Bounce rate is one of those KPIs that digital marketers spend a lot of time analyzing and trying to improve. However, if you don’t fully understand what a bounce is, you may be making a mistake in how you attempt to improve it. I’ll walk through the definition of a bounce rate, some nuances, and some ways that you can improve your bounce rate.
Bounce Rate Definition
A bounce is a single-page session on your site. In Analytics, a bounce is calculated specifically as a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session.
To accurately measure the bounce rate, we must take the total number of bounces and subtract the referring visits from the blog to the corporate website. So – let’s walk through some bounce scenarios:
- A visitor lands on a blog post, isn’t interested in the content, and leaves your site. That’s a bounce.
- A visitor lands on a landing page then clicks the call-to-action to register for your application. That takes them to an external site on a different subdomain or domain that runs different Google Analytics accounts. That’s a bounce.
- A visitor lands on an article from a search result where your page is ranking highly… for a term that’s not applicable to your products or services. They hit the back button in their browser to return to the search results. That’s a bounce.
Events Can Make Bounce Rates Zero
Bounce rate is generally viewed as a measurement indicative of a first-time visitor’s engagement on a website… but you need to be careful. Here’s a scenario that might surprise you:
- You configure an analytics event on the page… like a play button getting pressed, scroll event, or a popup div occurring.
An event, unless specified as a non-interaction event, is technically engagement. Marketers often add events in pages to more closely monitor how visitors are interacting with elements on the page or when objects appear on a page. Events are engagement, so instantly they see bounce rates drop to zero.
Bounce Rate Versus Exit Rate
Don’t confuse Exit Rate with Bounce Rate. Exit rate is specific to a single page on your site and whether the visitor left that page to go to another page (onsite or off). Bounce Rate is specific to the first page that a visitor lands on within the session they initiated on your site… and whether they left your site after visiting.
Here are some specifics between Exit Rate and Bounce Rate for a particular page:
- For all pageviews to the page, Exit Rate is the percentage that were the last in the session.
- For all sessions that start with the page, Bounce Rate is the percentage that were the only one of the session.
- Bounce Rate for a page is based only on sessions that start with that page.
Improving Bounce Rate Could Hurt Engagement
A marketer can improve their bounce rate and destroy engagement on their site. Imagine someone entering a page on your site, reading all of your content, and scheduling a demo with your sales team. They never clicked anything else on the page… just arrived, read through the features or benefits, and then emailed the salesperson back.
That’s technically a bounce… but was it really a problem? No, of course not. That’s fantastic engagement! It’s just that some of it happened outside the ability for analytics to capture the event.
Some publishers artificially lower bounce rates to look better to advertisers and sponsors. They do this by breaking up content into multiple pages. If a person has to click through 6 pages to read an entire article, you succeeded in lowering your bounce rate AND increasing your page views. Again, this is a tactic to increase your advertising rates without adding any value or effort to your visitor or advertiser.
This technique is truly a sham and I don’t recommend it… for advertisers or for your own visitors. Your visitor’s experience should never be determined by bounce rate alone.
Improving Your Bounce Rate
If you’d like to lower your bounce rate effectively, there are a few ways I would recommend:
- Write well-organized and optimized content that is relevant to what your audience is searching for. Utilize keywords effectively by doing some research on what keywords are drawing traffic to your site, then utilize them in your page titles, post titles, post-slugs, and content. This will ensure that search engines index you appropriately and you’ll be less likely to have visitors land on your site who are uninterested and that bounce.
- Utilize internal links within your content. If your audience got to your site for a specific search – but the content doesn’t match – having some links to topics that are related can help retain your readers. You may want to have a table of index with bookmarks that help people jump down to specific subtopics or subheadings (clicking a bookmark is engagement).
- Auto-generate related posts based on tagging or keywords. For my blog, I utilize Jetpack’s Related Posts feature and it does a great job of providing a list of additional posts that are related to the tags you utilized for your current post.
- Using Google Tag Manager, you can easily trigger scrolling events in a page. Let’s face it… a user scrolling through a page is engagement. Of course, you’ll want to also monitor your time on-site and overall conversion metrics to ensure that the activity is beneficial to your overall goals.
Removing Bounces That Are Actual Engagement
Remember my scenario above where I mentioned that someone entered your site, read the page, then clicked to an external site to register? You can do a couple of things to ensure this isn’t registered as a bounce on your site:
- Associate an event with the click of the link. By adding an event, you’ve just removed the bounce when a visitor clicks where you’d like them to. This can be done with click-to-call or click-to-email links as well.
- Add an interstitial redirect page. If I click register and then land on another internal page that tracks the click and redirects the person to the external page, that will count as another page view and not a bounce.
Monitor Your Bounce Rate Trends
I’d highly recommend you focus on bounce rate over time rather than worry about an instance of it here and there. Using the techniques above, you can document changes within analytics and then see how your bounce rate is improving or whether it’s getting worse. If you’re communicating with stakeholders on bounce rate as a KPI, I would recommend doing a few things in the process.
- Communicate what bounce rate is to stakeholders.
- Communicate why bounce rates may not have been a good indicator historically.
- Communicate each dramatic change in bounce rate as you add events to your site to better monitor engagement.
- Observe your bounce rate trend over time and continue optimization of your site structure, content, navigation, calls-to-action, and events.
The bottom line is that I would rather have visitors enter a page, find everything they need, and have them engage with me or leave. An irrelevant visitor isn’t a bad bounce. And an engaged visitor who converts without ever leaving the page they’re on isn’t a bad bounce, either. Bounce rate analysis just requires a little additional work!