Your Homepage May Not Be As Bad As You Think


An optimized website requires constant supervision. Tracking metrics that let you know what's going and what needs to be tweaked. But are you interpreting the metrics accurately? Surface numbers can be misleading.

If you're keeping an eye on your homepage – and you should be – you may see metrics like a high bounce rate or low time on page and start to worry. Don't. There may reasons why those are actually signs that your homepage is working. 

Why a High Homepage Bounce Rate May Be Good News

First, let's clarify what a bounce rate is. The bounce rate is the percentage of viewers who never navigate off the first page they arrived at. Often, this will be your homepage. The common wisdom is that a high bounce rate off your homepage means your homepage isn't doing its job. But it could be just the opposite.

Start with your headline. A quality homepage headline needs to achieve to three things: it must immediately get a visitor's attention. Then, the copy must clearly and concisely tell people who the site is for and what it offers. You already know that what you're selling isn't for everyone, and you don't want to waste resources cultivating prospects that aren't leads.

An effective headline lets people who arrive on your site answer their most pressing question quickly: "Am I on a site that's useful to me"? If the answer is "no," you want them to bounce as quickly as possible. If bad matches have to rummage through your site to figure that out, their activity pollutes the rest of your site metrics. 

To help figure out what's going on here, look at your bounce rate by traffic sources. If high value traffic sources have a low bounce rate, while more generic or bad traffic sources are pushing the numbers up – you're good. 

There's a sneakier reason a high homepage bounce rate could be okay. First, we need to dig into how Google measures a couple metrics for this one. 

As mentioned, a bounce occurs when the visitor never leaves the homepage. Google measures time on the page by counting the interval between arriving on the first page and then the second page. If there is no second page (and it wouldn't be a bounce if there were), the time on page registers as zero, nothing. No time. Fortunately, the opposite may be true. 

Your homepage may be so rich in valuable content, some visitors are getting all the information they need in that visit right from your homepage. A high-value homepage has:

  • Informative, compelling descriptions of features and benefits, especially when they're framed in the language of the needs and concerns of your target market. 
  • Engaging visuals and images that attract and hold people's attention.
  • Multiple examples of social proof that validate your claims. Your homepage can show social proof by publishing testimonials (bonus points if you include photos of the people giving the testimonials), reviews, and social media content streams. You can also show social proof through images from awards you've won, or media that's covered you.

If you want to know what people are really doing on your homepage and how long they're spending there, install some heat map software on your site. It will show what people are looking at on your homepage and where they're spending the most time.

You can also see if they're signing up for your newsletter or downloading content from your homepage. Most of the heat map tools also include polling tools so you can pop up a short survey or poll question about whether they've found what they need on your homepage.

Why Low Time on Your Homepage May Be Good News

On the other hand, if time spent on your homepage is low – that could be good too. First, if you know time spent on your homepage is low, it's because the visitor has moved to other pages on your website.

That means you have some compelling calls-to-action (CTAs) well-placed throughout your home page and people are clicking on them. It could start with your primary CTA that urges a purchase or scheduling a demo.

But your homepage also has secondary CTAs that convert. Your secondary CTAs address the questions of people at different stages in their buying journey. They could be buttons they can click to learn more about a certain feature or specialized solution, or to landing pages for relevant content offers. 

Basically, people are spending little time on your homepage because it does such a great job directing them where they want to go.

In addition to high-converting CTAs, you can validate this by looking at how people are using your navigation menus. If they're spending a lot of time on a second or third page, then your navigation options are directing them where they want to go.

Understand What Your Metrics Mean, Numbers Alone Can Be Misleading

Metrics are numbers. Important numbers. But it's important to go the extra steps to understand what they mean for your website and marketing. With a bit more investigation, you may find what the conventional wisdom says is bad news is really a sign you're getting things right.