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Don't Let Your Website Drive Customers Away

Question from a reader:

Some of my web pages have high bounce rates. I have made a number of changes but nothing makes a difference. Any ideas?
Quick background: Bounce rate is a metric that measures the number of visitors who leave your site after having looked at only one page or only staying for a few seconds. Think of bounce rate as the, "Oops, not what I wanted -- next!" metric.

Many business owners focus on "improving" the pages with high bounce rates by revamping the design, changing the navigation structure, rewriting copy... all 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. The problem stems from the visitor's purpose for visiting the page. Purpose is everything: If I find what I came for I'm more likely to stay. If not, I bounce.

To reduce bounce rate, take a step back and determine the purpose of the visitors who land on that page:

  1. Refine the sources of incoming traffic. Look at the keywords that generated visitors. High bounce rates mean some keywords generate traffic irrelevant to the real purpose of the page. Rework your copy so the keywords you intend to pull actually pull. While you may see less total traffic, those who do arrive are more valuable because their purpose for visiting better matches the page content. Would you rather have 10 visitors who want what you sell or 100 visitors who don't?
  2. Don't try to do too much. It's tempting to stuff lots of information, resources, calls to action, sign-up boxes, etc. onto each page. But too much clutter drives visitors away. Each page should have a clear and primary purpose. You can include a few sub-purposes, but make sure the "subs" are discreet and do not distract from the main purpose.
  3. Make sure the purpose matches your call to action. A product page should feature the product and make it easy to purchase. A newsletter page should highlight the benefits of the newsletter and make it easy to sign up. Visitors are satisfied when they can quickly meet their needs.
  4. Then clean up your design. Subtlety doesn't play well on the web. A visitor 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.
  5. And remember, a high bounce rate could mean the page actually was successful. If visitors bounce off your contact page, that could just mean they needed your phone number. If so, leaving quickly isn't a bounce -- it's success.
Remember, every page should have a purpose. Every page; there are no throwaway pages. Define the purpose, attract visitors whose intent matches that purpose, and make it easy for them to accomplish what they came for.

And make sure you view your analytics as what they really are: Insights into customer behavior. Each number is a customer, and at the end of every bounce or exit or conversion there's a customer. Keep their intentions and needs in mind and you'll be fine.

Note to Readers: Check out my BNET series The 11,500 Foot View, the chronicle of my attempt to accomplish an impossible goal, remain in the good graces of my family, run a business, stay sane, and blog about it. If you like to watch people struggle, you'll love this.
Photo courtesy flickr user Hamad AL-Mohana, CC 2.0