Feb 20, 2011 Blogging
Last month at Blissdom I attended a fantastic workshop about SEO presented by Melanie Nelson, Shelly Kramer, and Ang England. Among the many take-aways from that panel was the fact that I’m missing out on some important search engine optimization by having all of my external links open in the same window. What does that mean? If you click on this link you will leave this page and go to another page. But if you click on this link a new tab will open up in whatever browser you’re using, leaving this one open. Since I started blogging I’ve always done it the first way. I’m not sure why, other than because that’s how I like things to work when I’m clicking on links. If I want something to open in a new window, I do it myself by holding down the Ctrl key while I click.
The reasoning behind doing it the other way – opening external links in a new tab – has to do with bounce rate, which is expressed in a percentage: how many visits end after only one page. My bounce rate has always been fairly high, usually around 80%. I never paid much attention to it, mostly because whenever I’m asked for my stats I’m never asked for my bounce rate. But this was an SEO workshop: was the bounce rate directly affecting my SEO? Or is the theory that if you send someone off of your page they’ll be more likely to come back if you leave your site’s window open?
I sat down today to change the way my hyperlink form works. I’m on WordPress, and I thought it would be as easy as finding the file with the code for the form and changing which target was chosen by default, so that I wouldn’t have to remember each time to choose the “open in new window” target (I’ve done this easily for other forms on my blog). But I couldn’t find the file! After about an hour of wasted time I finally said screw it, and started looking for a plug-in; maybe somebody else had solved the new tab problem for me.
I found the right plug-in right away. I downloaded and installed it, and set things up with one check-box so that all external links on my blog would automatically be opened in a new tab. And it wouldn’t just apply to new posts, either: every single external link in every post and comment on my blog would now open in a new window. It was just that easy. I started cruising around my site to check links and make sure that it was working.
I left it that way for all of five minutes. I hated it.
I don’t like it when I click on a link and a new tab opens. Not on my site, not on other sites. There are some exceptions, usually dealing with calendars or sites that are devoted just to links, like Fark. And for the Blogging Angels posts we make sure that every single link opens in a new tab, so as not to interrupt the podcast that might be playing. But for the most part, I only want a new window to open if I choose to do it that way. Even if it would improve my SEO, why would I do that to my own readers? I don’t auto-DM on Twitter because I don’t like getting auto DMs. I don’t throw my gum on the sidewalk because I don’t like stepping in gum. This is no different. And there are plenty of things that I can do to improve SEO that don’t directly impact my readers in a negative way.
But still, the other questions remained: were people leaving my blog and not coming back because of the way I do my links, and was my bounce rate affecting how my blog comes up in google searches? I get almost half of my traffic from search engines. Could it be higher?
The first question is a hard one to answer, but I do know this from looking at my analytics: people who come straight to my blog, or from twitter, or facebook, or from another site, tend to stay for a while. They click on related posts, they check out my about page, they puzzle over my ridiculous disclosure page. It’s the people coming from search engines who are totally ruining my bounce rate: barely any of them stick around and click on other internal links. That’s not so say it’s not valuable traffic, it’s just that they stay long enough to read what they came for, and then leave (bounce rate has nothing to do with how long a visitor stays). That’s good news for my sponsored posts and reviews, since most of my search engine traffic is looking for information about products.
The second question – is my bounce rate affecting my search results – is even harder to answer, because google is so super secretive about how they get their results. So am I getting fewer visitors via google by making my site better for my regular readers? Could be. But in the end that’s a trade off that I’m more than willing to make.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and Momtourage, and podcasts with The Blogging Angels.