According to Google, a bounce is “a single-page session on your site.” In other words, a user enters your website on a particular page and exits from that same page, without navigating to any other pages on your website. A bounce rate is “the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page.” Many people emphasize the importance of a low bounce rate, but this idea simplifies a complex (and consistently misunderstood) metric. A bounce is not inherently harmful – some bounces are productive, others are non-productive. Therefore, a high bounce rate is also not innately bad.
Instead of focusing on the numbers right away, ask yourself, “Why are people bouncing?” And more importantly, “Does it matter that they’re bouncing?” Bounce rate can be an important indicator of success – but it can also be a meaningless metric depending on the context and your personal criteria.
Bounces: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Many people assume that bounces refer to one situation: a person conducts a search on Google, views your webpage, and then “bounces” back to the search results. However, this is not the only way bounces occur. You have no idea how long a “bounced” visitor viewed your page, and you don’t know which site (if any) they viewed afterward. A bounce only conveys one thing: the user did not visit any other pages on your site directly after the page at hand.
If you’re struggling to imagine scenarios in which a bounce is beneficial, let’s review some examples. In all of the following situations, the user engages in a single-page session on a website that nevertheless benefits the website:
- A user finds a company’s phone number on a webpage and places an order over the phone.
- A user finds a company’s address on a webpage and visits in person.
- A user browses a webpage and then returns to the search engine results page (SERP) to compare options as a natural part of the purchase cycle.
- A user reads through a webpage and gains valuable information.
- A user opens a webpage in a new tab and doesn’t interact with the page for 30 minutes, triggering a new session. (Yes, this counts as a bounce.) When she does visit the page, she requests a quote from the company.
- A user opens a product page to show a beloved product to a friend and recommend it.
- A user reads a blog post, loves it, and now thinks more highly of the brand.
- A user discovers a new product and bookmarks the page for later use.
As you can see, single-page sessions aren’t always failures. Assess each page individually to determine whether its bounce rate is acceptable to you.
Of course, many bounces are disappointing. If you were hoping that a particular webpage’s visitors would hang around and explore your website, a high bounce rate is bad news. Or perhaps you were hoping they would take the bait (a carefully prepared call-to-action) and perform a specific task: schedule an appointment, send a message, purchase a product, request a quote, etc. Sometimes users bounce due to a poor website experience, such as one or more of the following:
- Poorly written content
- Unattractive design
- Low-quality photos
- Confusing layout
- Messy navigation
- Unsightly color choices
- Lack of relevant information (including thin content)
- Slow loading time
- Lack of mobile-friendliness
These sorts of issues may frustrate your users and make them think less of your company. For example, if your website has grammatical errors and an unattractive design, users may worry that your website is untrustworthy compared to your competitors.
Of course, bounces can’t always be attributed to issues like those listed above. Let’s say that your webpage is beautifully designed and contains helpful, relevant information, but users still aren’t progressing through your website as you might hope. In this case, you need to carefully assess the page and figure out how you can tweak it to lower the bounce rate. Maybe you need to adjust your call-to-action or make the button bigger and easier to see. Perhaps you need to clarify the message of the page (or make it more convincing) by editing the content or photos. Or perhaps your SEO title tag and meta tag are misleading, and users don’t know what to expect when they land on the page. It may take some creativity and research to figure out what will lower your bounce rate.
What Are Your Goals for Your Webpage?
Webpages are designed for a variety of reasons. Some have multiple goals, while others were clearly built with one primary aim. Your website might have pages with some or all of the following objectives:
- To provide useful information (including location, hours, and contact info)
- To sell a product or service
- To generate leads
- To establish your company as a trustworthy resource
- To communicate with potential or existing customers
- To build your brand
- To attract and recruit new employees
- To support current employees
- To provide inspiration
- To educate
- To entertain
For some goals, it is essential that the user clicks to another page on your website. For example, let’s say you craft a page about your new fashion line, and you want users to click through to the product pages and make a purchase. For this page, you’re striving for a low bounce rate. On the other hand, maybe you have a contact page that displays your store’s address, a map of the area, and your hours of operation, and you hope users will follow up by visiting your store in person. For this page, bounce rate isn’t important; the page is successful if it provides the information users need.
So as you’re assessing bounce rate, analyze each page individually to decide if its bounce rate is good, bad, or unimportant. Does the success of that page depend on visitors exploring more than one page of your website? How do other usability metrics (like conversion rate and bounce rate over time) check out? Consider the nuances before you decide.
How Do Bounces Affect Time on Page and Session Duration Metrics?
Before we go any further, let’s discuss one important (and perhaps surprising) fact: Google can’t measure how long a user spends looking at a webpage before bouncing. Why? To measure the “time on page” and “session duration” metrics of one page, Google uses the launch of the next page view. Let’s explore the ramifications of this:
- Time on Page: If there is no next page view because the user has chosen to exit the website, the “time on page” is unknown and therefore recorded as 0. Does this mean that the user spent 0 minutes viewing the page? No. We only know that the reader didn’t look at another page on your website within the next 30 minutes, which is the default length of a session (and triggers a new session). So for both bounces and exit pages, “average time on page” is not accurate. It’s only a valuable metric for webpages with low exit rates.
- Session Duration: The “session duration” is also 0 for a bounce because a new page view has not ended the session. Google counts each bounce as 1 session with a “session duration” of 0. Does this make sense? Not really, but it’s the best Google can do considering how sessions are measured. Every session must have an exit page; with a bounce session, the only page is the exit page. Because of this, “average session duration” is not a valuable metric.
So even if someone spends 25 minutes reading and perusing your webpage, the session will read as a bounce that scores 0 for both “time on page” and “session duration.” Clearly, these metrics aren’t conveying what most people think they are when it comes to bounces.
To learn more about this topic, check out Mike Sullivan’s Misunderstood Metrics: Time on Page/Average Session Duration.
How Do Traffic Sources Impact Bounces?
- Display ad campaigns tend to have high bounce rates because users on other sites are typically not actively looking for what you’re promoting. In addition, some users may click on the ad accidentally (and then leave ASAP) or be engaging in click fraud (repeatedly clicking on an ad to boost advertising revenue). Of course, some clicks on display ads are legitimate, but this is often the exception rather than the rule.
- Social media traffic also tends to have a high bounce rate because users are typically not actively looking for what you’re promoting. They may be learning about your brand for the first time, briefly “checking it out,” which means they typically won’t look beyond the landing page or engage with an event.
- Search traffic (both organic traffic and paid advertising) tends to have a low bounce rate because users are actively searching for what you’re promoting.
Additionally, excellent blogs tend to have high bounce rates. Even if users spend a fair amount of time reading the content and learning new information, and they think more highly of the brand as a result, they typically click away from the website after reading. Google agrees: “If you have a single-page site like a blog, or offer other types of content for which single-page sessions are expected, then a high bounce rate is perfectly normal.”
Does that mean blog posts are worthless? Absolutely not. They can increase a website’s authority in Google’s eyes (improving SEO), generate tons of traffic, engage current customers, and increase brand awareness. Just keep in mind that they will impact your bounce rate.
Can You Decide What Counts as a Bounce?
Yes, indeed. For example, maybe your goal for a particular webpage is for viewers to click “play” on a video. If you like, you can make playing the video an “event” when setting up Google Analytics, and then you can count that “event” as an “interaction.” After that, when a visitor clicks on the video, their session will not be considered a “bounce” even if they don’t navigate further on the website – because they interacted with it.
The resulting bounce rate is considered an “Adjusted Bounce Rate” because you’ve adjusted the default settings for the way Google Analytics handles interactions. You can classify a variety of actions as “events” that will trigger “interactions,” including all of the following:
- Viewing a video
- Viewing video footage of a certain length
- Downloading a file
- Listening to a podcast
- Scrolling down the page
- Interacting with a gadget
- Clicking on an image
- Logging in to the site
- Sharing a blog post, article, video, or image
- Printing the page
- Adding an item to a shopping cart
Think carefully about which events would help you better understand your users’ experiences on your website.
Is Site-Wide Bounce Rate a Valuable Metric?
Clearly, bounces are not as straightforward as some people believe. Given all the nuances involved, it’s typically not helpful to create rigid goals for your site-wide bounce rate. For example, you may have been told to aim for a site-wide bounce rate below 50 percent, but what is the reasoning behind that percentage?
For clarity, site-wide bounce rate is the ratio between all single-page sessions and the total number of sessions on your website in a particular date range. It can be a useful metric for sites with well-defined conversion steps that require multiple page views. Unfortunately, most websites don’t fall into that narrow box. Therefore, the site-wide bounce rate is typically far too broad to provide useful information.
For example, a website with a highly successful blog will typically have a high site-wide bounce rate due to each individual blog post’s high bounce rate. So instead of looking at the big picture (with its questionable value), dig in and look at each page individually. For some pages (like blog posts and contact pages), a high bounce rate is fine. For others, you may decide that too many visitors are bouncing away before you have a chance to convert them. Either way, don’t attach much weight to your site-wide bounce rate.
Bounce rate can be a valuable metric in digital marketing – or not, depending on your goals. Like most things in life, it’s neither black nor white but a shade of (complex, nuanced) gray.
If you’re hoping to build a beautiful, effective website that ranks highly on Google, contact 417 Marketing for help. Our team of knowledgeable, creative, and passionate professionals specializes in SEO, web design and maintenance, and Google Ads, and we have successfully completed over 700 websites since our inception in 2010. Click here to contact us and learn more about what we can do for your company.