to your homepage, banners (yes, unfortunately some web marketers still use banners) that lead to your homepage, etc. I understand if you are undermanned and cannot build campaign landing pages, but I cannot emphasize how this can help your campaigns on multiple dimensions. You can split test landing pages, you can talk specifically to the campaign recipients, you can provide unique content for the promotion visitors, and you can track that landing page at a granular level. In addition, you can utilize your web analytics package to view clickstream reports to see where visitors go after viewing that specific landing page. I can keep going here, but I think you get the gist of why landing pages are important. Using landing pages will also give you a more accurate bounce rate for your homepage. Maybe 7% of your homepage bounce rate was from external campaigns. But please, don't go and refine your homepage until you have accurate data.
3. Ranking in Natural Search for Keywords that Aren't Directly Related to Your Company
If you haven't optimized your website for search, your homepage might actually be ranking for keywords that don't directly relate to your business. Typically, this isn't a big driver of traffic, unless you've really added content and phrases on your homepage that can be interpreted by the search engines as something else. This is something you can easily find via your web analytics program. Just pop into Natural Search and view the top keywords from each search engine. You'll be surprised what you find. For example, if you wrote a book on starting a golf instruction business and you get a few thousand people per month visiting your site by entering the keyword "best ways to increase the distance of your drive", then your homepage bounce rate might be inflated. Figure out why you are ranking for that keyword and then form a strategy for ranking for keywords that directly relate to your business. If you don't have the skill-set in house, then hire a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) specialist.
4. Website Visitor Expectations are Not Met Properly (This also relates to the external campaign listing above...)
If you set expectations too high in an advertisement and suddenly you receive a lot of traffic from that advertisement, there's a chance a good portion of that traffic could bounce. If you sell Samsung TV's, but don't sell Panasonic TV's and your ad claims that you have the widest selection on the face of the earth, then it shouldn't be a shock when people looking for Panasonic TV's bounce off your site! One of the best lessons I learned regarding marketing copy was from John Caples (probably the most famous advertising copywriter ever). Keep it specific and keep it realistic. For example, "We provide a wide selection of Widescreen HD TV's from Samsung, Sony, Pioneer, and LG in sizes ranging from 26" to 50". Compare that to "We have the widest selection of HD TV's in North America and we must move our inventory today! We have every size imaginable!" If someone visits your site from the second ad and they are looking for a 60" Toshiba, they will probably bounce.
So, how do you fix your website bounce rate problem?
1. Track everything via a robust web analytics package and start analyzing the results (where are visitors coming from, which links on the homepage are most active, which real estate areas on the homepage are most accessed, is on-site search easily accessible, etc.)
2. Determine your personas and map out a plan for speaking to those personas right on your homepage (and in your navigation). This involves speaking with your customers, using web surveys, and speaking with your customer service people.
3. Split test changes to determine if they are working for you. If you don't have a benchmark, then how will you know if you are improving anything?
4. Run clickstream reporting to see where people are going (after you make changes based on your persona development). This will enable you to see which elements drive the most sales. In addition, it will enable you to see which elements drive the highest abandonment rate. For example, you might find that 45% of the people that click through your "New Additions" link leave the site on the next page.
And as usual in web marketing, be creative, be analytical, listen to your customers, listen to your customer service people, and track everything. It's definitely not easy, but if you utilize a structured approach, it could chop your homepage bounce rate down to a reasonable number!