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Published on February 2nd, 2013 | by Derek Slater

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SEO, porn, bounce rate and you

This article was originally published February 2010 on emediavitals.com.

 

My website published a news article about the Chinese government’s crackdown on Internet porn. I am not going to link to it because this is one of the rare instances where I do not want a CSOonline article to get more link juice.

You see, for a matter of months this article ranked fairly high on Google searches for the search phrase “Chinese porn”.

Analytics tell us about the behavior of people landing on the site from that specific search. Their bounce rate – the percentage of visitors who left the site without visiting any additional pages – is 98%. Their average time on site is ONE SECOND.

Something tells me our news article is NOT what these “Chinese porn” web searchers are looking for.

Who cares? Well, publishers should start paying more attention to bounce rate. It’s an “engagement metric”. Advertisers are moving gradually away from blunt-force measurements like page views and toward engagement metrics like bounce rate, pages per visit, and time on site.

Successful SEO work brings more visitors to your site, but a rising bounce rate is a natural downside of this broader traffic reach.

So while you are working through your keyword matrix and getting your site more Google juice, here are five tactics for keeping your bounce rate from bouncing too high.

1. Break up your content (Intelligently!)

There are four good ways to break up your content:

  • paginate articles
  • create slideshows
  • turn long features into a series instead of a single article
  • turn sidebars into separate articles

The effectiveness of these ideas is open to discussion. Each tactic can help reduce your bounce rate, but you must consider the other effects and make intelligent decisions. Let’s look at some nuances for each technique.

Pagination

The business imperative for most websites is for more page views, ad impressions and leads. However, achieving bigger numbers in the short term must be balanced against the long-term effect on reader experience. On my site, we paginate our articles after roughly 500 words. That’s pretty tight. I wouldn’t cut it shorter and could argue to make it longer. Sites that only serve 200 words before requiring another click make readers mad.

Slideshows

Slideshows that shouldn’t be slideshows also make readers mad. I refer to a slideshow made using images that don’t add information. When the material is inherently visual, as in this inside tour of the Hoover Dam, a slideshow is a legitimate treatment. If you’re just taking a list and throwing in stock art to create more pages, readers can see through it.

Series

If you produce a magazine-style feature, consider turning that piece into a series of articles online, each piece linking to the others.

I absolutely reject the dogma that says “long articles don’t work online”. (As the saying goes, all Web dogma is stupid.)

However, long articles typically need to be propelled by a great narrative, which is why this gigantic article about an online extortion attempt remains one of our most popular articles ever online, and presumably why ESPN still runs its wonderfully compelling e-ticket features which aren’t even paginated! Nevertheless breaking long features into multiple articles can actually serve the reader in the same way as breaking up magazine articles with subheads, boxes, callouts and other “points of entry”.

Sidebars

For the most part I don’t believe in sidebars online. By this I refer to one article embedded in another. It works great in print, but online articles are hard enough to read without other articles crammed inside them. And you’ve also missed an SEO opportunity, because the sidebar typically has a slightly different or more narrow focus (i.e. different keywords) than the so-called mainbar.

This is an opinion with no statistics to back it up, but if your print sidebar is 60 words or more, online I’d say you should make it into its own article.

2. Put related links in and around your article copy

This idea is simple and common. It’s worth experimenting a bit, however, to find the places on the page that most effectively catch the eye of the first-time visitor with content related to whatever brought them to the site.

Generally speaking, the closer the links are to the article copy, the more effective they will be. Related links may be presented as a box within the text or a simpler treatment. Look at the several excellent ways my sister site Network World provides related links in this article: 9-year-old plots his fifth Microsoft certification.

This is much stronger than the treatment on my site. Although we copy NWW’s style with the in-line link (“See Marko give Active Directory training…”), our Related Articles box falls so far below the text that relatively few people find it.

3. Make directories, lists and similar resources

Still stuck in that “article” paradigm? Kick the habit and create some directories. If you can’t afford the time/technology/training to make them into actual databases, you can fake it with HTML.

For example: Of my top 250 search terms, one of the lowest bounce rates is for the term “security recruiter”, which leads you to The Security Recruiter Directory. It isn’t sortable, but it’s manually paginated and uses internal anchor links to help with navigation. And because it’s well labeled and is a strong reader-service type of content, readers tend to rummage around in it – to the tune of six pages per visit for those coming from a search engine.

This isn’t an aberration. A similar list of security certifications has a higher (though still great) bounce rate and five pages per visit for people coming in via search.

Lists of this sort will help your engagement metrics.

4. Update your content

You’ll notice that the inelegant headline of one of the aforementioned directories is “The Security Recruiter Database – UPDATED”. This is a great thing about lists and databases and roundups: You can refresh the content and re-highlight the article.

Although I am reluctant to cite apocryphal information, there is a school of thought that says including text like “Most recent update: 2/05/2010″ may help alert search engines to the evergreen nature of such a resource.

Even if this is not true, it’s a practice that DOES alert the incoming reader and thus means people are less likely to assume it has become outdated and bounce off the page.

5. Promote newsletter signups on article pages

Here’s a strategy we are very late deploying on my site. Hope you’re ahead of me on this one.

A newsletter subscriber is in some regard the ultimate success in the battle against bounce rate. It’s a sign that you’ve really captured someone’s attention and that he has great affinity with your content. So you should make newsletter (and RSS) signup promotion VERY PROMINENT on your article page template.

In this way, effective SEO work should yield an overall rise in your number of newsletter and RSS subscriptions.

 

 


About the Author

is editor of an award-winning B2B media website and magazine. Opinions and ideas expressed here are my own, not my employer's.



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