I came across a slightly older post this morning from Ricky Dawn discussing the importance (or lack thereof) of website bounce rates.

For anyone who isn't familiar with the term, your bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who only view one page. Presumably, once they've seen it, they bounce back to wherever they came from, though it's possible that they may have clicked a link on your page that took them elsewhere.

Generally speaking, you want your bounce rate to be low for two reasons. First, you want to keep people on your site long enough to do something you're trying to get them to do (buy, subscribe, share...) And second, if the search engines see people clicking to your site and then coming straight back, they're going to think your site isn't what their searchers were looking for, and may push your search rankings down.

But a high bounce rate doesn't always tell the whole story. In his post, Ricky said:

It really depends on what type of site you are running, if it is a blog like the site you are on now, the truth is no it does not matter. The majority of the traffic to this blog comes from Google when people are looking for a solution to a problem, for example the 'Twitter for WordPress' fix I posted about a month or so ago, since everyone who lands on that page are only there for one reason, to get the fix - there is no point in them staying around, obviously some do but I imagine the majority only want to fix their Twitter widget.

He goes on to discuss another website stat that's more important in cases like his: Time on Page. Even if visitors only view one page on your site, if they stay there long enough, that's an indication that they found what they wanted. Another indication the search engines will see is that they didn't go back to the search results and click through to more pages.

Ricky's article got me thinking about a few things.

Ways to Increase Time on Page

The first thing that popped into my head when Ricky mentioned time on page was an experiment I did a few years back that increased banner clicks on one of my sites by over 2.6 times. Here's a video I made that tells what I did:

In addition to increasing banner clicks, I'd imagine that method got people to stay on the page longer than they would have otherwise.

Another way to keep people around is what I just did here: post a video. Anyone who watches that whole video will be on the page for at least 3 minutes 39 seconds.

The point I'm driving at is that, while it's important to make web pages skimmable so that people can quickly figure out whether they're in the right place, you'll keep them around longer if you can get them engaged in something that can't be skimmed.

Honestly, sometimes it's annoying when people crack that nut. Sometimes you want to get the information and move along as quickly as possible. So do your best to make it worth the time you take from people!

Getting the Next Click

The other thing Ricky got me thinking about was that even in the case of, as in his example, an article that completely fulfills the reader's purpose for visiting your site, there's no reason why you shouldn't offer them a reason to stay on your site.

  • You might ask a question that they can answer in the comments section.
  • You might link to something else you've posted in the past. For example, instead of just posting information about how to solve a particular problem, include a little bit of your story of how you came to know the solution, and find a way to tie in a reference to another article where you solved another problem that might be of interest to the same audience.
  • You might suggest that they subscribe to your feed or email list to get similar tips in the future.
  • If you sell products or services that would appeal to the type of person who'd need the solution your article talks about, you'd of course want to advertise that somewhere on the page.
  • You could embed something entertaining in the page, even if it's not explicitly related, and link from it to more entertaining stuff.

There are far more possibilities than I could come up with, but you get the idea.

The point here is never to simply post a solution to one problem without at least pausing a moment to consider how you might tie it into something else that you have to offer your readers. Or to speak more directly to the original question, yes, sometimes increasing time on page is more important than reducing bounce rate. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't always be trying to reduce your bounce rate too.

Taking My Own Advice

So now we come to the part where I try to get to you visit another page on my site by telling you how this blog post came about.

This is the second in a series of 20 posts featuring readers of this blog (eg. you). Each will be a "Blog Riff" -- a post written around a quote borrowed from another blog. Ricky got his blog linked to here by responding to this post (yes, it was written a long time ago -- I took a bit of a vacation from blogging for a while, but I think it's time to get rolling again). If you'd like me to Riff on and link to your blog, read that post and respond in the comments.

If you'd like to have people Riff on and link to your blog posts on a regular basis, join a Critical Mass Blogging Team. It's free.

photo by woodleywonderworks