Dissecting High Homepage Bounce Rates

The homepage bounce rate may seem like a lackluster statistic in light of all of the rich data marketers have at their disposal, but it’s actually a very crucial indicator of a website’s potential to convert visitors into buyers.

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Multichannel Merchant
Multichannel Merchant
Multichannel Merchant
O+F Operations and Fulfillment

There are varying views on precisely how many seconds a website has to capture visitors’ attention once they arrive. The more pessimistic view dictates that if it doesn’t win the visitor over within two seconds, its toast. The glass-is-half-full estimate, on the other hand, is anywhere from four to seven seconds. Either way, it’s not very long — probably about the same amount of time it would take a customer’s eyes to adjust from the sun were they to step into a brick-and-mortar store.

Needless to say, customers are the final arbiters of whether a site is worth engaging with; they’ll interact or not exactly as they choose. Retailers can either go against the current and try to channel their customers into experiences they think they should want, or pay close attention to customers’ actions and discern what they actually do want.

Knowing that the homepage is often a website’s first date with the visitor — and that the visitor is not only fickle but has many, many options to choose from, this initial interaction is make or break.

You only get one chance to make a…
First impressions are critical. If potential customers arrive at a homepage and don’t like what they see, can’t figure out where they are, aren’t sure they’ll find what they’re looking for, or don’t have the time or patience to dig around for it, they will bounce without visiting any other pages. That’s more than just a lost sale — that’s a potential loss of recurring revenue from future sales.

The industry average bounce rate is 50%. A rate of 40% or under indicates that the homepage is in pretty good shape, while a rate of anywhere between 55% and 80% is worrisome. If the bounce rate is over 80%, something definitely needs to be fixed, and fast.

There are many variables that can cause visitors to bounce, as well as various tweaks that can help fix matters. Here are a few to consider, assess, and potentially update.

Poor design
Many marketers’ immediate reaction to a high bounce rate is to head into a redesign. But many times, they don’t know exactly what needs to be redesigned. It’s also unlikely that above average bounce rates are an effect of poor aesthetics; while visitors are superficial, they will stick around if a site offers what they’re looking for. Marketers simply need to determine if their sites do.

Before jumping the gun on a full-blown visual makeover, test the home page for layouts, colors, calls to actions, promotions, and other elements that affect that initial impression. This will pinpoint the actual problem areas, allowing the strategic redesign of specific elements rather than a haphazard overhaul of the entire site.

Browsing around
Sometimes a homepage looks great on one browser and awful on another. It’s important to have developers test site performance in all the major browsers—Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, Chrome, Opera…the list goes on. An analytics tool can break down, or segment, visits by browser type to see which, if any, browsers show high bounce rates.

In search ff…
Visitors who come to an ecommerce homepage are usually looking for something — whether to purchase now or gather information for a future purchase. This is why a well-designed and well-placed search box can make all the difference in the world in terms of site usability and sales.

By testing various search boxes variables such as placement, layout, color, default text, and so forth, marketers can determine which ones get the most traction with visitors, and if those visitors are more likely to make a purchase.

Segmentation and behavioral targeting can help here as well; both searches within the site and searches from specific pages can be analyzed to find out what visitors are looking for. If they’re constantly looking for a particular page or item, create a link on the homepage to that page or item.

Who can it be now?
While identifying these and other problem areas online marketers will no doubt begin noticing some other telling visitor trends — even among visitors who only dropped by once. For example, visitors’ geographical locations can provide insight on seasonal needs, local trends, and what items are attracting the most attention where.

Knowing what time of day or week people visit the site helps retailers understand when visitors are more likely to shop, and can therefore inform the timely addition of homepage offers that will help to grab their attention quickly. And knowing what search terms are used most often offers insight into the specific interests that drive visitors to the homepage in the first place.

Bringing it all back home
All of the information gleaned along the way can (and should) be used to create new content and enhance the current homepage experience, which improves the visitor engagement and increase their chances of staying.

Enhanced navigation and search capabilities, streamlined visuals, relevant links and offers—all of these will contribute to improving visitor engagement, lowering the overall homepage bounce rate, and increasing potential for converting that first date into a second—maybe even a long-term relationship with the customer.

Mark Simpson is president of ecommerce personalization company Maxymiser.

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