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Does Bounce Rate Affect Search Rankings?

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

You may have heard a high bounce rate will hurt your SEO. This article will present evidence suggesting that most likely, bounce rate has nothing to do with SEO.

Contrary to what some SEO consultants will tell you, Google has not used bounce rate as a SEO ranking signal for a long time, if ever.

Let’s end the debate once and for all, Google does not use bounce rate as a SEO ranking signal. Google reps have been saying for many years that it is a noisy, spammable, unreliable, and “not good” signal for determining whether a web page should rank higher in Google search results.

We will look at the exact reasons bounce rate is a bad signal for page quality, why Google doesn’t use it, and how the idea of “bounce rate as a SEO ranking signal” came to be widely circulated.

What Is Bounce Rate in SEO?

Bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors who exit a webpage without clicking through to another webpage. The bounce rate percentage is calculated by dividing the number of one-page visits by the numbers of all visits.

A “bounce” occurs when site visitors leave after visiting the initial page they entered upon. Many SEOs believe a high bounce rate is a negative ranking factor, although several Google representatives have said bounce rate is a noisy and spammable signal for ranking purposes.

Bounce rate is not the same as dwell time, which is the average time spent on a page.

Is a Low Bounce Rate Considered Good or Bad for SEO?

For many years, it was widely believed in SEO circles that a low bounce rate correlated with higher rankings. This belief was exacerbated by studies by noteworthy SEOs, such as Brian Dean of Backlinko, who stated in a February 2016 report that data showed that lower bounce rate was associated with higher rankings. In a 2016 Q& A with Google’s Andrey Lipettsev, Moz founder Rand Fishkin talked about how he would do experiments with conference audiences to see if click-through rate was a ranking factor. While these small-scale experiments seemed to influence rankings for a couple of days. After that, these attempts at influencing the rankings seemed to have inconclusive effects.

Keep in mind, that these studies and experiments were all occurring about six months after Google announced that RankBrain was an important element of it’s ranking algorithm. This machine learning aspect seeks to reward the content that is most helpful to users. Over time, the best content, and the most trustworthy content and websites should filter to the top of search rankings. While studies that were done prior to RankBrain being introduced in the algorithm might explain bounce rate being a ranking factor, then diminishing, the truth is Google representatives had been saying for a long time that bounce rate was not a good ranking factor.

From a practical standpoint, the internet had been become magnitudes more ubiquitous in 2016 than it was in 2010 when responsive design for mobile devices was top of mind for web designers. By October of 2016, mobile device use had decisively overtaken desktop use, and many people were using the mobile web to look up one page at a time, for tasks throughout the day. Even in the years leading up to 2016, bounce rate would have been a poor measure of usefulness for SEO purposes, even if it had been used by Google.

The way people were using the web had irreversibly changed. But there were more logical reasons Google never relied on bounce rate for ranking purposes.

Why Google Doesn’t Use Bounce Rate for Ranking

Bounce rate is easily manipulated. If bounce rate had a significant effect on SEO, your competitors could destroy your ranking very easily. You could gain an unfair advantage by using bots or groups of people to manipulate rankings.

One way a website owner could manipulate bounce rate, if it were a ranking factor, would be to order a multitude of Fivver gigs, instructing workers to manipulate searches. Theoretically, people could search your keywords, click on a competitor, and bounce back to the search results quickly. Then they could search again, click on the target website, and then visit more pages to complete the manipulation through data.

For this reason alone, it seems unlikely that Google would use bounce rate as a significant ranking factor. It would be too easy to game the system and manipulate rankings.

What Do Google Representatives Say About Bounce Rate as a Ranking Factor?

Google reps have been very consistent over time by repeatedly saying bounce rate is not something they use for the ranking algorithm.

In 2008, Google representative Matt Cutts said

I’ll just say that bounce rates would be not only spammable but noisy. A search industry person recently sent me some questions about how bounce rate is done at Google and I was like “Dude, I have no idea about any things like bounce rate. Why don’t you talk to this nice Google Analytics evangelist who knows about things like bounce rate?” I just don’t even run into people talking about this in my day-to-day life.

– Matt Cutts, 2008

In 2012, Matt Cutts told the audience at the SMX conference that “Google doesn’t use bounce rate” for ranking.

"Google doesn't use bounce rate" @mattcutts
 told @tomschmitz yesterday, tom says #smx #11c

In 2017, Google representative Gary Illyes said on Twitter, “(bounce rate is not a good signal)”.

Lines are super blurry there, I can't really answer in 140 characters. Try to create metrics that gauge user satisfaction & go from there.

(bounce rate is not a good signal)

There are “conspiracy theory” SEOs that believe that Google representatives are always lying, or telling you part of the truth. On this factor, it seems logical to presume they aren’t leading anyone astray about bounce rate. I firmly believe that bounce rate is not a good factor, and there are many good pages that do not require users to visit another page to accomplish their goals.

Is Bounce Rate a Ranking Factor?

Because bounce rate is a spammable and noisy signal, Google does not use bounce rate for ranking evaluation. A high bounce rate does not mean you will rank lower. Similarly, a low bounce rate does not mean you will rank higher.

Google will rank web pages based on a variety of factors, such as how helpful is the content to the searcher, the quality of the content, the back link profile of the website, the overall reputation of the website, and other user signals that may indicate users are satisfied with a page.

More Reading Material and References

SEJ “Bounce Rate: Is It a Google Ranking Factor?” (2021)

Search Engine Roundtable from 2008: Google Says, Bounce Rates For Search Rankings “Spammable” & “Noisy”

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Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown SEO.

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