How to Stop Obsessing and Learn to Love Your Bounce Rate

Jason Brewster - May 25, 2016

Bounce rate is one of the first metrics analysts and marketers use to measure engagement. It’s particularly good at measuring the “stickiness” of content, because it identifies the percentage of users that leave after one interaction. In theory, the lower the bounce rate, the better the landing page content.

What is a Bounce?

In Google Analytics bounce is defined as “The percentage of single-page sessions.” This means that when a user visits your page, if they do not trigger a second pageview, event or transaction then they will be processed as a bounce.

Because bounces and bounce rates can only be determined in the context of a session, it is important to understand what a session is and how these two metrics interact to create the bounce rate.

What is a Session?

A session is a period of activity on your site in which a user triggers one or more pageviews, events or transactions. A session has certain properties that are critical to understanding bounce rate.

The most important thing to know about a session is that it holds all of the pageviews and other types of data that gets processed in Google Analytics.

The second most important piece of information regarding sessions is that they end. There are a few different ways that sessions end.

  1. The user has been inactive on your website for 30 minutes (This time frame can be adjusted.)
  2. The user was active on your website at midnight
  3. The user has re-entered your website through a different channel (The user coming from Organic Search followed by an email in less than 30 minutes would create a new session.)

So keeping the above in mind, you now know that a bounce can occur when a user lands on a page, spends five minutes reading the content, then leaves. That user wasn’t disinterested in the content or the product necessarily, they just got what they needed then had no further use for the website at that moment.

Bounce Rate

Now that you understand bounces and sessions all that remains is to tie the two metrics together in a very basic calculation:

(sum of all bounces / sum of all sessions) = bounce rate

Keep in mind that your bounce rates for your industry will vary wildly from others, even websites that have very similar offerings may have a bounce rate that is much better or worse.

Pitfalls of Bounce Rate

If you optimize your website toward bounce rate, there is a strong possibility that you will miss out on conversions. All that separates a bounce and a non-bounce is a second pageview – that makes it a very different goal to set for your users than purchasing goods or submitting lead information. Bounce should be used as one of many engagement metrics rather than the primary KPI.

Bounce rates can also be wrong if your website’s code is firing two pageviews instead of one, or if you are firing an event on page load then you can get artificially low bounce rates. A great way to detect this is by learning to leverage Google Tag Assistant for Chrome.

Tag Assistant will tell you what tags fired, what kind of hits, how many times, etc. It is invaluable for troubleshooting your website.

Google Tag Assistant

By measuring all of the valuable interactions on your page with events you can lower your bounce rate. Follow-up analysis on why your users are leaving without clicking anywhere will be necessary to provide any meaningful actions.

In summary, bounce rate is a great tool for seeing how engaging a landing page is but it shouldn’t replace another primary KPI like a transaction or a lead. When you see any metric is too good to be true, always investigate. A little bit of skepticism can go a long way when it comes to being strategic with your website.

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