Why your Bounce Rate may start to go up from now on.

- January 28, 2009

Starting today, chances are that your Bounce Rate is going to go up, and your Time on Site metrics will start to become more realistic.

Should you panic and freak out? Should you hide under the bed and lock the door to your room? Should you pause all of your campaigns? Obviously, you shouldn’t do any of those things, but I should explain what’s going on before you reach a state of dementia.

Google Analytics has changed the classification of the setVar function – Custom Segments that appear in the Visitors >> User-Defined report. Previously, whenever a user reached a page that was making use of this setVar function within the Google Analytics Tracking Code, Google Analytics would consider that what they refer to as an “interaction hit”. Interaction hits, like Pageviews, Events, Transactions, and Experiments with Google Website Optimizer are what Google Analytics uses to calculate Bounce Rate and Average Time on Site.

So, for example, let’s say a visitor landed on a page of your website, but left without visiting any other pages. That is, as we all know and love, considered a Bounce. But, let’s say that that same page was using the setVar function. Before today, that visitor would NOT have been counted as a bounce, because Google Analytics would have fired off two “interaction hits” – one for the pageview on that landing page, and one for the custom segment caused by the usage of setVar. However, from here on out, a user that only views 1 page of your site and leaves will be counted as a Bounce, setVar function or no setVar function.

This also has an affect on your Average Time on Site metric. This is calculated by Google Analytics by taking the time stamp of when the first pageview on a website occurs, and subtracting that from the time stamp of your second pageview on a website. Now, if you don’t visit a second page and you bounce, Google Analytics cannot do the math, because it has nothing to subtract from, so it reports a 0:00:00 average time on site.

Previously, because of our setVar friend, Google Analytics would be able to do math, because it would have the time stamp of that first pageview, AND, the time stamp of the setVar function firing off. Since these happened so close together, you could easily see extremely low average time on site numbers, like a second or two. Clearly this was confusing and didn’t make sense, which is another reason why the good folks at Google Analytics have decided to make this change.

When should I use Custom Segments / setVar?

There are a few good places to use this function. One place is on the receipt / “Thank You” page that a user sees after they buy something from your store. This way you can identify anyone who reaches this page as a “shopper” or “customer” or as “awesome”, or anything that you want to call people who reach this page. Then, in your Visitors >> User-Defined report, you’ll be able to do some analysis on this segment of people.

You can also use Custom Segments / setVar based upon an option they select on a “Contact Us” or inquiry form. Let’s say your form has a question that asks users to select between: “Executive, Director, or Marketer”. You can use setVar here to identify people based upon their selection, and analyze the behavior of each custom group of people.

So don’t call your pay-per-click manager or SEO engineer and proclaim that the sky is falling – chances are very good that you will not notice too much of a difference, if at all. If you don’t use Custom Segments / setVar, then you have nothing to worry about. If you use setVar on multiple landing pages and in different places on your site, brace for impact because your Bounce Rate is going up. But hey, think of it like this: it’s for the better – this is now a much more accurate calculation – a truer representation of your real Bounce Rate and Time on Site metrics.

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