How to Improve the Bounce Rate with a Simple A/B Test
A couple of days ago I noticed a significant increase of traffic to my article 15 Free Ebooks about User Experience and Interface Design. Needless to say it triggered my curiosity. I quickly opened Google Analytics to look for the source and came up with Reddit.com. I found out that someone was so kind to leave a comment on the website saying how he noticed that there was no sight of publication date on my articles.
I replied that I made this decision because of the results of a simple A/B test. I don’t think I ever told anyone about this test up until now, not that it was a big secret or anything but I just didn’t came up with the idea to publish it. So without any further ado I will explain you all how to improve the bounce rate of your website with a simple split test.
The test is best described as follows: Does hiding or showing the publication date of the article have a positive or negative impact on the bounce rate of the article page?
Maybe that needs a bit of explanation.
My personal experience is that I’m not actively looking for the publication date of an article, but when I figure out that the article was published some while ago, whether by its content or when the date is mentioned underneath the article, I wonder if the information is still relevant and therefore useful to me. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the quality of the article as such.
Although this is just a theory, it is better to put it to the test.
The test setup is very easy. You put two versions, one with the publication date (A) and one without publication date (B), against each other. If the result would indicate that version A was the winner (decrease of bounce rate), you could create a multivariate test to see if lay-out or text-differences would matter as well.
FYI: The date was always visible from the homepage.
Counteract all the variables which might affect the results
Although the test setup is quite easy, you need to know that many factors could influence the bounce rate, making it difficult to measure and justify the results. Quality of content, social dispersion (huge boost of traffic) and irritating popups are just a few on top of my mind.
To reduce the impact of these variables, it’s imperative to compare your test results again with the original version (A). It may seem completely unnecessary with only two testversions but you should make it a habit. When you have 15 variations for example, where each new variation is compared to the winner of the previous test, you should put the last test result against our absolute zero. Be careful to not draw any conclusions too fast!
So what was the result you ask?
I started out with an overall bounce rate of 84%, which was way too high. The duration of the first test (hiding the publication date) was six weeks and during this period the bounce rate went down to 72%. That’s a drop of 12%, quite an improvement I’d say.
Later I compared it again with the original version (A) and the result was that the bounce rate went back up to 76%. Seeing this I decided to delete the publication date indefinite.
I can understand one’s opinion saying that they might find the content untrustworthy when it is not dated in any way. Although I wouldn’t go that far, I certainly agree that some information needs a date to better grasp or understand its contents.
Take for example the article about the 15 free ebooks. These ebooks could be so outdated that it’s not longer relevant today.
A possible solution would be to show the publication date when the article is period relevant and hide it when it’s not.
While the results indicate that, on this blog, the publication date had an impact on the bounce rate, it doesn’t really explain why. I gave you my theory on the matter, but that doesn’t make it true.
Some questions that pop up my mind:
- Do you look for the publication date of the article before you start reading?
- When it is not visible, do you stop reading or do you continue to read the article?
- Do you trust the information more when you see a date?
Maybe you have a different opinion? I would gladly hear about it!
Update: Harsh Agrawal of Shoutmeloud.com investigated the effect of the date stamp on SEO and blog traffic. Pretty interesting read as well!
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