Bounce Rate: Crucial Metric Demystified

There can be no doubt: bounce rates are one of the most important metrics when it comes to website optimization. Reducing bounce rates is a MUST for every analyst and marketer. So you need to keep analyzing your bounce rate like crazy.

In this post I’ll help you fully understand how the bounce rate works in Google Analytics. I’ll show you how to measure your bounce rate properly in order to avoid common mistakes. And, as data analytics should be tailored to your specific needs, I will give you some hints on how to customize your bounce rate in order to get the most out of this metric.

Spotlight: bounce rate definition

Google Analytics Help Centre definition: Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page sessions.

This is wrong (or at least incomplete)! Here comes the demystification.

The bounce rate is not only about pageviews. The bounce rate is the percentage of one-hit sessions. You get a bounce on an analytics account, when a user comes to your website and leaves without any interaction (Kaushik’s famous definition: came, puked, left).

An interaction means any hit sent to Google Analytics: of course it could be a pageview (and the user went to another site) but it could also be a transaction, a social share, an event (when non-interaction is false), a virtual pageview or user-defined hit. This means that if your user lands on the website and you send an event, then there is no bounce, even though it could have been a single-page visit.

The bounce rate is a great metric to measure the quality of your traffic. You can bring thousands of users to your website with your marketing campaigns, but as long as they are not taking any actions there (bouncing), you will be just pouring your money down the drain. It’s simple: if you get 10,000 users on your landing page with a 90% bounce rate – you are actually only getting 1,000.

The bounce rate can also give you great hints about optimization. Reducing the bounce rate on important pages is a low-hanging fruit which can give you great results when it comes to conversion rate optimization.

…and the real bounce rate

Although the whole analyzing thing might seem to be pretty easy, ie “high bounce rate – bad, low bounce rate – good”, remember: you can easily be taken for a ride by the bounce rate. That’s because the way the bounce rate is counted in Google Analytics is not always the way it should be counted on your website.

Let’s assume you are selling quite expensive training sessions on your landing page. As we all know, this is a single page, so a user cannot interact with it (apart from filling out a form). Imagine one user read your offer thoroughly but then needed a few days to sleep on it. And another user saw the headline but then realized it was not what he was looking for, and left immediately. Can you lump these to users together in your analyses? Of course not.

Another example could be a blog website. One user waited for your post for a whole week, and a minute after it appeared, he came to the website and read every word, spending 10 minutes on it. Another user came to the blog post from a Facebook ad, but discovered he wasn’t at all interested in the topic, so he left without even scrolling. How would these two very different visits look in your Analytics account? Two bounces.

If you want to get actionable insights, you will need to adjust your bounce rate. For blogs and landing pages we recommend redefining it as the percentage of users who didn’t spend a certain amount of time on your page or didn’t scroll deeply enough into your website. Depending on the website, this time could range from 10 seconds to a few minutes. 10 seconds is normal, sometimes 15 or 20, but you should decide for yourself the amount of time your user can be “categorized” as being engaged. You will also have to keep in mind that the modified bounce rate will also affect (positively) the average page metric.

In order to change the way the bounce rate is calculated, you can implement a small tweak to your Google Analytics code, which will execute an event when a user has spent more than a certain amount of time on the webpage. Simply add this line of code to your website and voila – it works (you can also implement such an event through Google Tag Manager):

<script type="text/javascript">
setTimeout(_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'NoBounce', 'Over 10 seconds'])’,10000);
The _trackEvent()will be executed after 10,000 milliseconds (10 seconds), so visits longer than that will no longer be recorded as a bounce in Google Analytics – an event without any interaction on the website.

Scroll depth tracking could also be an alternative modified bounce rate. This is a great indication what content is interesting to a user, and it solves the problem of the one-single page bounce rate (if a user scrolls, an event is sent – so there is no bounce). To set up this event you will need to use a little bit of javascript: check out Justin Cutroni’s blog post.

Stay smart

As I mentioned before: analyzing the bounce rate can give you great insights into how to improve your website. But you have to be savvy: your goal is to make more money by optimizing your campaigns, not just to decrease the bounce rate per se. That’s why you probably shouldn’t optimize pages with the highest bounce rate straight away.

Firstly, you will need to take a look at the business impact – because there’s not much point in struggling to decrease the bounce rate on pages that are not important for your business. For example, don’t put your efforts into improving a page with 1000 pageviews monthly just because its bounce rate is more than 80%.

Here’s a quick guide you can use if you‘re not sure whether a particular type of website or page is worth caring about (for example in terms of its bounce rate). Always focus on pages that (1) generate the most revenue for your website (2) have the biggest traffic (3) have major problems (such as a high bounce rate) so fixing them can give you visible results.

If you are wondering which page templates to optimize first, you can use this great Google Analytics feature: content grouping. We particularly recommend it for ecommerce websites.

Secondly, you need to think twice about whether a high bounce rate is really an issue or not. There are common pages on which it is acceptable to have high bounce rate, such as contact or customer support pages.

Thirdly, do segmentation or die. This is applicable to every analysis you conduct: you need to go deeper into segments. As an example, it’s crucial for your conversion rate that you identify problems on mobile devices.

Usually mobile devices have a 10 – 20% higher bounce rate than desktops. But if the bounce rate is much higher than that – it could reveal technical or usability problems on your mobile website. (graphic source)

Other segments worth analyzing are Location (you could discover that you are targeting people from other cities, who are barely interested in your services in New York), New vs Returning (you should segment your traffic to individually optimize both new visitors and returning visitors) and the Medium (to see which medium brings you the best quality traffic with the lowest bounce rate).

… but don’t get fooled by the bounce rate

I want to show you a real case which clearly illustrates how a wrongly reported bounce rate could impact your business in a negative way.

We tend to take for granted what we see in our analytics account. In the case of pageview count or New vs Returning user reports, you might of course assume that the tool is delivering you the right data. But you can’t be so sure about the bounce rate.

While working for a client once, we saw they were having surprisingly low bounce rate, which were less than 10%. What a result – the whole marketing department were high-fiving each other on having such a great website. Unfortunately, it was a mirage.

The low bounce rate was a red flag for us. So we went deeper into the Google Analytics reports and we discovered that on the product pages, the bounce rate was equal to 0%. We knew this was impossible. So how could it be happening?

The answer was that when a user visited a page he landed in a tab, which resulted in the sending of an event to Google Analytics. This meant that at the moment of arrival two hits were sent: one pageview and one event. Therefore, when Google Analytics calculated these visits it had two interactions for each of them which meant not a single visit was treated as a bounce.

The event which was implemented on the tab was an interaction. And although our client was reporting a way lower bounce rate – the real metric was actually almost 60%. This mistake was costing the company dear – they were losing the opportunity to improve both their website and their marketing campaigns because they believed their users were totally engaged.

There are many other mistakes in your analytics configuration that can affect your bounce rate in a negative way. For example: duplicate analytics codes (duplicate pageview hits), incorrectly implemented event tracking (events firing just after you enter a page with non-interaction set to false) or third party add-ons, e.g. a live chat that sends a hit just after a user opens a page.

If you notice that your bounce rate has suddenly fallen to 6% – this should definitely raise a red flag. There can be no doubt that something has definitely gone wrong with your Google Analytics configuration.

If you don’t want to be fooled by the bounce rate – anything less than 20% should be a red flag! Investigate heavily if your analytics tool shows you true numbers.

What is the average bounce rate in your industry?

There is no such a thing as a “good” bounce rate. How high it “should be” depends on so many factors, such as the kind of business you are in, the type of page or the stage of the customer lifecycle (plus – as you have seen above you can easily modify bounce rate depending on your needs).

It’s worth remembering that it is simply impossible to engage every single user. So, a 0-20% bounce rate is by no means a success – it is more probably than not an issue with your Google Analytics configuration.

So what is the average bounce rate? It depends.

Most websites have bounce rates somewhere between 26% and 70%. As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate in the range of 26% to 40% is great. 41% to 55% is ok. 56% to 70% is higher than average, but may not be cause for alarm depending on the website. Anything over 70 percent should alarm you (source)

This KISSmetrics infographic shows average bounce rates by industry. You’ll find the whole infographic here.

Now that you fully understand what a bounce rate really is – and you know how to tweak it to your specific needs, – it’s time to go to the next level. In the next articles I’ll show you the crucial differences between the exit rate and the bounce rate. Then, having all of this theoretical knowledge, we can get to putting it into practice: I’ll show you actionable tips to reduce your bounce rates in order to make more profit.

If you want to be sure that your bounce rates are correct, or you need an audit of your current analytics tools (Google Analytics, AT Internet, Adobe Analytics or Webtrends), or perhaps you would like to set up a comprehensive data quality assurance process or turn your company into a data-driven machine, contact Mavenec today to learn more about our approach to digital analytics.

Psst. If you want to lift your conversion rates (and who doesn’t!) you might be interested in our Free Ultimate Conversion Rate Optimization Toolkit in which we reveal our conversion rate optimization secrets in a set of actionable guidebooks. Check it out!

Author: Elżbieta Brzóz

At Mavenec I am responsible for PR and Marketing. I am in charge of our content strategy, blog, social media channels, external partnerships and events. Being so close to digital analytics and conversion rate optimization enables me to make data-driven decisions and single out the most effective marketing efforts.

Follow me on Twitter @elabrz