Website quality has a direct impact on SEO, whether we like it or not. The search engines may not actually see what a website looks like, people certainly can. Now although search engines are the ones that rank websites in the SERPs, the users’ general response to websites also has a huge impact on the outcome. Search engines may not have seeing eyes, but they can read between the lines of user activity to find out whether or not a website is worth visiting.
What behavioral data do the search engines look at? The length of time a visitor spends in a site (time-on-page), the number of visitors it generally gets (traffic and click-through rate), and whether or not a visitor explores the website or returns to the SERPs or the page where he came from (bounce rate), among others. To make a long story short, websites that are judged to be of excellent quality enjoy higher time-on-page, traffic and CTR, and a smaller bounce rate.
Ranking signals are rarely spelled out by search engine companies and executives, but SEOs could always get an inkling of how search engines (particularly Google) work and what makes them tick. The four mentioned above are not just behavioral signals. They also serve as website quality factors which search engines and SEOs can use to evaluate the quality of their web pages and websites.
How? If users find the contents of a website useful and exactly what they are looking for, they will surely stay for more than a couple of seconds after it loads. They will have a very good reason to return to the website should it ever appear in the SERPs again. Eventually more people hear about how excellent it is, so it grows more popular and builds credibility in the online community. Traffic will naturally go up, as well as average time-on-page.
Isn’t Bounce Rate NOT a Ranking Signal?
Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of visitors who only viewed the website page where it landed, and immediately “bounced out” of the website without checking out the other pages. When the bounce rate is high, it suggests that users didn’t find the content they were looking for, and that in that brief time they spent viewing the page, they were able to ascertain that the entire website is mediocre, and isn’t worth a closer and more thorough look.
It is important to note that although Matt Cutts said in one of his YouTube Video blogs that Google doesn’t use bounce rate as a ranking signal, it isn’t altogether ignored. Taking into account that the announcement was made prior to the introduction of Panda and other algorithm updates, webmasters shouldn’t dismiss high bounce rates as inconsequential.
What do Bounce Rates Imply
We say “negative implications” because we can also deduce positive implications from high bounce rates. The negative one, as already mentioned, is that users may find a page so mediocre and lacking in valuable content that they don’t want to waste more time on it. The positive possibility is that users probably found what they were looking for in that page, and so there was no need to go elsewhere. That’s actually a plus in the user experience score, and a valid point in the argument that just because a web page has a high bounce rate doesn’t mean it is useless.
This is probably the reason why bounce rates are not officially used as ranking signals. However, SEOs can evaluate if it is the good reason or the bad reason behind a high bounce rate by looking at the average time-on-page. If visitors spend an average of ten or more minutes on the page, then they must be reading its contents at the very least. They are getting something good out of it, possible enough that they no longer feel the need to search further into the website. Now if the average time-on-page is a measly five to ten seconds, then that must say something bad about the overall quality of your page, and by association, your entire website.
Bounce rates are too volatile to be considered as ranking factors. However, they do not necessarily have a negative implication, nor are they useless because Google doesn’t use them as ranking factors. When observed alongside other significant quality factors and user behavioral signals, SEOs will be able to gauge the quality of their websites through the users’ eyes.