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Category: Digital Analytics

What is Bounce Rate? Avoid Common Pitfalls

February 12, 2012

Bounce Rate doesn’t lie, but it can definitely DECEIVE you!

Did you know that a high bounce rate isn’t always bad? This post will help you better understand bounce rate and avoid common analysis mistakes.

Read on to understand;

  • the difference between bounce rate and exit rate,
  • that context matters when it comes to bounce rate,
  • and how bounce rate can cause you to make bad decisions.

What is bounce rate?

Avinash KaushikThe definition of bounce rate is the percentage of people who arrive on your site and leave without visiting a second page. More importantly, Bounce Rate was designed to tell you if you have the right audience coming to your pages and if you are meeting their expectations.

Or as Google analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik frankly sums it up from the user’s perspective, “I Came, I Puked, I Left.”

What is Exit Rate?Goal funnel visualization to identify step where people are exiting

To fully understand bounce rate, it is important to understand the difference between bounce rate and exit rate.

Bounce rate applies to a visit entry/landing page (i.e. the first page a person visits) and exit rate applies to the page a visit exits/leaves on. More specifically, think of exit rate as a way to identify where people are exiting mid-stream from your conversion funnel.

If most visits exit/leave at step 3 of 5, (as shown in the checkout goal funnel visualization (on the right) where the weak link is the billing information page), then you can identify that something is likely wrong with this specific step. Now you know where to start your optimization efforts.

Keep in mind that we do expect high exit rates on the final step pages such as step 5 of 5 in a checkout funnel. This doesn’t mean it can’t be and shouldn’t be reduced, but it is not a critical concern.

Now let’s get back to bounce rate…

Bounce Rate Scenarios

These four visitor actions will be identified as a bounce from your site and typically signal that the visitor’s expectations were unmet.

  1. Clicks the back button (most common)
  2. Closes the browser (window/tab)
  3. Types a new URL
  4. Does nothing (session times out after 30min)

Be aware that there are two common tracking issues that will improperly inflate your bounce rate that you need to be aware of to ensure your data is more reliable.

Clicked an external link

There are times when a visit is identified as a bounce but it isn’t necessarily negative. For example, during a visit a user clicks on a link that brings the user to an external site (this could be a partner link that you actually want people to go to or it could be another one of your own domains). One of the most common scenarios we see, is an account login that requires secure authentication and is on a separate domain. This definitely shouldn’t be counted as a bounce.

To better identify this, we recommend tracking outbound links and ensuring that you are properly tracking traffic across your various domains. Note that in Google Analytics, you can choose to have an outbound link that is tracked as event be an interaction or non-interaction event. This choice will determine whether or not a link click affects bounce rate.

Improper Analytics Tracking Configuration

If your site is improperly tagged with tracking code, you may be looking at inaccurate bounce rates. For example, if landing page X has different tracking code settings than page Y and a visitor moves from X to Y, the result will be that page X (and possibly even Y) will have an inaccurate bounce rate. The session is killed between these pages and will be incorrectly reported as a bounce. If you aren’t sure that your tracking is correct, get it audited by an expert analytics consultant.

What is a good/average bounce rate?

It depends. The average website bounce rate is 40% (source: Google). But this is completely meaningless, because what constitutes a good bounce rate varies by:

  • industry
  • brand credibility
  • type of site
  • type of page
  • step in the funnel (where the page is in the site)
  • stage of the customer lifecycle
  • user intent
  • and many other potential factors.

But I digress and would like to give you some high level bounce rate examples for your reference.

Google Analytics Benchmark Averages for Bounce Rate

  • 40-60% Content websites
  • 30-50% Lead generation sites
  • 70-98% Blogs
  • 20-40% Retail sites
  • 10-30% Service sites
  • 70-90% Landing pages

When is a High Bounce Rate Acceptable?

When the visitor has a POSITIVE EXPERIENCE! There are many visitor interactions that are often undervalued and ultimately lead to desired conversions in either the short or long-term. This is hard to gauge when you are new to web analytics. I have shared some examples of acceptable high bounce rates below that should accelerate your ability to identify other examples.

Acceptable examples of pages with high bounce rates:

Don’t think we don’t believe in reducing bounce rates everywhere. Just know that you must prioritize your efforts. You shouldn’t prioritize one of these example pages over top landing pages in your conversion funnel that have high bounce rates.

  • Contact us – This is a common and accepted page to have a high bounce rate because the visitor just wanted to access basic information such as phone, email or address. (Bonus Tip#1: For retailers, restaurants and other localized services, we want Mobile users to easily get location info, but if you want to offer a targeted offer that reduces bounce rates and improves tracking go for it. The key is to not lose focus of their intent, situational needs and potential bandwidth limitations.)
  • Checkout – The checkout pages are not desired landing pages and thus entry traffic to these pages is often low, but the corresponding bounce rate will be high. This is not a concern.
  • Customer support pages – This is a tough generalization because it depends on the quality of the support forum, but we often see high bounce rates on quality support sites. This is usually a good thing because the visitor answered their question and don’t need to call customer support. (Bonus Tip #2: Instead of assuming that people are calling you from a specific page, setup integrated analytics call tracking like Marchex or Mongoose Metrics. Here is an interesting article on analytics integrated call tracking.)
  • Blog articles – On a high traffic blog that uses CPM Ad Monetization to make money with a high returning visitor rate, an 89% bounce rate or higher is acceptable and expected. The blog offers an interesting article and the visitor leaves after getting value from the article. Of course, we would like to keep the visitor on the site but at least we understand that an 89% bounce rate is not a critical issue in this scenario.

Not all visitors are ready to commit

Remember that your purpose is to serve the customer and every visit doesn’t need to generate a lead or transaction.

Marketers should embrace this and understand that customers have many interactions with a company which should be seen in a positive light, even when the business doesn’t see immediate direct value. These touches support the visitor’s needs throughout the complete customer lifecycle and lead to desired goals and most importantly, acquisition, retention and brand affinity.

Further, these visits can be tracked and measured with engagement goals that take into account and demonstrate the value of frequency, recency, loyalty and etc. Better yet, attribution modeling can demonstrate how these early stage visits lead to transactional conversions.

How do you determine when bounce rate is bad?

Do you know how to determine a good or bad bounce rate? Are you sure?

After being an analyst for many years, I can tell you that I misinterpreted bounce in my early days and I run across many people who don’t spend enough time in analytics tools to know how to accurately interpret this metric. The primary reason is context.

For example, you might see a high bounce rate on a high traffic page and rush to the judgment that it is performing poorly and needs to be improved. When in fact everything is fine.

How can this be, you ask? I have provided a case study below of a bounce rate that would be easy to misinterpret on the content/pages report.

Avoid this Common Bounce Rate Pitfall

Did you know that a 100% bounce rate isn’t always bad? This could mean that only 1 person bounced from your page while thousands funneled through the page and had a great experience.

When bounce rate is being analyzed in the ‘Pages’ report, you need to be aware that bounce rate loses important context because it lacks the entrances metric. Instead, leverage the ‘Landing Pages’ report to view the bounce rate relative to the number of entrances.

Better yet, build yourself a custom report that shows the number of bounces in addition to the bounce rate as well as other metrics that are important to you.

When will a bounce rate deceive you?

Consider this case study on bounce rate deception. You see a high bounce rate on the content ‘Pages’ report.

The bounce rate is 63% and only 13% of visits exit on this page. Considering that this page is not a primary entry point and is a supporting tertiary shopping funnel page, we are more concerned with people exiting at this point versus bouncing. And approximately 1 out of 10 people exiting, is actually great on this high commitment page.

Pages Report showing page with High Bounce Rate
Pages Report showing page with High Bounce Rate

Cross-Reference with Landing Pages Report

Let’s cross-reference the bounce rate with the number of visits who entered on this example page. As described below, we calculate that only ~2% of total pageviews for this page bounced! That doesn’t sound near as bad as 63% does it?!

Landing Pages Report showing High Bounce
Landing Pages Report showing High Bounce

Bounce rate analysis details:

The bounce rate only applies to visit entrances which was a total of 229. 63% of 229 is only 144 visits out of the total 8,634 pageviews.

Again, this is the equivalent of only 1.7% of total pageviews that actually bounced.

Most people incorrectly assume that it is 63% of 8,634 (5439) pageviews, which would be a major concern. This is roughly a 37x difference in the assumed severity of the issue.

(Note: entrances are similar to pageviews but be aware that this technically isn’t an apples to apples metric analysis.)

Final Tip on Bounce rate – Segment!

Keep in mind that user expectations and intent varies based on many factors. To avoid bounce rate from deceiving you, we highly recommend segmenting your data. In aggregate, the bounce rate can look good or bad, but be just the opposite or be hiding substantial problems.

Here are a few segmentation examples to consider that can help you better evaluate your site and marketing performance.

  • Location – If your company is a local business serving San Francisco, you should expect a high bounce rate from outside of California. If you are a local business, definitely segment your traffic to understand how traffic is performing within your local area and avoid it being skewed by irrelevant visits.
  • Device – A desktop user, tablet user and a mobile user often have different intent. For example, we expect more people to bounce on a mobile device than a desktop/tablet user, because mobile users are often looking for specific info like an answer to a question versus casually browsing or shopping. Keep in mind that bounce rates are higher on sites that don’t provide a mobile optimized site experience such as responsive design.
  • New vs Returning – A returning visitor has different intent than does a new visitor. It is common for new visitors to have a higher bounce rate than returning visitors since they are less familiar with your brand. You should segment your traffic to optimize individually for new visitors and returning visitors.
  • Medium – People coming to your site from the many possible mediums such as website referral, email, social, direct, organic, paid, display, offline, pr, and etc have different expectations set and will often have substantially different bounce rates. Segment by medium and you will likely be shocked to see how the bounce rates vary.

Want more tips on segmentation and how to setup segments? Check out this post: Don’t be misled by averages – Use advanced segments

Any more questions about bounce rate or exit rate?

If so, leave a comment. If nothing else, we hope this post will prevent you from being fooled by the bounce rate on the ‘Pages’ report.

In case you didn’t get enough on bounce rate and exit rate check out these related posts:

Make it a great day!

Kayden Kelly
About the Author

Kayden is the Founder and CEO of Blast Analytics & Marketing. He leads overall strategy and execution in positioning Blast as a leading analytics and digital marketing consulting company. An industry trailblazer who stays ahead of trends and opportunities, Kayden has spent nearly two decades building his expertise in all areas, with a deep focus on analytics, search engine optimization, and user experience. He is an evangelist for “the customer,” helping clients create sustainable competitive advantage by developing, optimizing, distributing, and connecting valuable content to customer needs. Connect with Kayden on LinkedIn. Kayden Kelly has written on the Blast Digital Customer Experience and Analytics Blog.

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