If you haven’t heard the term bounce rate before, it’s time to start investigating it so you can learn what it says about your business. There are controversial opinions about what it means for search ranking, but even if search engines don’t directly use the rate to rank. It does represent a number of people whose contribution to your ranking is minimal at best. That’s because bouncing is defined as going to one page on your site and then leaving without interacting with anything. It’s different from the exit rate for each page, which is the percentage of users who navigate away from the site after visiting that page. The latter number includes people who have been to several pages on your site and interacted with them, as well as those who read one page and leave, so it’s not as large a concern.

Optimization for front page results works best when you have a strong core of users who find your site useful enough to navigate through multiple pages, interacting with features in addition to viewing. The more active the user, the more it contributes to your page rank. It’s easy to see how, in that context, a high bounce rate represents a problem. Your overall bounce rate across your entire site and your rates for individual pages should be tracked separately if you want the best results as you massage your SEO technique to get to the top of the keyword searches you’re targeting.

It’s hard to put a solid number to the bounce stats that are healthy for your business without researching the averages for specific industries. Depending on exactly what sector you operate in, your industry average could be as low as 49% or as high as 70. That number also changes over time, so to stay competitive you’ll need to track that number as your competition gets tighter. Low bounce rate averages indicate a lot of competition for optimization because they show engaged users, and engagement is directly tied to ranking. That means the more responsive and engaging your design, the lower the bounce rate is likely to be.

If you want to lower your rate, focus on adopting the current generation of best practices for web design, including responsive page elements. Accessibility features like alt text for photographs and other graphic elements help with ranking as well, and as you adopt new practices, you can use Google Analytics to monitor changes to the rate. Then, you’ll have a better idea when your changes have a positive effect on the chances of your visitors bouncing.