Whenever someone clicks onto a website, stays there for a while, and then clicks away from the site entirely, that’s called a “bounce”. For your typical, information-filled legal website, the bounce rate can be as high as 50%.
Google loves to see users engaged, and bouncing is more or less the opposite of engagement — so a high bounce rate is definitely one way to get your website’s ranking on the search engines penalized.
Don’t Make Assumptions about Bouncing
That said, having a high bounce rate isn’t a good reason to panic. There are a lot of factors that affect your bounce rate, and most of them are under your control.
For example, let’s say you find a 66% bounce rate on your site — it’s not necessarily your content that’s doing it. It could be that your site has traffic coming in from an AdWords campaign that has a keyword that doesn’t quite fit your site. For example, if you bid on ‘premises liability’ and it leads to a webpage about slip-and-fall injuries, that might make perfect sense to you — but then how many people who aren’t lawyers or law school students actually Google ‘premises liability’ when they get hurt? No matter how great your content is for someone looking for a lawyer, all of those non-lawyer-seeking searchers who click your link are going to bounce.
If your website has a huge load time, maybe because of that 1:43 Flash introduction video that seemed so cool back in 2003, that can cause a huge amount of bounces as well. If your site has to complete 175+ HTML queries to load (looking at you, Huffington Post), the same thing can happen. Cut load time and watch your bounce rate plummet.
Find the Problem and Finish It
Keeping in mind that 40% is a solid goal for a legal website, get your webmaster to figure out where the bounces are coming from, where they’re going, and what they might want that would keep them around. As your bounces go down, you’re sending a single to Google that your site is engaging, and your ranking in the results pages will benefit accordingly.