Made You Look Though, Didn't I?
Okay, maybe Google does use bounce rate ... I'm sure they have some extra hard drives, so maybe when they don't have anything better to do they put the bounce rate on those drives and 'organize it', just for fun.
All too often I hear about Google using Bounce Rate and it makes no sense, except for people looking at the web and statistics from such a narrow view point they fail to see the bigger picture, so let me highlight some of the huge issues with Bounce Rate as a ranking signal...
The bounce rates I'm using to highlight the issue are for every time it happens...
If a visitor lands on a product page and then adds an item to a shopping cart, views the cart, proceeds to checkout, finishes the transaction and lands on the 'thank you' page, they have 4 page views.
If a visitor lands on a product page and then adds an item to a shopping cart, views the shopping cart, which this time is remotely hosted, then proceeds to checkout from a different 3rd party processor, and arrives at the thank you page, the bounce rate from the item page is 100%, the bounce rate from the shopping cart is 100%, the bounce rate from the 3rd party processor is 100%, the bounce rate from the 'thank you' page is 100% and every single page in the chain was part of the correct answer, so a 100% bounce rate was ideal.
There are also many different variations of the preceding, which could change the bounce rate people see in their stats.
If a visitor lands on a content page with the content continued on 3 different pages, and spends 30 seconds scanning the 1st page for the answer they were looking for, then clicks to the 2nd page scans for another 30 seconds, then clicks to the 3rd page and scans for 30 seconds again, not finding the answer, the bounce rate of the initial landing page is 0%, the bounce rate of the second page is 0%, the bounce rate for the 3rd page is 0%, and the answer is not found.
If a visitor lands on a content page with all content contained on a single page, scans for 10 seconds, finds the information they were looking for and clicks back to 'search deeper' on the subject, the bounce rate for the page is 100%, even though it contained the correct answer.
These examples are the exact opposite of many of the conclusions drawn by those who think Google can or must use bounce rate, and they're only a few of the examples I can think of ... People bounce from pages for all different reasons, and sometimes the bounce could indicate the answer was exactly what the person was looking for and other times it could indicate it was no where close.
Google also does not have access to enough consistent and inclusive information wrt bounce rate to apply it to sites as a whole, imo ... To apply a factor to all sites and pages they have to have data for it, and thinking they have bounce rate data for all the pages online is, uh, well, politely, naive ... There are about a trillion web pages last I heard, and if we give Chrome installations a generous 100,000,000 (one hundred million) installations, then every single Chrome user would have to enter through 10,000 unique pages each, without any overlap before a single bounce rate could be determined for each page.
It's not like a template where it's the same site wide, or writing level of an author who publishes a site, which is consistent and either can be detected with a bot. Bounce rate is page specific and the best thing they have to go with to get the number is Chrome, and even getting the number from Chrome once borders on impossible, so how could they possibly have statistically applicable data for all pages in order to apply it as a factor? They couldn't, imo...
It's the reason I believe them when they said speed was only a factor used as a tie breaker ... The toolbar is what's used to gauge it, and although it's possible the toolbar has visited every page on the web, to derive usable statistical data web-wide, there needs to be more than one visit, so 'okay, we have speed numbers from these pages and not or slower numbers for the page it's tied with, so we'll give the nod to the one with the numbers or the best speed number', makes sense, but to try and gauge speed and apply it to every page on the Internet seems a bit of a stretch, so I can see the tie break factor, like they said, but more than that? Hmmm, idk if speed is a major factor at all, or if it will ever be that huge of a factor in the rankings...
People who think Bounce Rate can be applied by Google seem to think Google has access to the stats of every site on the Internet, and can somehow determine if someone bounced because they got the right answer and didn't want to do further investigation, got the wrong answer and needed to look somewhere else, had to look at 3 pages before realizing the answer wasn't there, which is worse than a page where it's obvious the answer is not apparent after a single view, because it's a colossal waste of time to view 3 pages only to not find the answer, or even if they bounced because they got a phone call and had to leave so they shut down the computer.
There are too many different reasons people bounce after a single page view or even don't bounce after a single page view, which could either be 'found the answer and kept reading the article', 'didn't find the answer on page one, so they continued to page two, and finally left after not finding the answer on page three', 'found the answer on page one, but returned to the results to get a confirmation', or some other reason ... IMO It's a very limited view point to think a low bounce rate is good all the time, because to me, in many situations it says you made the searcher do more work than if they had just found what they were looking for on the page they landed on.
Bounce Rate is a silly factor for about anything except internal use, imo.
I've stated previously, I think in some situations they could use 'click-back, re-click' rate, but then it would most likely apply to 'anomalies' where statistically the click-back re-click rate of a single page in the SERPs doesn't match that of the other surrounding pages, and the ONLY way to know which that is is to have the stats from the SERPs, meaning you the site owner don't have access to the click-back re-click rate of the full page of SERPs to know what's normal, good, or bad, so imo it's really only something you might be able to use internally knowing your site and what queries were used to reach a page.
Beyond internal use, imo, anyone who says a low bounce rate is good really hasn't thought the matter through and tried to apply it across the board in all situations and to all types of sites, because sometimes, the higher it is the better, but of course the converse is also true, and in a situation where either/or applies, it's usually better to use something else.
[edited by: TheMadScientist at 6:28 am (utc) on Apr 8, 2011]