Manipulating page views and bounce rates

This should serve as a cautionary tale to those who focus too much on a single site statistic such as page views. Page views are but one indicator of a site’s popularity. It can easily be manipulated drastically without any real change to the visitor count.

I used to freak out when I look at my Google Analytics stats and see a 93% bounce rate on my blog. For those that don’t know, the bounce rate is the percentage of viewers who leave your site without clicking another page. To the casual observer, a 93% bounce rate is horrible. That means only 7% of viewers looked around my site. The popular belief is that a high bounce rate means your content is not relevant to the viewer.  After they landed on your site via a search and didn’t find what they were looking for, they left. But a high bounce rate can also mean exactly the opposite. You might have very accurate content that matches their search exactly. The quality of your content is exactly what they were looking for. They read it, got what they wanted, and left.

To determine which category you fit in, you have to look at your most popular search terms. Are they relevant to your site and correlate with your most popular pages? For example, the most popular post on my blog is this article discussing Openfiler vs Freenas. Not surprisingly, my most popular search terms consist of some combination of Openfiler and Freenas. I don’t use blackhat SEO tactics and load up my post with irrelevant keywords like ‘Megan Fox nude’. If I did that, I might see a lot of referral for that keyword with no corresponding article to back it up. That would mean viewers are leaving without reading. That kind of bounce is bad.

Up until now, all my posts have been done without pages. So if a post was 2,000 words, the readers just has to scroll down lower and lower on a single page. I recently introduced paging into posts breaking out long posts into smaller sections. To continue reading, the viewer has to click the next page in the sequence. The immediate effect of this is a large increase in page views without actually increasing visitors. The same visitors who viewed one thousand pages before may now have to view two, three, or even five thousand pages to get the same content. For those serving ads on their web sites, this has a positive impact as more ads views will get served potentially increasing ad clicks. It also has the benefit of improving site rendering time as smaller pages are faster to render than long complex pages, especially those containing lots of images. If you have a high bounce rate due to viewers leaving after reading just one article, you should see an immediate dramatic reduction in your bounce rate. The viewers who used to leave after reading just one page will now have to click several more pages to complete reading the article.