Is Bounce Rate a Ranking Factor for SEO in 2022?

bounce rate in seo

What impact does bounce rate have on your search engine rankings?

For a long time, business owners, content managers, and marketing and SEO professionals like yourself have lived in fear of their website's bounce rate going above a certain limit.

You worry that Google's algorithms and other search engines will penalize you by pushing your content further down the search engine results pages (SERPs) if your bounce rate crosses a certain threshold. 

But is that really the case? Does bounce rate in SEO positively or negatively affect your rankings on search engines? Is there such a thing as a high or bad bounce rate?

In this article, we’ll definitively answer these questions to help you decide once and for all if bounce rate can impact your SEO efforts and whether you should keep working to improve it. We’ll also explore some of the most important ranking factors that Google takes into consideration when judging websites. 

What is a bounce rate?

When a visitor lands on your page and then leaves your website without clicking on a link, filling out a form, making a purchase, or engaging in any further action, that is considered a bounce. Your website's bounce rate measures the percentage of visitors who end up on your page and leave without navigating to other pages or doing anything else on your site.

Bounce rate in SEO is often confused with dwell time which measures the length of time a user spends on your page, but they are not the same. Another term often wrongly used interchangeably with bounce rate is exit rate.

Although they share some similarities, the key distinction between them is that bounce rate refers to the number of single-engagement visits to a website—no new actions are taken after the initial click that brought them to your page. Exit rate represents the number of people who leave after visiting a specific page on your website that they didn't initially land on.

For example, if someone lands on a product page, does nothing, then departs by clicking the back button or closing the window, that's a bounce. But if they land on a product page, then head over to a demo page, and decide to end their visit, that's an exit.

Bounce rate calculation formula

Source: Whyandhowto

Your bounce rate can give you a sense of how engaging your pages are and how relevant their content is to visitors. However, it is not always wise to use it as a defining metric to inform your marketing or website optimization activities because the bounce rate is dynamic.

On one hand, a high bounce rate might signify that your website is slow loading, not intuitive, or that your content is not helpful. On the other hand, it could mean that the page was highly valuable and delivered exactly what the visitor was looking for, so there was no point in taking further action at that time.

It might even have nothing to do with your website or content because the user had a different search intent for the keyword other than the results Google displayed.

Google Analytics and bounce rate 

Many of the arguments espousing bounce rate as one of the factors that affect SEO are based on Google's ability to measure the bounce rate of a website using Google Analytics (GA). But when you think about it, this stance raises more questions than it answers.

For starters, if Google uses GA to calculate bounce rate, does this mean it can't measure bounce rate for websites that aren't using GA? Also, if bounce rate only impacts your rankings when you install the Analytics code on your website, wouldn't it be wiser to simply do away with Google Analytics?

This way, Google wouldn't be able to view your bounce rate, and your rankings won't suffer as a result. It would also mean that Google will end up treating websites that use GA and websites that don't use it differently, giving preference to web pages that utilize its tool.

Google won't use the bounce rate in the algorithm

Apart from the potential legal issues that would arise from such a situation, it’d also create room for websites without GA to get away with providing ineffective content since Google won't be able to measure their bounce rates anyway.

Furthermore, Google Analytics data is open to manipulation. There is a lot of content out there teaching people how to modify or eliminate one bot action or another. If the Analytics code isn't strong enough to filter and prevent these cunning behaviors, it makes no sense for Google to leverage its easily gameable data in Google's ranking framework.

Otherwise, the search engine giant would end up with a hot mess on its hands and probably lose a huge chunk of users to other competitors who can provide an egalitarian, fault-free, and value-centric search experience. That does not seem like a risk Google is willing to take, which is why it doesn't use GA to measure bounce rate for the purpose of raising or lowering rankings in the SERPs.

You can choose to use Google Analytics, or you can decide not to use it. Either way, it won't positively or negatively affect your ranking in search results.

Why do people think bounce rate is a ranking factor – the evidence

Despite the claims that bounce rate contributes to search engine rankings, Google has consistently maintained that it does not use bounce rate as a ranking criterion. At various times over the last decade, Google—by way of representatives—has come out to say that bounce rate is not a signal it takes seriously for SEO purposes.

As far back as 2008, Matt Cutts, the former of webspam at Google, responded to a question in a Sphinn forum, saying “bounce rates would be not only spammable but also a noisy signal.” In 2017, Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes gave a similar response in a Twitter reply where he said “bounce rate is not a good signal.”

Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes replied on his Twitter "bounce rate is not a good signal."

During a Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout in 2018, Google's John Mueller stated that Google does not use signals like bounce rate to determine rankings. According to him, there are lots of reasons why users might go back and forth or stay briefly on a page and move back again to search results. These reasons are hard to refine and turn into a ranking factor, so Google does not bother with it.

In 2019, in a Reddit AMA session with Gary Illyes, he explained that click-through rate, dwell time, bounce rate, and other UX and behavioral signals are “generally made up crap.” He then went further to add that “search is much more simple than people think.”

John Mueller confirmed this further in a different webmaster hangout session in 2020. He said, “I think there is a bit of a misconception here that we are looking at things like the analytics bounce rate when it comes to ranking websites, and that's definitely not the case.”

There is no visible upside to Google claiming that it does not use bounce rate as a ranking factor if this messaging isn't true. So think about that the next time someone tries to sell you fiction about the relevance of bounce rate to your search engine rankings.

Does bounce rate affect search rankings?

The simple answer is no. 

Bounce rate does not directly impact your search rankings because Google doesn't measure it or factor it in when judging websites. This is because many variables can contribute to your high bounce rate, and only some of them can be directly tied to actual problems with your web pages.

What's more, certain websites and page types are more likely to have a higher or lower bounce rate, as the case may be. For example, educational content and landing pages tend to attract higher bounce rates than sales pages or home pages.

Bounce rate by industry

Source: Contentsquare

It would be unfair for Google to judge all websites and pages equally and punish those with typically higher bounce rates with lower rankings when it's something they have no control over. As long as your page is satisfying the user's reason for visiting it, you are doing great.

It doesn't matter that those users depart your website after meeting their needs, causing your bounce rate to skyrocket. Google simply doesn't care about your bounce rate, and it will not penalize you for having an above-average bounce rate, so don't sweat it.

Redirect your focus and energy towards creating a pleasing user experience and high-quality content that will engage users and encourage them to spend more time on your page, even when they aren't taking further action.

Why bother with bounce rates then?

Even though bounce rate is not an SEO ranking factor, it can still be a useful metric for measuring how relevant and effective your content is. Stop thinking about reducing bounce rate to rank better on Google as it has no bearing on that outcome, and start seeing it as an opportunity to create a better user experience. 

Tracking your bounce rate on a website can also help you figure out if your user journeys make sense and if your pages are well optimized to drive the actions or engagement you seek. You can then use this insight to revamp the design or information and define the next step for the user on the problematic page.

Doing this can help improve your bounce rate and motivate visitors to stay longer on your website, increasing the chances of them further interacting with your site and exploring the rest of your content. Other strategies you can implement if you are wondering how to lower your bounce rate include:

  • Pay attention to time-on-site metrics across your entire site. Compare the data with your bounce rate to determine whether your high bounce rate is a feature of your entire site or just a particular page.
  • Review pages with the highest bounce or exit volumes.
  • Make your web pages attractive and readable with judicious use of white space, shorter/skimmable paragraphs, subheadings to break up blocks of content, and font sizes that are easy on the eyes.
  • Test different website versions to see which ones foster greater user engagement and longer dwell times.
  • Optimize your website design for mobile traffic.
  • Match keywords with highly relevant content that align with search intent.
  • Ensure the content of your webpage delivers on the promises or expectations you set in your meta title, page URL, and meta description.
  • Include clear and well-placed calls to action (CTAs) on your pages to encourage users to take the desired next step.

What matters for SEO instead of bounce rate?

Now that you know that a low bounce rate doesn't guarantee better rankings, and a high bounce doesn't mean your rankings will fall, you should be focusing your energy on optimizing other factors that can make a difference to your SEO strategy. Here are some alternative metrics that actually affect how you rank within Google search results. 

1. Search intent

Google wants to provide users with the best possible answers to their queries whenever they enter a search keyword or phrase. To make sure it displays your website at the top of the results page, your content needs to match and satisfy the search intent behind the keywords you want to rank for.

Google's search intent

2. Valuable content

One of the most important factors that Google uses to rank web pages is the quality of your content. If your site's content isn't relevant or useful to visitors, Google's algorithms will lower your rankings. 

The only way to lead the park is to consistently create original long-form quality content that can go viral, build domain authority, provide value, answer readers' questions, and help them solve their problems.

To boost your search rankings, you must invest in link building. The more backlinks you acquire from reputable websites, the more trustworthy and authoritative your website will appear to Google's algorithm.

Backlinks will enable Google's crawler to find and accurately index your pages, which will, in turn, make it easier for you to show up in search results and drive organic traffic to your website.

4. Website loading speed

Another SEO ranking factor you should be paying attention to is how quickly your website loads. Users get frustrated and annoyed when they encounter pages that take their sweet time to load. Search engines don't like to see users dissatisfied, so they will promptly demote your website in the SERPs.

Be militant about monitoring and optimizing your website's speed to ensure your pages load as quickly as possible.

5. Mobile responsiveness

In 2019, Google switched to a mobile-first indexing and ranking system. This means that it will prioritize websites that provide a friendly and pleasant browsing experience to mobile users over those that treat their site's mobile version as an afterthought.

So if you want to improve your rankings, your website design must be mobile-responsive. 

6. Keyword optimization 

This is easily the most popular of all the ranking factors. Even a novice with little to no SEO experience probably knows that weaving keywords into your website content can help increase your chances of being found on the first page of the SERPs.

To optimize your website with keywords, try:

  • Including your target keyword in your title tags.
  • Writing strong meta descriptions that contain your main keyword so people can know what the page is about.
  • Inserting keywords into your anchor text when linking to other pages.
  • Adding keywords to your image alt text to help Google understand what the visual is about.
  • Using LSI (latent semantic indexing) keywords to give search engine algorithms a sense of what your content is about.
  • Including keyword variations in the H2 or H3 of your content.
  • Weaving your main keyword into the URL for your post or page.
  • Staying away from keyword stuffing—using your primary keyword over and over just to fulfill all righteousness instead of using variations of it and inserting them organically.

Use proven SEO facts to optimize your rankings

The link between bounce rate and search rankings is only a myth. Your bounce rate has nothing to do with how or where you will rank in Google search results, but it is still a metric that is worth improving upon if you want to boost user engagement. 

For SEO purposes, you will be better off directing your time and energy into optimizing proven factors like backlinks, domain authority, keyword optimization, site speed, and content quality that Google uses to determine website rankings. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Beatrice is the Head of Content and Operations at MediaBerry. She helps brands fulfill their vision through words by helping produce sparkling content pieces that convert. When she isn’t busy strategizing, you’ll find her working on her next novel.

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