I hope you got some useful ideas for addressing problems with your content from the previous post in our bounce rate series.

But even after fixing your keyword strategy, monitoring external links to your site, and enhancing your content, there is still room for improvement!

Today we’ll talk about technical problems that can lead to higher bounce rates. These days, sites are faster, more reliable and more user-friendly. Many work just fine regardless of browser, operating system, desktop or mobile platform and internet bandwidth. As such, users demand more from all the sites they visit, not only in regards to page content, but also when it comes to the technical aspects.

So grab your notebook, pencil and cup of coffee and I’ll explain how you can further improve your bounce rate by giving your website a technical checkup.

Design matters

Your site design shouldn’t cause visitors to run away (and stay away) after their first visit.

Instead, your site design should be…

  • Attractive: Fits your niche, audience and topic.
  • Simple: Controls and navigation are intuitive and text is easy to read.
  • Accessible: Easy to use with just a mouse or a keyboard, so that your content is available to all kinds of users. (Check out this article to get a better idea of what accessibility looks like and whether you need to implement it for your site.)

If you designed your website more than two years ago, then you should definitely review your design with a critical eye and ask for suggestions and improvements. You can do this yourself, hire a web design studio, or contact us and we’ll do quick overview and provide suggestions for free.

When you review your site design, here are a few things you should look for:

  • Are the fonts large enough?
  • Are the colors easy to look at—not dull, but not glaring?
  • Are buttons and other interactive elements large and easy to click?
  • Are your forms easy to read? Do they have clear directions?

It’s often hard to make proper judgments yourself because you’ve been to your site hundreds of times, so you may not see issues that others notice on their first visit. That’s why it’s a good idea to ask people you know to review your website and provide some feedback—friends, partners, co-workers, anybody.

Bottom line: If your web design is cluttered, hurts the eyes, is full of flash animations, or has some other design flaw that makes your visitors uncomfortable, you can bet your page will have a high bounce rate. On a similar note, if your users have to spend time trying to understand your website or how to access the features you provide, it doesn’t matter if your content is the best in the world—your bounce rate will be on the high side. Provide an easy-to-use interface with a nice design and good content, and your visitors will stick around.

Don’t keep them guessing

Nothing frustrates a visitor more than site navigation that makes it difficult for them to find what they are looking for. Don’t confuse your visitors with clunky navigation that does not allow them to find answers quickly. Unclear or broken navigation may prevent visitors from clicking through and visiting a second page on your website—thus, a higher bounce rate.

It’s better to have only one main site menu that works smoothly and provides clear, easy access to the most important things on your website, than to have 3–4 different navigation bars that only serve to confuse your visitors. Don’t make them guess!

Simple Nav Bar Sample

Simple Nav Bar Sample

Slow is bad

This point may seem obvious, but it’s so essential that I couldn’t leave it out.

We have all become so accustomed to instant gratification that if anything takes too long, we quickly become frustrated. Fast food, the internet, speedy travel—it’s all led to an impatient society. Which means that if your site is slow, you should be prepared to suffer the consequences.

If your visitors are waiting more than three seconds for any of your pages to fully load, you’re losing.

So, check your site speed. Google Analytics already calculates this for you—just visit Behavior > Site Speed > Overview in lefthand navigation bar and you’ll get all the stats. You can also check your site speed with webpagetest.org.

Average Page Load Time in Google Analytics

Average Page Load Time in Google Analytics

To improve your site speed, set up Cloudflare or a similar service for your website and see if it helps your site performance. Can’t do it yourself? Let us know and we’ll assist you. For one of our clients, decreasing page load time from 5 seconds to 3 seconds lowered their bounce rate by 25 percent!

For more on why site speed matters so much, check out this article.

Don’t forget about mobile

In Google Analytics, click on Audience and then Mobile Devices. How many visitors are accessing your site via mobile phones and tablets? If it’s more than 20 percent, then it’s high time to start thinking outside the desktop box.

Have you checked to see how your website looks and performs on all platforms? (You’ll likely need to measure site speed separately for mobile—Google Analytics allows you to do this.)

Mobile phones and tablets are not as rich when it comes to tech resources (not to mention the smaller screens), so your site probably won’t look or work its best on those platforms. This means you may need to pay extra attention and put more effort into making your site functional for mobile visitors. If they visit your site but can’t use it properly, they’ll bounce.

For WordPress CMS-based websites, you can install one of these plugins (depending on your requirements) and you’ll get a mobile version of your site nearly for free. If you’re not sure how to do this, or if this approach doesn’t work for your custom requirements—again, we can happily assist you. During one of our client projects, mobile visitors increased 50 percent in one day. The era of mobile is already here, so don’t miss out on new opportunities for revenue.

The same goes for different operating systems and browsers. For any that make up 10–20 percent of your total visitors, make sure your site works properly and quickly on those platforms; otherwise you’ll miss out on revenue from potential visitors.

Small fixes with big payoffs

Google Webmaster Tools

Also, regularly check and fix any HTML related issues reported by Google Webmaster Tools. Click to enlarge

Finally, here’s a short list of rather minor technical tweaks that can make a big difference, especially if you implement all of them:

  • Make sure all external links open in a new window. To do this, just add target=”_blank” to every link tag; this way your users will still be on your page after clicking a link.
  • Offer a helpful 404 page—you know, “Page Not Found.” If users get this error message, they should also see related links to visit, potentially preventing a bounce. For sites on WordPress CMS, check out these plugins to improve your default 404 page.
  • Remove annoying popups. Once popups were new and engaging; now they only add to your bounce rate.
  • Don’t go overboard with ads. Ad placement is a balancing act that stymies many webmasters: You don’t want ads to be so intrusive that users become frustrated, but you don’t want them tucked away where they won’t be seen. Consider swapping out your ads periodically, split-testing different sizes or positioning ads next to each other to find out which arrangement works best for your site.
  • Take care if you have a single-page site. Google Analytics doesn’t register multiple pageviews on a single-page site unless users reload the page; as a result, single-page sites tend to have high bounce rates. To work around this and get a better sense of how people are using (or not using) your site, you can implement other content tracking methods, like events.
  • Be careful with autoplay. Autoplay video and audio content can make users feel out of control and often leads to a bounce. That being said, autoplay might increase conversions—just test it!
  • Experiment with video length, knowing that visitors have little tolerance for irrelevant content.
  • Implement visitor tracking. Have you properly added tracking code? If so, then you can also adjust the bounce rate of your website so that the stat is most helpful for you. For example, you could add a rule that if a user stays on your page for one minute, it will not count as bounce. How you should customize your bounce rate metric depends on your website and the service or product you’re offering. Also make sure views of your Ajax and Flash-based content count as pageviews.

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As you can see, a lot of little technical issues can negatively affect your bounce rate. But now you have a lot of tools and information to fix those issues and make your website run more smoothly for your users.

If you don’t have a team to provide IT support and continuously improve your website, contact us and the SoftFormance team will give you further suggestions for fixing your website’s technical issues. We’ve done a few dozen site optimization projects, so we’re pretty good at this.

Let me know your thoughts on these technical tips—and the results you get when you try them out! I’m waiting to hear from you in the comments below.

And stay tuned: In the next and final article in this bounce rate series, I’ll give you a few great hints on how to increase your online revenue, or whatever conversion goal you may have.