Whenever someone clicks onto a website, stays on the page they landed on, and then clicks away from the site entirely (or worse, clicks the “back” button), that’s called a “bounce”. (If they click to a different page on the same site, that’s not.) For your typical, informational website, the bounce rate can be as high as 40%. For websites that intend to cause bounces (like mini-sites that are being used to affiliate market products and thus only actually have one page on the entire site) the bounce rate can be 100% — so clearly a bounce isn’t necessarily a bad thing in general.
But it is if you’re Google. Google wants to see users engaged, so bouncing is definitely one way to get your SERPs penalized. This may actually be, among other things, a deliberate slap at affiliate marketing.
Don’t Make Assumptions About Bouncing
Having a high bounce rate isn’t a good reason to panic up front. The last thing you want to do is take one look at a website’s bounce rate and decide to scrap it and start over — there are a lot of factors that can affect your bounce rate, and many of them are under your control.
For example, if you find that you have a 75% bounce rate, it may be that your bounces are coming from untargeted traffic — an AdWords campaign, for example, that is targeting a keyword that isn’t quite right for what you’re selling. If they filtered their bounce rate by traffic source, they’d find that 40% of search traffic and 95% of PPC traffic was bouncing — a clear sign that the problem is with the AdWords campaign, not with their website.
You can also find by drilling down that your bounce rate is caused by one specific landing page — your other few landing pages are performing excellently, but for some reason (maybe the giant floating baby head?) that one is just creeping people out, or seems irrelevant to your business.
There’s also a strong potential, especially on high-media sites, that users are leaving because the page isn’t loading fast enough for their tastes. If your site takes a long time to load because you have hundreds of HTML queries to process in order to get all of your media in place, that will definitely upset enough people to add noticeably to your bounce rate. (There are web design tricks that can help a lot with this — if you think this may be you, call me and let’s talk streamlining.)
Finally, keywords that you’ve been SEOing for can cause bounce for the same reason that the AdWords example, above, did. If your website is all about wedding planning and one of the keywords you optimized for was “floral bouquets”, you can be sure there’s a lot of people coming to your site for something you don’t provide — those are bounces waiting to happen.
Again, not all bounces are bad — and a goodly amount are unavoidable — but if you’re not managing your bounce, you’re not definitely not doing everything you can to engage your client base.