Bounce Rate Blues

Stephen Yagielowicz
Being an adult webmaster means trying new things: testing, evaluating and refining your approach based upon user input, statistical data, market conditions and forward trends — and while you've no doubt heard similar comments before, what you don't often hear about is what is implicit in this view — that not everything you try will be a success.

A case in point is an old softcore TGP that I've been revamping, designing the site to deliver the utmost in user experiences by providing the content I advertise, without any blind links, forced trades, pop-ups or other bullshit — and simply offering big, clear thumbs with links to clean, fast-loading galleries; as well as commentary and information on the niche that is sure to provide a better "hook" for search engine spiders than most TGPs enjoy — and that many readers will appreciate.

But despite the "quality" underpinnings of this site and its basic SEO work that was starting to produce results, I made a change that was designed to enhance usability — something that the search engines claim to value — but I seem to have been penalized by Google for doing so.

While looking at my TGP, I thought to myself, that despite being a big fan of warning pages, that this site may not really need one: there were only a couple of "foul" words; the imagery is what you might find in a "women's magazine" at Wal-Mart; and there was a warning box at the top of the page letting viewers know (in case they didn't already) that clicking on one of these thumbnail images would lead them to sexually explicit material — even though there was none on my website. The website also makes use of the adult industry supported Restricted to Adults website label to help prevent access by minors.

At this point, to me anyway, this site is less offensive than is, say, Google image search, which offers "harder" images (requiring, but not sporting, a "2257" statement), which then link to even harder material than the vanilla softcore on my sponsor's galleries; which at the most, feature solo girl toy-play.

With that in mind, I reasoned that requiring one more click from the surfer — making him or her hit that "enter" link on a page that warns them about a page they don't really need any warning about — was a needless traffic barrier: and so, I dropped the warning page and allowed visitors to see the full site in all its glory upon entering my domain, an approach no different than a typical TGP presentation where all of the goods are made immediately available to visitors — all on a single webpage where it's easier for users.

But there's a catch with my one-page wonder of a website: Google believes that users think it sucks because nearly 100 percent of those who visit this page also exit via this page (a figure known as a "bounce rate") — so the search giant is pushing my site down in the rankings for terms it should legitimately be doing better for. This of course is not a good thing when the main purpose of the website is to get love (and traffic) from Google.

According to Google, "Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page." For a one-page website, a high bounce rate should be expected; but think about the typical single page website: Is it a links page on a parked domain; or perhaps it's just an "under construction" or similar page; or perhaps it's simply a full-page advertisement?

In any of these cases, it stands to reason that a company like Google, whose business revolves around providing relevant links to requested content, will not favor such destinations; regardless of the page's content, keywords, user experience or basic SE-friendliness.

"Use this metric to measure visit quality," the Google website says. "A high bounce rate generally indicates that site entrance pages aren't relevant to your visitors." So regardless of what you, the website owner, claim that the page contains via its titles, descriptions, content, keywords and Meta tags, Google may perceive these as fraudulent claims; based upon the actions of your visitors who bail from your site without clicking any deeper — something they can't even do on a one-page website.

"The more compelling your landing pages, the more visitors will stay on your site and convert," the Google website says. "You can minimize bounce rates by tailoring landing pages to each keyword and ad that you run."

This statement is further evidence that the search giant believes that high bounce rates are equal to "sites not delivering what they promised" — a sentiment that it echoes by stating that "Landing pages should provide the information and services that were promised in the ad copy." But what happens when "the information and services that were promised in the ad copy" are provided on the landing page, and with no deeper clicks required?

Google being Google, this is likely addressed to some degree within its search algorithms — but in my own experience, it appears that they'd rather not take a chance — after all, there are plenty of other sites targeting the same keywords, so it's not like they're lacking for listings display…

While I'm not too interested in spending the time to totally redo this website into a more typical multipage site to try and reduce the bounce rate, it's clear that simply re-adding a warning page that offers basic SE-friendly design, keyword relevant content and a big "enter" link could dramatically drop the bounce rate; and make my site "more relevant" to its users in the eyes of Google — while providing another practical incentive for using a warning page, regardless of how explicit (or not) my "adult" content is.

While adding a standard HTML warning page would be a quick and easy solution, I'm really looking to project the uniqueness and personal character of this site: so I'm using a DHTML modal window as a warning page, displayed over a translucent "veil" covering the screen. Similar to the popular "light box"-style effect, it gives the appearance of having a dark, grey plastic cover over the page — just like how some adult magazines are packaged for retail sale, allowing just enough transparency to be able to see the images that are underneath it if you look closely enough, but providing enough of a barrier that unintentional viewers should not be easily offended by it. It's also a great way of letting users know exactly what to expect inside, further encouraging visitors to enter and will provide a spot to place deep links to additional pages if I do expand the scope of the site.

There are many ingredients in the stew of search engine success and your site's bounce rate is but one of the spices affecting the final result. Check your own bounce rates — and if you're not using one already, try adding a warning page to further reduce the rate. I'll keep you posted on my ongoing results.