A Mysterious Bounce Rate Solved

Posted on Saturday, June 7th, 2014 No Comments


bounce-rate-mystery-solved

About a month ago I started working with Don Milton, an EFT (emotional freedom technique) practitioner from Birmingham, AL. He contacted me because he was trying to find someone to do online marketing for a new video series that he had created. He already had a website for the videos but didn’t know how to go about marketing it.

His previous website guy had registered the domain eftvideotutorials.com because he’d done some research on that keyword phrase (eft video tutorials) and saw that it got a pretty good amount of traffic from Google. I took over operation of the site because it needed a design makeover and I knew that I’d need to add pages and make other adjustments as I developed and executed a marketing plan.

Before I go any further I want to add this: I know that you might not believe in EFT. You might think it’s a total sham, just like other energy topics such as the law of attraction or psychics or stress-induced illnesses. You might want to dismiss a website that sells products via Clickbank because you think they’re all junk. None of that matters for this discussion. This is about SEO and the mechanics behind keywords and bounce rate.

When I took over the website, it didn’t even have Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools installed, so that was one of the first things that I did. After getting a few days of data I saw that the previous web guy was correct in his keyword research because the site was getting about 100-120 visits per day simply by existing and pulling in people searching for “eft video tutorials”.

However, it was getting a giant bounce rate of about 95%. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen anything like it.

I was pretty sure that the problem was with the website design. It was created with affiliate-style marketing in mind and it looked like one of those websites you’d see and leave immediately because it just screamed “scam”. So a re-design was a top priority.

Re-Design #1

I worked full time on a new design for about a week. It’s a small website and Don had given me full reign to make any changes I thought necessary, so I wasn’t bogged down by a bunch of approvals and edits required by managers and bosses, like a typical website re-design.

I got the new design online and watched the analytics for a few days. It was a pretty big change so I figured I’d see a reduction in the bounce rate right away.

Nope. It stayed exactly the same. People that went directly to the site via our newsletter or other personal communication bounced at a “normal” rate of about 30-60%, but organic Google traffic was still bouncing at 95-100%.

I was baffled. The website followed all design best practices. I’ve studied web design and landing page design in depth and I knew I had done what I was supposed to. And nothing seemed technically wrong with the website. It made no sense.

I started researching bounce rate to see if I could find something I hadn’t thought of. Posts like this one on QuickSprout have a ton of great information but none of it triggered any kind of revelation. I made small adjustments to the site every day to see if they would make any kind of difference, and nothing helped.

The main issues that affect bounce rate are:

  • Good vs Bad Design
  • Page Load Time
  • Correct Visitors vs Incorrect Visitors
  • Relevant/Useful/Informative Content

I’ll explain a bit about each one and why I didn’t think it was the reason behind my mysterious bounce rate.

Good vs Bad Design

The original website design was certainly bad. To be totally honest, it looked like a scam. I knew that it wasn’t a scam because I knew the person behind the website and I knew that the products he sells are genuinely made with the intention of helping people. But the design was crappy, and that’s why I made it a top priority to update. The new design was much better and there was no way it would have given people the same “scam” feeling as the old one. (I don’t have a screenshot to show you because I ended up re-designing it again later.)

Page Load Time

If a website takes a very long time to load, that will cause bounces. That didn’t seem to be the problem with this website. I had actually been pretty pleased with the load times as I was working on the site, even before I installed a caching system. Pingdom usually gives the site an 81/100 score, and says it’s faster than 60-85% of all websites, depending on when you ping it.

Correct Visitors vs Incorrect Visitors

If you’ve got a bunch of people coming to your website who aren’t interested in what you’re selling or the content you present them, that will create a high bounce rate. Nowadays, determining whether you’re getting the correct visitors is harder since Google no longer tells us much about which keywords are driving traffic to our websites. I could at least see some search engine impressions in Webmaster Tools that all looked fine — the keywords were “eft videos,” “eft for grief” and a lot of similar phrases. It seemed that if people were coming to our website via a search for EFT-related topics, that had to be relevant traffic. At least relevant enough that they’d click on ONE thing before leaving the site.

Relevant/Useful/Informative Content

At this point the website didn’t have much free content, and starting a blog was high on the list of priorities. However, all of the content was relevant to the topic at hand. We also added a cool free giveaway package for email signups, again with all of the recommended design elements in place. So it seemed crazy that people wouldn’t click on SOMETHING before leaving.

One Clue

I started showing the website to everyone I knew in the hope that someone would have an idea as to what was causing this gigantic bounce rate. I consulted with friends, family, and old colleagues. Nothing helped until someone pointed out that the logo had confused him.

This is what the old logo looked like:

The text around the outside that says “Do It Yourself Video Program” confused this person because he thought that meant it was a program for learning how to make videos. The intention of that logo was to show that the videos teach you how to do Emotional Freedom Technique yourself, without needing a coach or therapist.

Okay, so that made some sense. Perhaps people were getting an entirely wrong impression of what the website was about and leaving because they thought they’d found some kind of technical video creation tutorial.

Re-Design #2

With that in mind, I created a new logo. I wanted to use some kind of image that captured the essence of EFT, while being more modern and fun. The image I thought of that really stood out for me was the shape of a heart that people make with their hands. You can read more about how I made the new logo here.

This new logo was black, red, and white, so the entire site needed to be re-designed around those colors. At first it seemed wacky to do an entirely new design so soon, but the old one wasn’t working anyway. I made the new site even better than what I had before. You can see the before and after here. (Remember that this is a comparison between the original site that I didn’t design, and the latest design that I did.)

Right away we got great feedback about this new design. It’s much more modern and fresh, which resonates with people. Most EFT websites look pretty dated, so it’s not difficult for us to rise above them in that regard.

This new design is, in my opinion, MUCH better than the old one. Did that reduce the bounce rate? NO.

Could It Be a Penalty?

Of course I wondered if there was some kind of penalty being imposed by Google. That didn’t seem to be the case because there was no warning in Webmaster Tools. Also, looking at the backlink profile, there weren’t that many incoming links and none seemed to be overly spammy. Barely any link creation had even been done yet at all. That told me that it shouldn’t be a Penguin-related problem.

I had submitted a sitemap in Webmaster Tools and that improved the site’s indexing in Google. There were no crawl problems. Everything there seemed totally fine.

I was beginning to get worried that even if there was no penalty now, there would be soon if Google saw this ongoing ridiculous 95% bounce rate.

Why? Why? Why?

This was all seriously impeding my plans. I wanted to start some A/B testing so that I could optimize each of the product pages on the website. Don was coming up with a lot of marketing and content ideas, but none of it would matter if people were seeing the homepage and leaving right away.

I was so baffled. There was nothing at all wrong with the website. It loaded quickly, it had a great design, it had relevant content, and it was naturally getting a pretty good amount of visitors without much marketing even being done yet. People who were getting to the site via Google were searching for perfectly relevant keywords, so why would they all leave immediately?

It made no sense whatsoever. Even if they didn’t really like the design, even if they wanted free information, even if the page happened to load a little slower than normal, it wasn’t enough to explain it. The site should have been getting a normal bounce rate. I would have settled for 75% at that point.

And Then Google Traffic Disappeared

And then yesterday, all traffic from organic Google searches disappeared. The 100+ visits per day the site had been getting via Google was completely gone.

I was devastated. I’d put so much time and work into this website, and I was sure I’d done everything correctly. Now it seemed like Google had slapped it with some kind of manual penalty, probably a result of the high bounce rate.

I looked at everything I could think of to determine the problem:

– Webmaster Tools had no new warnings or messages of any kind
– Our search engine rankings were exactly the same as the day before
– The Google Analytics code was still installed and working normally
– The website was still up and functioning normally

This made no sense. Over and over again throughout the day I checked on our search engine placement, I checked for messages in Webmaster Tools, and nothing seemed to be wrong or different from the day before. So why in the world would all of the traffic from Google have disappeared overnight? All I could think was that this was probably just the start of it, and tomorrow or the next day I’d see a manual spam penalty warning or some other message of doom.

Epiphany #1

During this month of racking my brain, trying to figure out what was wrong, I kept thinking:

It doesn’t make any sense. People are typing “EFT videos” into Google, getting to our website, and bouncing. Why would almost every single person leave immediately when it’s relevant traffic?

Then it dawned on me. It was not relevant traffic.

“EFT” is an acronym that stands for other things besides Emotional Freedom Technique. This page has a list of 29 different things that it could mean. The likely culprit is Electronic Funds Transfer. I don’t know what kind of video tutorial you’d need for electronic funds transfer, but I imagine it’s something illegal.

That explained the bounce rate, but it didn’t explain the sudden drop in Google traffic. Even if it was the wrong traffic, all of our rankings were intact, so we still should have been getting the same irrelevant traffic that we were the day before.

Epiphany #2

I literally woke up in the middle of the night with the answer.

It had taken a week or two, but after I had done the second re-design, Google updated the description that shows up in the SERPs. It was something I’d been meaning to fix anyway because, although I don’t remember now exactly what it said before, it was a really crappy description that was just pulling some random phrase from the homepage. I do remember it was a sentence from one of the customer testimonials that had been shown on the homepage before.

So after this re-design and a little wait for Google to re-index, the SERP was updated. It now looks like this:

eft-serp-description

“Emotional Freedom Technique” is spelled out and it’s even in bold. Now anyone searching for another version of EFT knows that it’s not the EFT they’re looking for, and they don’t click through to the website. It totally explains the sudden disappearance of traffic from Google.

It also means that the guy who originally set up the website was correct in his keyword research, but also incorrect. He was right that the keyword phrase “eft video tutorials” gets a decent amount of searches every day, but it’s for a different EFT than the one we’re talking about.

Bounce Rate Returned to Normal

Now that the website isn’t getting a ton of totally irrelevant traffic, the bounce rate is about 60%, which in my opinion is within a normal range.

The lack of that irrelevant traffic also means that the website is getting quite a low amount of visits now, but that’s okay because the visits it was getting before were worthless. Worse than worthless, really, because if a 95% bounce rate had gone on too long, I’m sure that the site would have lost rankings in Google.

And now I can move forward with marketing the site because I won’t be dealing with a mysterious bounce rate that prevents me from doing any optimization.

What a crazy mystery that was. Every website has its own set of challenges, and I learn more with each one.




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