How users interact with your website can have a significant impact on its search engine ranking. Factors like how long a user spends on a landing page, or whether the user clicks through to another page on the site, help Google’s search engine algorithm determine your site’s quality and relevance to search terms.
One of the ways we measure site engagement is by looking at data collected by Google Analytics: metrics like bounce rate, visit duration, and pages per visit. These numbers give insight into whether the page resonates with your audience and how to better optimize it.
However, the engagement data you can access with Google Analytics isn’t what Google uses to determine search engine ranking. The search engine algorithm uses different engagement metrics, and unfortunately, these numbers are a bit harder to pin down than bounce rate.
Below, we’ll discuss the meaning of three important terms that illustrate how users interact with your site: bounce rate, long clicks, and pogo-sticking.
Understanding Bounce Rate: Hits, Sessions and Bounces
Before we talk about bounce rate, it helps to get a refresher on how Google Analytics collects data.
The moment a user lands on a website, Google Analytics begins to record a ‘session’ for that user. A session is a single continuous visit to a site, which can include viewing multiple pages on the site and interacting with the site in different ways. Google Analytics tracks everything the user does on the site during that session, including how long the user spends on a specific page (Time on Page) and the total duration of the session.
A session ends in one of three ways: the user leaves the site, is inactive for a period (30 minutes by default) or the clock strikes midnight (in which case Analytics starts tracking a new session for that user beginning at 12:00 AM).
In addition to tracking sessions, Google Analytics also tracks every ‘hit’ that occurs during a session. A hit is any user interaction with the website that triggers data to be sent to Analytics, such as:
- Clicking a link to another page on the site
- Leaving a comment on the page
- Playing a video
- Purchasing an item
- Clicking a button to Share the page on social media
A bounce is a session that ends without a hit. It means the user viewed a single page on the site before exiting, without interacting with the page (at least not in a way that triggers a hit to Google Analytics).
Bounce rate is the number of bounces divided by the number of sessions or the percentage of users who landed on a page and left without interacting or viewing other pages on the site.
Is High Bounce Rate Always a Bad Thing?
A high bounce rate equals a low retention rate. If visitors are leaving a site after viewing a single page, it means that page has not enticed them to engage with or go deeper into the site.
Whether this is a bad thing depends on your objective.
Some pages are built purely to inform. If a visitor lands on a Store Hours page, for example, it is likely they’re already planning a trip to the store and need a bit more information. One would expect that page to have a high bounce rate because once it has done its job, the user should be good to go.
It’s for this same reason that blog posts and news articles tend to have a high bounce rate. People usually visit those pages to obtain a specific piece of information. If the page delivers, the user can leave.
However, a high bounce rate can also indicate problems with your site. It could be that people bounce because the page is of low quality, or it didn’t meet their expectations.
In other cases, a high bounce rate reveals a flaw in your marketing strategy. A flawless page will nonetheless generate a high bounce rate if you’re sending the wrong kind of traffic there.
Finally, bounce rate can yield clues to some of the important factors that impact on your search engine ranking.
Does Bounce Rate Affect SEO?
Bounce rate can tell you a lot about whether people find a page useful and relevant. Usefulness and relevance is information that Google’s search engine ranking algorithm wants to know, too. So, does bounce rate affect SEO?
The short answer is, no. Google confirms that bounce rate is not a ranking factor. Not every website uses Google Analytics, so Google has no way of obtaining widespread data on bounce rate. Plus, as we noted above, a page can be exactly what users were looking for and still have a high bounce rate.
But bounce rate is fundamental in uncovering other numbers that do impact SEO: long clicks and short clicks.
What Are Short and Long Clicks?
The search engine algorithm does not consider a page’s bounce rate when it comes to determining its ranking in the results. However, it does notice how Google’s users interact with pages that appear in the search engine results.
When a user clicks through to a site from the search engine results page (SERP), Google tracks how long the user spends on that site before returning to the SERP. A long click occurs when a user clicks through to a result and does not return to the SERP or remains on the site for a long time before returning.
Short clicks, on the other hand, occur when a user clicks through and then quickly backtracks.
Another important term here is dwell time, or the time a user spends on a site before returning to the SERP.
Difference Between Short Clicks, Long Clicks and Bounce Rate
Unlike bounce rate, short and long clicks do affect a site’s search engine ranking. And it’s unfortunate that Google Analytics doesn’t track them because this data provides even more insight into a user’s activity than bounce rate.
Bounce rate only shows how many users bounced; it doesn’t tell you why. They may have closed the browser, returned to the SERP, or gone for a lunch break.
Short clicks, on the other hand, reveal that the user went right back to the SERP after clicking. Some call this pogo-sticking: you can visualize the user hopping from the SERP to the site and then back to the SERP in quick bounces. Pogo-sticking is a clear signal that the page didn’t fulfil the purpose of the search query.
Although Google Analytics doesn’t track short clicks, long clicks or pogo-sticking, it is possible to uncover some insight on these numbers using bounce rate. Bounce rate and pogo-sticking are directly proportional; if a page is getting a lot of short clicks, it will have a correspondingly high bounce rate, while a higher proportion of long clicks will lead to a lower bounce rate.
The challenge is uncovering the reasons why users bounce.
Are Short Clicks Always a Bad Thing?
Like bounce rate, there are some cases where pogo-sticking is normal.
Take health-related search queries, for example. Users who are researching symptoms will likely want a second opinion, so they’ll bounce back to the results page more than once during their query. It is likely that Google’s algorithm recognizes this and takes it into account.