Do your website visitors come... and quickly go?

A reader asks:

"Some of my web pages have high bounce rates. I made a number of changes but nothing has made a difference. What should I do?"

Bounce rate measures the number of visitors who leave a website after looking at just one page or only staying for a few seconds. Bounce rate is like a "Whoa, not for me!" metric.

Many business owners focus on "improving" the pages with high bounce rates by revamping the page design, changing the page's (or site's) navigation structure, or rewriting copy in an attempt to decrease the bounce rate. But often that doesn't work.

Why? In many cases the page itself is not the issue. Often the problem starts with the visitor's purpose for visiting the page. Purpose is everything: If visitors find what they came for they are more likely to stay. If not, they bounce.

To reduce bounce rate, take a step back and determine the visitors' interest or motive who land on that page:

Evaluate the source of incoming traffic. Check out the keywords that generated visitors. High bounce rates indicate some keywords generate traffic that is irrelevant to the real purpose of the page. Rework your page so the keywords you intend to generate visits actually generate visits. While you may see less total traffic, the visitors who do arrive are more valuable because their purpose for visiting better matches the content of the page. Would you rather have 100 visitors actively seeking what you provide or 10,000 visitors who don't?

Limit your scope. It's tempting to cram lots of information, resources, calls to action, and sign-up boxes onto each page. Too much clutter drives visitors away. Each page should have a clear, primary purpose. While you can include a few secondary purposes, make sure those are relatively discreet and do not distract from the main purpose.

Match the page purpose to the call to action. A product page should feature the product and make it easy to purchase that product. A newsletter page should highlight the benefits of the newsletter and make it easy to sign up to receive it. Visitors are satisfied when they can quickly meet their needs.

Tighten the page design. Subtlety doesn't work on the web. Visitors should be able to scan a page in no more than two to three seconds to find what they want. Multiple navigation bars, multiple search boxes, oddly placed ads -- the more complicated the design the more likely a visitor will bounce.

Finally, keep in mind a high bounce rate could mean the page was in fact successful. If visitors bounce off your contact page that could just mean they wanted your phone number. If so, the fact visitors leave quickly doesn't indicate a bounce -- it indicates success.

Every page should have a purpose. Make sure you have no throwaway pages. Define the purpose of each page, attract visitors whose intent matches that purpose, and make it easy for visitors to accomplish what they came for.