Is Google using bounce rates to rank websites?
SEOs often speculate how much weight Google puts into engagement statistics from Google Analytics. Google says they don’t use it… SEOs aren’t so sure.
There seems to be growing evidence that bounce rate and other metrics from Analytics are being used to rank websites. There are also glaring holes in Google’s argument for why they don’t use bounce rate.
Google says no…
Let’s put it out there – Matt Cutts categorically denied that Google use bounce rate at last June’s SMX Advanced conference. I wasn’t there myself, but thanks to the wonders of Twitter these nuggets of information are quickly circulated around the web.
So there you have it, end of story right?
Evidence suggests otherwise
Here at Custard we’ve seen evidence that suggests the issue may not be as cut and dried as Google’s webspam chief suggests.
I don’t want to name and shame anyone here, but one of the frustrations of being an SEO is clients not wanting to invest in content. Once a page is ranking, then they consider it.
But by this time, traffic starts to come in and it seems like Google identifies a lack of engagement with the content on that page. Next thing you know, rankings slip again.
So why would this happen? Maybe Google sees low engagement and decides maybe this page doesn’t deserve to rank as highly as the algorithm first thought.
Maybe it looks at a high bounce rate as a sign that this page isn’t providing what users are looking for?
(Edit – thanks to Barry Adams for pointing out that this activity could also be down to this particular update)
Other SEOs agree
I recently chatted with Kristina Kledzik from Distilled’s Seattle office after her SEOMoz article on responsive design, where she mentioned in passing that without a good mobile site “your bounce rate will rise and your rankings will drop.”
Tom’s article stated that Google is “taking time to assess signals such as bounce rate” when ranking websites.
Not that everyone agreed with Tom – Barry Adams over at Pierce Communications didn’t hold back in his rebuttal, calling Tom’s comments on bounce rate and other metrics “in all likelihood patently false.”
Why wouldn’t Google use it?
Waaaay back in 2008, Cutts stated that bounce rate as a ranking metric would be “not only spammable but noisy”. Five years later and he’s yet to really expand on this statement.
I also find this a little vague as a response, especially given that the whole algorithm centres around links, which are the most spammable metric I can think of. The noise surrounding links is almost deafening.
Quick reality check – the negative movement I’ve seen after a week or two of page one rankings could be explained away in a number of ways. I do believe however that the most likely explanation is low engagement metrics as a whole – including number of pages viewed and time on the page – are a collective factor.
Over to you
I’d love feedback on this issue. I’m certainly not brave enough to call out Matt Cutts on bounce rates!
Have you seen evidence of pages with high bounce rate being bumped from high ranking positions? Comments gratefully received!