The reading level for this article is All Levels

We have a problem that I’m about to share with you. In case you don’t know our site (The Conversion Chronicles), is a content website designed from our point of view to convert visitors into subscribers. As our website has increased in popularity due largely to improved visibility on search engines, our bounce rate or single page access rate has increased. This means that people are visiting one page of our website and then leaving immediately. The trend has been steadily rising. In part it’s due to irrelevance, people typing keywords into Google, clicking on a link to our site and finding that our site is not what they were looking for. However because the trend is rising not dropping it’s a KPI we can no longer ignore.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) Should Be Used As Warning Flags

There is no point defining a key metric and then not taking action upon it when it flags up a problem. We decided long ago that we’d benchmark our own KPI’s internally and then work on reducing them. One of the KPI’s we decided on was a 40% bounce rate over all of our websites pages. We’d allow plus or minus 10% as a standard deviation (so 30-50% was our specification) and that we’d take action on figures rising above or below this.

We based 40% on the fact that our home page (the main entry point) was getting around 30% at the time and that our general monthly average for 3 months running was around 40%. Even then with more targeted traffic (the Chronicles was a less search engine friendly website 2 years ago) our one page accesses were quite common among article pages. So once we had set this as a benchmark we left it running and monitored the KPI.

Setting Internal Benchmarks Is Important.

Improving on your own figures is the only way forward as other average benchmarks you might find won’t work for your business. There are too many variables that separate your business from your competitor even they have things that they do which are similar to you. It’s like comparing apples with pears, it’s all fruit but that’s where the similarity ends.

Our own benchmarks held for about a year pretty much within the limits. Then as we started getting more articles onto the website we started getting more search engine visibility. A couple of months we went over 50%. I still didn’t worry too much because some of the terms we were being found for were ridiculously off, like being found for famous people we quoted or other irrelevant terms. However for the last 3 months straight we have hit over 50% and last month actually hit 60%.

60% Bounce!

The 40% of good traffic actually converted better last month than the last 6 months, but to lose 60% of our traffic was a major slap from our KPI, telling us to wake up. So we began to investigate why. Why do over 50% of our visitors leave our site after reading just one page? There were three main answers, one of which I hadn’t been expecting.

*Visitors leave to visit our article authors. Authors who write for the Chronicles get a link back to their pages.
*We’re found for irrelevant searches. I wrote an article about multivariate split testing once and we get found by people looking for information on doing the splits. That’s just once example, there are dozens of terms we see which people find our website on Google for which don’t bear any relevance to what we’re doing.
*Lack of session length on good key phrase entries. A worry for us. It means some of our visitors arrived at what we would consider a fairly relevant page but didn’t spend enough time on it to read it and bounced anyway.

So How To Combat The High Bounce Rate?

Linking out to article authors isn’t an issue for us, even if they are in some cases our competitors. We’re happy to do that as a cost of keeping our website full of high quality articles.

Irrelevant search entries is one area we can do something about to reduce poor traffic coming to our pages. We can alter headlines, URL’s and terminology. For instance the article about multivariate split testing, will have "doing the splits" removed from its headline and URL.

The third problem is the most interesting one and most difficult to put right. When a visitor finds us for a good key phrase like "improving website conversion", to me a one page access is a failure, especially when you consider what our website is about. In my view we’re failing to engage the visitor long enough to keep her interested. We decided to crunch some numbers around the single page access problem by looking at the key differences between those visitors that converted on a good search term and those that didn’t to see if we could identify a trend.

Number Crunching

We found that on average the subscriber was a first time visitor 75% of the time. On average the subscriber viewed 8.6 page views per visit while the average non subscribing visitor only browsed 3. We also found that there was actually very little statistical difference between the people who were repeat visitors and people who were first time visitors in relation to the bounce rate. This combined with the fact that our branding metric (direct accesses or search terms for "Conversion Chronicles") only totals 43% has led us to believe that while our site is doing a good job for the majority of our subscriber base, we’re missing out on a huge segment of unsatisfied first time visitors who only browse one or two pages.

Improving The Brand So That It Achieves Our Aims

I believe that an image used well should inform a viewer to about something or persuade them to do something or as Andy Rutlege describes;

Design accomplishes something, ideally, design works to achieve a specific aim. Design that accomplishes nothing is merely decoration.
Andy Rutledge

We have decided our first course of action is to improve our branding so that it is no longer merely fancy decoration around our articles. Our design aim is to be remembered as a resource where there are lots of helpful articles, case studies and tips about how to improve conversion rates and online marketing generally. If we can strike a chord with the people that arrive, or invoke an easily remembered image of our website when they need our articles again then we will improve session length, page views per visit and reduce bounce rates.

The Conversion Chronicles currently is a professional looking website which has sadly proven forgettable to all but the loyal subscribers whom come back to us every month searching for hidden nuggets of information.

Next month we’ll publish findings of improvements that we hope will happen over the coming weeks. The site won’t change till mid March 06 and I’m about to give you a sneak preview of our new brand.

I am about to introduce you to a friend of mine. He has offered to help save the Conversion Chronicles from the doldrums.

When he is around there is no sinking into the drink. He is a master in the art of finding hidden treasure and from now on he’ll be showing you where you can find the booty not only on the Chronicles website but in your own.

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing, Captain Blackbeak.

This Web Marketing article was written by Steve Jackson on 3/20/2006

Steve Jackson is the Editor of the Conversion Chronicles, a website conversion rate marketing newsletter dedicated to improving website conversion rates. He is also the CEO of Aboavista a web conversion and web analytics consultancy based in Finland and the USA. You can get a free copy of his e-book sent to you upon subscription to the Conversion Chronicles web site.