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Finding Value in High Bounce Rates

Recently, my wonderful teammate, Stephanie Aiken, wrote a great blog entry on bounce rates. As a part of her overview, she mentioned a couple of ways in which a high bounce on a certain page can be misleading.  In the SEO world, high bounce rates are generally frowned upon, but there are, in fact, some exceptions to this prevailing sentiment. A bounce rate is characterized as a user entering your website and leaving it without viewing any additional pages; however, while a bounce is a cut-and-dry measure,  not all bounces are equal.  I want to begin by recapping a couple of points that Stephanie made, while adding a couple more, on the practical front. I will then discuss some other ways that are a little more on the abstract side, but, nonetheless, hold potential value.

Sometimes you’re just that good
Often times we equate a bounce with an unhappy user who is going back to their search query to find a better match. This is certainly not always the case. There are many reasons why a user might go to a webpage, get what they need, and bounce. Maybe a user was just looking for a phone number or an address for your business, got it, bounced, and then gave you a call or visited your store. On paper, the bounce looks like a failure, but that big time sale you just made from that customer tells a different story.

Another common scenario is one in which a customer is looking for some information on a particular product or subject. For example, a user is wanting to learn how to make a tapioca sculpture, so they Google this query. Guess what!? Your website features a fantastic article on how to make tapioca sculptures! The user reads your article and realizes that you are the Michelangelo of tapioca sculpting who has so graciously crafted the blueprint of how to become a master of this amazing art. As such, their query is effectively satisfied and closed, but an increase in your bounce rate remains. Furthermore, your article was so enlightening and detailed that they have decided to bookmark this webpage. They will continue to visit your webpage for years on end, only showing their gratitude by increasing your bounce rate. Yes, sometimes you’re just that good, but your bounce right simply does not tell you how truly great you are.

Let’s get metaphysical
OK, let’s get a little more serious. There is a psychological element to branding and advertising, and there is always potential value in every little interaction between your business and a potential customer. When you pass by a giant billboard on the highway, you, more than likely, are not going to alter your route to purchase the product featured on that billboard; however, it has left an impression on you, even if it is on a subconscious level.  It is the same reason why companies spend thousands of dollars on putting their logo amongst a sea of other logos on outfield walls at baseball stadiums. On the surface, it might seem absurd that a simple billboard on the highway or an outfield wall will translate into a sale, but there are deeper forces in play. These same forces are activated whenever a user lands on your website, if ever so briefly. In psychology, there are two terms that apply to this form of branding: priming and spreading activation.

Priming has to do with implicit memory, which deals with your subconscious. A good illustration of how priming works is a scenario where you randomly read an article about Victor Hugo in the morning, and later on in the day, someone asks you to name three famous authors. In this scenario, there is a good chance that you will mention Victor Hugo as one of those three authors. You have been primed. If that same question had been asked earlier in the week, you probably would have rattled off three other authors. This concept certainly applies to marketing. Beverage marketers are banking on the fact that you will think of their product the next time you are thirsty after seeing their billboard or ad several times leading up to that important beverage decision of yours at the gas station. When a user goes on your website, even if they bounce, priming is in effect. You have made an impression on a user, and while there are certainly degrees of priming, you never know when that seemingly innocuous bounce can turn into a conversion in the future.

The concept of spreading activation is very much related to priming. When you think of ice cream, there are many other items that you mentally associate with it. You might think of summer, chocolate, vanilla, cones, sweet and frozen. Within each of those words, you can come up with even more associations. Before you know it, you have associated ice cream with bunnies (ice cream > chocolate > chocolate candy > chocolate bunnies > bunnies). We all have a large web of associations, which is what helps us retrieve information from our memory and make connections.  Smart marketers try to create positive associations, whether emotional or subject-related, with their product. Strengthening existing connections and creating additional connections creates more mental avenues between your customers and your company. If you have an on-site blog, it may be tempting to stick strictly to subjects pertaining to your products, but while that has value by strengthening connections, it restricts your potential for creating new connections.  Furthermore, if a user reads an engaging blog entry on your website about a subject matter that does not directly apply to your business, there is a good chance that your bounce rate will be high. While this might be discouraging, keep in mind that positive connections are potentially being made, and these connections can benefit you in the future.  Engaging content is almost always beneficial.

Final Thoughts
Bounce rates can be a tricky statistic. Yes, lower bounce rates are generally good, but a quick snapshot only tells part of the story. It is best to analyze specific webpages to see which ones have high bounce rates and possible reasons why. If a webpage revolves around selling a product, a high bounce rate is typically not good, and a change in approach might be in order; however, if the intent of a webpage is strictly to inform or engage, a deeper analysis is needed. You might discover that you are creating more value than the numbers show.
For more information on analyzing your bounce rates and creating more positive connections between your business and customers, contact Full Media!