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Be careful with Bounce Rate
In this post I discuss bounce rate, its plus points and its negative points. I’m not looking to dissuade use of this metric, it’s a great tool to have in our toolbox and something we as an agency actively use. However, in this post I’m looking to highlight how it can be dangerous and why a high bounce rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is an indicator of engagement and generally should not be used as a success measure – after all, you’re looking to make a return on investment with your marketing, not lower your bounce rate.
Let’s start with Google’s definition of Bounce Rate, taken straight from their website:
Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page sessions (i.e. sessions in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page)
So that’s pretty straightforward. Bounce Rate is the average (shown as a percentage) number of visitors that make no further action following their initial page visit on your website.
It’s easy to consider this a bad thing. These users haven’t engaged with your website following their initial pageview and a spike in this metric or a higher than usual bounce rate over a period of time should certainly be reviewed.
But, and this is a big but – bounce rate is an average and is therefore heavily influenced by a lot of other factors. These factors are vast and differ between each website and marketing campaign. A new marketing campaign could naturally increase your bounce rate.
When bounce rate can be useful
As discussed above, bounce rate can be used for good. Sometimes it’s a great metric for the quick analysis of a specific area of a website.
Here are some good uses:
- When comparing landing pages with similar intent to each other.
- As an indicator of a landing pages that could be improved.
- To identify specific elements of marketing campaigns that are underperforming.
- To understand if changes to a webpage have resulted in increased usability.
- When combined with other metrics (such as conversion rate).
- When bounce rates are considerable (90%+ as an indicator of an issue, when statistically significant).
There are many other useful use cases for the bounce rate metric, however note that in the above we’re specific and we’re using bounce rate as a tool to either prove a theory or identify areas for improvement – we’re not using this metric as a direct KPI and/or success metric.
When bounce rate can be misleading
We’ve seen some examples of where bounce rate can be used as a good metric for analysing specific areas of a website, now let’s dive into where this metric can shed a bad light on performance if used as a measure of success. Generalising a little, I would say:
- You should not use bounce rate when looking at the website as a whole or when reviewing a marketing channel’s overall performance, especially not as a measure of success.
The why is simple – it’s comparing apples to oranges. Marketing channels and their destination landing pages will differ greatly alongside the expected user interaction and changes in campaigns and/or the introduction of new marketing channels will affect bounce rate either positively or negatively.
To illustrate, I’ve included a couple examples below:
New blog post
When analysing website performance it was noted that the bounce rate had increased substantially following the introduction of a new blog post that was pushed via various marketing channels.
So, was this blog post was a failure? Nope – it’s simply natural for a user to read your article and then leave your website – the user has consumed what they had intended when visiting your website and doesn’t need to interact any further, so they hit their back button and that visit is recorded as a “bounce”. Keep in mind that this user could have spent 20 minutes reading the post, but if they hadn’t interacted any further with the website then they would still be treated as a bounce.
New Paid Search Campaign
Your paid search team has expanded on your previous campaigns focussed on categories/the homepage to now include product-specific advertisements. Following the go-live of their campaigns, you’ve observed a substantial increase in bounce rate for the website and/or paid search channel.
So the campaigns aren’t working? It’s natural to assume that if you’re spending your advertising budget to attract people to the website and they then immediately bounce away that this is a failure, however it’s not quite as clear cut as that. If you think about the context it becomes much more clear. For example, if a user clicks on an advertisement for “Google Pixel Phone” and lands on your product page, they have the intent to either research and/or buy the product. There are many reasons they might then leave without interacting with your website further:
- They’re researching and they’ve found what they were looking for.
- They’re not ready to buy yet.
- They’re browsing around for the best price.
However, as your landing page matches the intent of the user directly, they have little reason to navigate through the rest of your website. Essentially, your landing page gives them everything they need to either buy or leave, so why would they browse your other products/pages if they’re after a specific model?
Conversely, compare this to a search for “Mobile Phones” and the intent is completely the opposite. They’re looking for a choice and will therefore be in what we call “browsing mode”. These users could easily browse 10 or more pages on your website before leaving. Does the low bounce rate here indicate success? Not necessarily.
In the above examples you’ll likely see:
- Category landing page – Low bounce rate – Low Conversion Rate.
- Product landing page – High bounce rate – High Conversion Rate.
What metric really matters here? Your ROI/ROAS/CPA. Who cares if 90% of 1000 users bounce on your website if the other 10% go on to buy your product and provide a positive ROI?
Alternatives to bounce rate
This article wouldn’t be complete without giving you some alternatives to your bounce rate metrics. For some websites it is indeed easier to define success than others, but bounce rate shouldn’t be your fallback – there are better metrics out there!
As a rule of thumb, any metric that is an average should not be used as a primary success measure – they’re too easily influenced by other factors and don’t show a complete picture. The metrics you want to define success on are the cold hard facts:
- How many engaged visitors did we achieve?
- How much revenue has our website generated?
- How many leads has our website generated?
- What was the uplift in visitors compared to last year?
- How many users did X on our website?
The possibilities are essentially endless but I’ll say this:
Define what success looks like for you and use your Analytics platform to record and report on it with cold hard facts – not averages.
In the above I listed “How many engaged visitors did we achieve?” This is a great method of analysing success for a website that doesn’t have a typical lead/transaction option for users. Whilst closely linked to bounce rate, it provides a specific number rather than an average – a subtle but important difference. Essentially, the idea here is to identify what defines an engaged user. If they visit more than 3 pages of your website, are they therefore engaged? Are they engaged if they stay on your website for more than 5 minutes? Defining this is up to you and will vary dependent on your website and end goals.
Let’s use the first example again. Say we have a viral blog post on our website. Previous statistics show that 1,000 users visited our website with 400 of them having bounced. Since the new blog post, 5,000 users visited our website and 3,000 of them bounced.
To keep things simple, let’s assume an engaged user is defined as viewing more than 1 page of our website. Our statistics would now look like this:
- Users: 5,000 (vs. 1,000 previous)
- Bounce Rate: 60% (vs. 40% previous)
- Engaged Users: 2,000 (vs. 600 previous)
With Engaged Users as a metric here we can show that we’ve seen 1,400 more engaged users than we had previously. Without this metric all your stakeholders will see is that big red bounce rate drop – a metric that in this case (and more often than not) is misleading.
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