Back in 2007, an early thought leader in web analytics, Avinash Kaushik, called ‘bounce rate’ the sexiest website metric, while simultaneously describing it in not so sexy terms – when a visitor ‘came, puked, and then left’.
All these years later, bounce rate remains a confusing website metric for many. At the same time, it’s one that is more than worth understanding, as it can be one of the simplest yet most revealing in your business arsenal.
So what is a bounce rate? How should you use this metric? And what does it tell you about your online presence? In this article, we’ll be answering all these questions and more.
What is a bounce rate?
First things first: what is a bounce rate? A bounce rate’s meaning is quite simple: it’s the percentage of website visitors who visit a single page, but who leave without doing anything on that page. No clicking on videos, the navigation bar, or even a ‘read more’ link. They do nothing that the Google Analytics server considers a ‘trigger’.
It’s a brief and unengaged visit that ends with either the visitor hitting the ‘back’ button on their browser, or typing in a different URL or search term into the address bar.
Are bounce rates important?
What does your bounce rate tell you about your website? There are a few main reasons why a website or specific webpage might have a high bounce rate:
It doesn’t offer up the information that the visitor thought it would.
It’s difficult to read, difficult to navigate, or otherwise confusing.
It isn’t well made and has technical faults.
It isn’t inviting or engaging – a visitor doesn’t feel compelled to explore or otherwise act.
It doesn’t attract the right audience (perhaps due to bad search engine marketing.)
It offers up the exact information the visitor is looking for without requiring them to act further.
This last point can tend to muddy the waters of ‘bounce rates’, as it means that important resources like Wikipedia, Dictionary.com and WebMD can have super high bounce rates, but that these websites are also doing their job really well.
Most websites, however, want visitors to act: to explore, to engage, to subscribe and to ultimately buy. A high bounce rate, therefore, means that your website could be enhanced or improved so that more visitors hang around for longer. A lower bounce rate is as good an indication as any that your audience is highly targeted, your messaging is clear, and your buyer journey is simple and smooth.
Which leads us to our next question: what number should you be aiming for?
What is a good bounce rate?
Before we get into the numbers, it’s first important to understand whether bounce rates really matter in your specific business situation. If you run a news site, blog or any other form of an information repository, where a visitor will use Google to search for specific information, will find it on one of your web pages and will then bounce out of your site happily, then bounce rates may not matter to you at all.
Nonetheless, the bounce rate will be an important and revealing metric in most situations. Let’s consider eCommerce, where high bounce rates represent missed sales. What percentage should a retailer aim for? While the numbers will vary depending on a wealth of factors, the following is a basic guide:
>70%: A very high bounce rate, significant work needed.
55-70%: A rather high bounce rate, the improvement required.
40-55%: Regarded as the average bounce rate for eCommerce.
25-40%: The optimal range that an eCommerce retailer should be aiming for.
<25%: Near-impossible to achieve – almost all retailers will see at least a quarter of visitors bounce, often for reasons beyond their control, such as a mistaken click.
How is bounce rate calculated?
Google’s definition of bounce rate is as follows:
“Bounce rate is single-page sessions divided by all sessions or the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server.”
In other words, you divide the number of unengaged, single-page sessions by the number of total sessions. If there were 48 ‘bounce’ sessions amongst 100 total sessions, your bounce rate would be 48%.
How to measure a bounce rate?
The good news? You don’t have to do the maths yourself – a wealth of tools have been designed to offer up your bounce rate at a glance, most notably Google Analytics. Your bounce rate can be found in the ‘Audience’, ‘Content’ and ‘Traffic Sources’ sections of Google Analytics.
Audience: Offers up the average bounce rate across your whole website.
Content: Offers up the bounce rate for specific types of web pages, such as landing pages.
Traffic Sources: Looking at your bounce rate through the lens of organic SEO keywords, which gives you a sense of whether you’re targeting the right audience, and whether your content is relevant.
Square Sellers also get simple, real-time access to bounce rates, through the ‘Analytics’ tab in the POS dashboard.
How to reduce bounce rates in 4 steps
Now that we’ve got a better sense of the whats and whys of bounce rate, how do you fix things if the number is too high?
1. Know what to look for
Let’s first drill down further on exactly why your bounce rate might be too high. Some of the most common causes of high bounce rates include:
Endless pop-ups and unnecessary plug-ins.
A clunky or confusing user experience.
Low-quality or irrelevant content.
Technical errors, such as slow loading speeds, blank pages, unoptimised title tags/meta-descriptions, or pages that aren’t mobile-friendly.
There are other reasons too, but the above cover the majority of cases. If you aren’t sure why visitors are bouncing out of your site, put yourself in their shoes and visit it as they would, or actively solicit visitor feedback!
2. Check the worst offending pages
Got to Google Analytics > Behaviour > Site Content > Exit Pages. Here you’ll find a list of the pages with the highest exit volumes – where people tend to abandon your site (note that this is slightly different to bounce rate, as a visitor could exit your site after a long session.) Take a close look at these pages, and work to understand exactly why visitors are choosing to leave at these specific points.
3. Review ‘time on site’
Get an even deeper understanding of your situation by comparing bounce rate and exit page data with the ‘time on site’ metric. If you have a page of helpful content that has both a high bounce rate and low ‘time on site’ numbers, it might not be so helpful after all.
4. A/B Test
Use A/B testing to find the most effective ways to improve your bounce rate. Compare two different page layouts, versions of web copy, CTAs or meta-description options, and see which works best. Over time you’ll bring your bounce rate down and your conversion rate up!
While there’s no way to completely avoid website visitors bouncing off your pages and out of your site, there are ways and means to minimise the number. By building a high-quality and highly enticing online presence, and aiming it at the exact right people through clever marketing, you can turn your site from rubber to glue.