Low page ranking and high bounce rates

The web is awash with information about how to achieve a high page rank in Google, some of it excellent, some of it not. It's usually expressed in terms of what needs to be done. This article takes the opposite approach by explaining a few points that should be avoided, based upon long experience I've had working with a range of great clients.

Not getting indexed properly and not getting ranked well

Let's assume that you've followed the best advice about structuring your website – that it's semantically clean, validates against the relevant web standards, is fast to load and easy-to-use – something that in itself takes a lot of hard work. Let's also assume that you've supplied an XML sitemap, submitted it to the search engines, opened a Google Analytics account and added the appropriate code. Let's also assume that you've followed best practice about the myriad of small details that need to be attended to (page titles, headings, alt tags for images, etc).

Let's now assume that after a reasonable period of time you can't find your site when you Google for it and – as a consequence – the site isn't getting many visitors.

In my experience, the main reason for this will be either insufficient content or poor-quality content. There are plenty of other reasons which might be part of the mix, but these are the first ones to re-examine.

Does the site's text adequately describe your business activity? Is that text in the correct part of each page? Is your text unambiguous and clear?

Sometimes I see clients who are so close to the process of writing their site's copy that they can't see when they haven't said something fundamental (such as where their business is). Or a client believes that pictures with very little text will properly do the job. Or that the key elements of their service don't need to be re-expressed in a slightly different way on another page of the site, varying key vocabulary with a view to intelligently second-guessing what vocabulary their potential clients will be using when they go Googling.

There are clients who just don't feel comfortable with words, need help with writing the copy and – maybe – even refuse this help. Equally, there are clients who love words but go overboard with flowery, metaphorical prose that the search engines just can't handle.

Keep the text unambiguous, let it cover all bases, but have enough of it. You always need to give the search engines something to work with.

They come but then they go: the bounce

A page's bounce rate is the rate at which people leave a site without moving to another page within the site. They just go. They don't like what they see. What you're offering isn't for them.

A bounce rate (for a page or for a whole site) is expressed as a percentage (of page visitors or site visitors) and is one of the metrics provided by Google's Analytics service. The higher the bounce rate, the less appealing is your content.

Consider these reasons as to why people leave without moving to another page in the site:

  • the page loads too slowly and that's that
  • once it's loaded, the design and layout just ain't right
  • there's too much text (yes, even after the above!)
  • the text is poorly written
  • your own text has errors: spelling errors, grammar errors, incorrect word capitalisation
  • your contact details aren't absolutely clear: a physical address and a phone number are critically important in reassuring people that you are trustworthy
  • you don't have a mugshot to reassure visitors of who you are

Publishing risks

I hesitated before publishing this article because it's a topic that seems to admit the possibility that I don't always give my own clients this sort of advice and that I might be complicit in launching a site with some of the above pitfalls. But it's more complex than that for two reasons:

  1. Sometimes a site does get launched when I have misgivings about its textual content, but I will have expressed myself clearly on the matter and – for whatever reason – lost the argument. I very occasionally have a client who remains deaf to my advice. Their insistence on specific design decisions (Comic Sans anyone?) or on non-optimised text can crash and burn a project. (See The Oatmeal's view for some lightness on this subject!)
  2. What may be launched in perfect shape, gets edited into not so good shape – such is the power (and responsibility) of having a content-management system to work with.

All of this underlines the need for web designers and clients to maintain a good dialog – and plan for a site's future. Usually that's a total pleasure – and the resulting site continues to be a success.

How you nurture a site after it has gone live will always have a bearing on its page rank and the bounce rate of its pages.