The Publisher’s Guide to Bounce Rate

November 2023

In online publishing, the “bounce rate” is a measure of how many (or what percentage of) users arrive at your site, look at that page and that page only, and then leave (i.e., “bounce”) without clicking around your page or looking at anything else. For most websites, longer session times with more page views equal greater revenue, so if you’re a publisher trying to monetize your site, a high bounce rate is something that needs to be corrected quickly.

When to Worry

What’s a high bounce rate? Bounce is a relatively-common occurrence, even on healthy websites, so it’s important to know where the guardrails are.

Some pages are more prone to high bounce rates than others. Websites for restaurants, for example, often have a page that lists the business’s address, contact information, and operating hours: users search the web for “what time does X open,” click straight through to that page, and depart, satisfied that their question has been answered. Publishers monetizing website content won’t have a page like that, but they may have a page that has a simple answer to a self-contained question — if you run articles on tech support, a page on “how to reboot your Mac in safe mode” may suffer from high bounce rates not because anything is wrong with the page per se, but because it’s accomplishing exactly what it’s supposed to.

In that case, a user who doesn’t click around your page, but spends a lot of time on the page they’ve visited, is probably an example of a user who got exactly what they were looking for.

Aside from that type of situation, however, a high bounce rate suggests that the user couldn’t find what they were looking for, the user experience was somehow unpleasant, or the content wasn’t gripping enough. And even in cases like the above, there are tweaks and additions you can make to your page content that might lower your bounce rate for those types of laser-focused users.

How to Improve Bounce Rate

Once you’ve figured out that your bounce rate isn’t where you want it to be, the next step is to run through a checklist of potential factors that could be affecting it. See which areas you can tighten things up.

Technical Issues and “Software Gore”

Technical issues are a huge contributor to bounce rate. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon ourselves as Web users: clicking over to a new website, taking one look at the mess that attempts to load on the screen, and saying “nooooooooope” to ourselves as we navigate back to the search engine results page for a better option. Many of the things that cause a bad technical experience are part of what Google refers to as “Core Web Vitals,” so by cleaning these up you’re not only improving your bounce rate, you’re also potentially improving your ranking in Google’s results page:

● Make sure your page is loading quickly

- the longer your page takes to load, the more seconds your user has to change their mind.

● Avoid pop-ups and interstitials

- these slow down your load times, communicate to your users that your page is “scammy,” and often come with flashing lights and loud noises that might cause a user to back out.

● Make sure you have a mobile-friendly page

- more and more users are accessing sites from their phones, and if your website isn’t mobile friendly users will find another site that is.

Don’t Give Them Reasons To Leave

One potential reason for short session times and high bounce rates is that you’re giving your users too many reasons to leave your page while they’re on it.

● Give people the complete picture

- if your articles are missing context, if your FAQs don’t answer all the frequently-asked questions, if your sales funnel is missing product dimensions or customer reviews, users are going to bounce in order to find that information, and they may not come back. So when putting together content, it’s important to anticipate your audience’s needs so they don’t start opening other windows to fill in the gaps.

● Watch out for clickbait

- it’s a fairly common bit of filler on article pages to include the native-style clickbait links at the middle and bottom of your page. Headlines like “She Found A Door In Her Basement (What Happened Next Is Shocking)” or “Put Lemons In Your Toilet (Here’s Why)” are often off-putting, which is bad enough. But if they’re effective, they’re going to direct your users to somebody else’s page — and they may not come back. If it’s affecting your bounce rate, you might want to switch up what you’re running in that space, or at least make sure you’re making enough CPMs off of it to compensate. A good example of what to run instead is Insticator’s “article recirculation” Content Engagement Unit, which serves up pages from your own site instead of someone else’s.

● Watch those external links

- linking is obviously a key part of having robust search engine performance, and they can provide credibility and support for your articles. But if, for example, those clicked links aren’t opening in a new tab, you’re again inviting the opportunity for a user to leave your site and forget to come back. Try and place your supporting links further down the article, to give the content time to hook your readers. Also, try to only use external links when they’re helpful to the page content.

Give Them Reasons To Stay

Giving people more reasons to stay on your site may sound obvious, but it can be a complicated proposition - one that Insticator has developed a number of content-engagement tools to help facilitate.

● Content recirculation

- Insticator’s content recirculation tools rotate suggestions from your own catalog of articles, providing users with similar content to keep reading on your page. Lower bounce rates, longer session times, and a potential new frequent user.

● Provide interactivity

- comment and discussion space below your articles will allow users to form a community on your site, keep them on the site longer, and encourage them to return for additional sessions and other pages. Insticator’s “trivia and polls” content engagement unit gamifies your website, giving users an additional reason to hang out, and come back.

● Use internal linking

- you don’t always need to go to outside sources to reinforce your point - if you’ve written blogs or articles on related subjects, you can link to those other pages where it’s applicable and appropriate to do so.

Make Your Layout Friendly

Sometimes people come to your page and something about it just rubs them the wrong way. Some of that can just be personal preference, of course, but some really do add up to being a real issue in the aggregate. Things like:

● Don’t break your articles into separate pages

- we know why you’re doing it: you want users to click through multiple times and therefore adjust your bounce rates. But in practice, it creates a frustrating barrier to your content, and breaks the flow of your articles with multiple loading pages. Even in the days of print newspapers, studies showed that readers rarely bothered to follow a story across multiple pages.

● Article formatting

- it’s important to break your online article into manageable chunks, bulleted lists, etc. If your website displays as a “wall of text,” users may immediately decide “nobody’s got time for that” and click back out. The individual parts of your article or other content should be perceived as bite-sized.

Don’t Mislead the Users

If people are getting to your site and leaving quickly, it could be a sign that they’re not getting what they expected from your page - which could mean your metatags are inaccurate or misleading. One of the quickest ways to lose a user is to surprise them; transitions from a search engine results page to your content should be seamless.

● Adjust the title tag and meta description

- once these are more accurate, users arriving at your page should be getting what they wanted when they clicked through.

● Rewrite the content

- if the meta description and title are driving a lot of clicks for your page, but with high bounce, then maybe it’s your landing page that needs adjustment instead. Writing content that better suits what’s showing up on Google is a good way to hold onto those clicks without losing the users.

Final Thoughts

Grabbing and holding user interest is a constant struggle for everyone online, particularly when it’s the source of your income. Luckily, the best way to generate good bounce rates are often the simplest and most ethical options: play things straight with your users, don’t try to trick them, and make sure they’re having a comfortable experience.

Interested in more ways to drive user engagement on your sites? Check out Insticator’s suite of content-engagement tools, designed specifically to improve session times and lessen bounce rates. Or for more helpful tips and tricks, check out our blog.

Written by
Sean Kelly, Senior Content Writer

Sean Kelly is a Senior Content Specialist, St. Louis-based engagement expert with 20 years of experience in content writing, and 8 years in adtech.

Sean Kelly

Written by

Sean Kelly, Senior Content Writer