What They Never Told You About Bounce Rate

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First of all, what is bounce rate?

Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of visitors who land on a page of your site and then leave your site (not clicking on any other pages).

They only view a single page and then ‘bounce off’.

There’s even an official bounce rate equation.  I’ll spare you (and me) from that, but there are other similar terms too, for example…

What is exit rate compared to bounce rate?

Exit rate is the percentage of visitors who leave your site on a certain page compared to how many total visits that page gets.

You might have a page that gets about 100 visits a month where 90 of those 100 visitors leave. If so, that page has a 90% exit rate.

The thing is everyone’s going to leave your site at some time or another. You can’t avoid it.

But at first glance, you might think because a page has a high exit rate the page sucks.

On the flip side, if you’re running a lot of advertising (like Adsense) then you may have a page where a lot of people click off your site and onto one of your ads. In that case, it might be a good thing. Your visitors may be reading your content and then clicking off on a super targeted ad, allowing you to earn money. So it’s not always bad.

You can’t just assume because a page has a high exit rate it needs to be fixed. You’ve got to take a look at the exact page in question. You might want to look at the average time a visitor spends on that page and what you’ve got there. Ask people you know to visit it and have them give you their impression.

The same goes for bounce rate. A high bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean your site sucks.

What if people land on one of your pages and spend a ton of time reading it (maybe even sharing it or bookmarking it for later)?

If that’s the only page they land on it will still count as a bounce, but as you can see, the visitor had a positive experience with your content.

Here are a few things that cause a bounce:

  • The visitor clicks the back button and leaves the site.
  • They close the window or tab.
  • They type in a new URL.
  • The session times out (usually after 30 minutes).
  • They click on a link leading to a different site.

As you can see, not all of these actions mean a visitor is dissatisfied with your site (yet they all count as a bounce).

What if people fill out your opt-in form?  Often the visitor is re-routed through a page hosted on aweber or Infusionsoft, or whatever autoresponder company you use so it looks like they clicked off.

Or what if you’ve got a phone number on your site and they call it? While that will likely count as a bounce they were interested enough to give your company a call.

What if they go to your social media page? That will count as a bounce too if they only visit one page on your site first and then click on a link to your Facebook page.

So there are lots of actions resulting in a bounce.  And as you can see, just because a visitor might be counted as a bounce, it doesn’t mean they had a negative experience with your web page (although that’s what many webmasters believe).

Adjusted Bounce Rate

The thing is, time on site and bounce rate together can give you a more accurate image of what people think of your site. Google

Analytics actually has an adjusted bounce rate feature. This ‘adjusted bounce rate’ feature is rarely ever mentioned, so I want to bring it to your attention.

Bounce rate by itself is really kind of useless. But with this adjusted bounce rate, you can also factor in the length of time visitors spend on your site.

With an adjusted bounce rate, a bounce is only counted when a visitor lands on a page, they were there for a really short amount of time, and they click off your site (not visiting any other pages).

In order to get an adjusted bounce rate to show up if you’re using Analytics, you need to add the bolded line of code to your tracking code:

<script type=”text/javascript”>
var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-XXXXXXX-1’]);
setTimeout(“_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ’15_seconds’, ‘read’])”,15000);
(function() {
var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript’; ga.async = true;
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘.google
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);

You can change the amount of time to whatever you’d like. Sixty seconds might make more sense than the 15-second length Google talks about using.

If your high bounce rate is freaking you out, you can look at this and see if it goes down. Because really, if people are spending 60 seconds on your pages before they leave, they probably got some value out of being there.

If you use this adjusted bounce rate, now only the people who visited one page and who were there for less than the time you specify count as a bounce. This is a more accurate measure to what Google looks at when considering how users interact with your site.

The Freak Out About Bounce Rate

The bounce rate reported in Google Analytics (whether you’re using the regular or adjusted bounce rate), or even another tracking package, and what Google actually factors into their algorithm about your site are different.

The bounce rate you see is not really what they’re using to assess your site. Here’s why…

What if you don’t have Analytics installed?

Not everyone uses Analytics. Some people use another tracking software (that Google does not have access to) and many don’t use anything at all.

What if you don’t have Analytics installed properly?

Not everyone puts Analytics on every page of their site, or copies and pastes the code properly. Or even puts the right code on the right page.

Analytics is just another thing we can potentially manipulate.

We’re able to copy and paste the analytics code on the pages of our site and we can mess it up (intentionally or accidentally), so Google isn’t going to use that to score your bounce rate.

What Can Google Really See?

Every time a visitor uses Google to search, it gives Google more data.  Google can see what visitors are searching for, what they clicked on, how long they were on those web pages, and whether they come back to their search engine results page and click on another listing or perform another search.

Here’s what someone who has a bad experience on your site might do:

They click on an organic listing, go through to your site, then come back to the same search results page in 2 seconds.  I think we can all agree that probably reflects badly on the web page the visitor clicked on.

Contrast that with someone who only clicks on one page of your site, but spent 10 minutes there.

That’s really all Google can see. They have access to information about their search engine results pages, but not necessarily about your site (I don’t believe even if you install Analytics on your site that they’re using that data for your rankings).

If the visitor is using the Chrome browser or a Google toolbar, I’d assume Google can see a little more about their interaction with the sites they visit.

And if the visitor is browsing while they’re logged into a Google product (like Gmail) then that may allow Google to see more interactions too.

But many people don’t search using Chrome or while logged into a Google product.  So Google has very limited data about the nature of their search, to the point where all they can really see is what visitors are clicking on from a search engine results page and when they come back to Google for another search.

The main point is, that a bounce (like what you’re thinking about and seeing if you use Analytics or another tracking tool) is not the same thing Google factors into their algorithm.

In most cases, Google can’t even see if a visitor clicks around on your site.

They’re pretty much in the dark about what went on there.

That’s why the time on site really has to be a metric that’s involved with bounce rate because just a straight bounce doesn’t mean a whole lot (and will be difficult for them to measure for all sites). What Google’s really trying to figure out is whether people have a good or bad experience with your site.

Does it suck? If so they don’t want it ranking high on their results pages.

Adjusted bounce rate is probably a closer metric, but even that isn’t really the whole story.

I’m not saying bounce rate is worthless. It’s just not used in Google’s algorithm for ranking sites like many might expect.  So you can’t say just because your bounce rate’s high that Google will not rank you as high. Again, that’s because they don’t look at bounce rate the same way you do.

But it’s still useful to look at your bounce rate along with the average time a user spends on your site. If your bounce rate is high (80% or above) and you’ve got a really low average time on site (like 30 seconds or less), that’s an indication you’ve got a problem.

How to Reduce Bounce Rate

If you’re thinking your bounce rate could be lowered and that your site doesn’t make visitors as happy as it could, here are some things you can look into:

1. Browser performance. 

It’s possible your site’s design doesn’t work well in every browser. You can check this by looking at your bounce rate by browser. If it goes way up for visitors using Firefox, that may mean it doesn’t look right in the Firefox web browser.

2. Slow loading pages. 

Look at the types of connections your users have and see if slower connections have higher bounce rates. If so it may be that slow-loading pages are turning visitors off (if it takes 10 seconds to load a page I know I go somewhere else and don’t look back).

3. Consider your design.

Back when the web was newer, you could get away with really ugly design (bordering on no design, just pages with text thrown up on them). Now poor design just isn’t tolerated.

4. Mobile device friendly.

How does your site look on a mobile device or tablet?  Check your bounce rate against the different devices and look at your site from all the different devices you can get your hands on.

5. See if specific keywords go with high bounce rates.

Does the content on the page match the word? Make sure your content is relevant for the search term you’re ranking high for (or are trying to rank high for).

6. Make sure the Analytics tracking code (or whatever tracking package you’re using) is on every page of your site.

If you’re using WordPress for most of your site and have also created a few static HTML pages make sure you add the tracking code manually onto those HTML pages.

7. Link to other pages on your site.

You can include links throughout your content and present your reader with related articles at the end of your content so they can read more about the topic they’re interested in.

8. Consider getting rid of pop-ups.

Pop-ups can turn a lot of people off so if you’re running them on your site and you notice a high bounce rate you may want to consider turning them off.

9. Check your navigation.

It may be that visitors can’t figure out how to find stuff on your site. If they get frustrated, then they may leave.  You might want to check out a tool like Crazy Egg that allows you to see a heat map of your site showing you where users click and what they do on your pages.

10. Consider breaking up your information.

If visitors are hit with a wall of text then many of them will exit quickly.  It’s best to break up text with paragraphs, subheadings, and bullet points. Include images, tables, videos, or whatever else you can.  Readability is an important factor to keep in mind.

11. Consider moving your ads.

If visitors are hit with ads right up front many will turn right around. You may want to re-think your ad placement, especially if you’ve got a lot of ads above the fold.

What is a good bounce rate?

Most digital marketers will tell you that a good bounce rate is any number below 40%. This indicates that people are finding your site useful and are sticking around to explore it. 40-60% is average, and anything above 60% can be cause for concern.

There are a number of factors that can affect your bounce rate, including the quality of your content, the design of your site, and what the point of your site is.

If you’re concerned about your bounce rate, there are some things you can do to improve it. These include making sure your content is engaging and relevant, ensuring your site is easy to navigate, and making sure your site is properly optimized for search engines.

What does a 100% bounce rate mean?

A 100% bounce rate means that every visitor who came to your site left after only viewing the page they arrived on. There are a number of possible reasons for this, but one explanation is that the content on your page wasn’t relevant to what they were looking for. Another possibility is that your page was difficult to navigate or didn’t load properly.

On the positive side, it can also be because the visitor found what they needed on your page and either clicked on a link to go off or hit the back button.

What does a high bounce rate mean?

A high bounce rate happens when most of your website visitors leave after only viewing one page of your site. This might happen when the visitor can’t find what they’re looking for on your site or if your site isn’t relevant to their needs.

A high bounce rate can be a sign that your website isn’t meeting the needs of your audience. If you have a high bounce rate, it’s important to figure out why visitors are leaving your site.

Is the navigation confusing?

Are they clicking on an external link on your site that leads them to more information?

You will have to dig into why you have a high bounce rate to figure out if you need to make adjustments to your site.

Is a low bounce rate good?

A low bounce rate is often seen as a good thing. After all, it means that people are sticking around on your site and exploring what you have to offer.

However, there are also some downsides to having a low bounce rate. For example, if people are taking a long time to leave your site, it may be because they’re struggling to find what they’re looking for.

So while a low bounce rate is often seen as a positive sign, it’s not always an indicator of success.

What next?

  • If you’ve got tracking software installed on your website, go check out your current bounce rate.
  • If you’re using Analytics, consider adding the line of code I mentioned earlier in the article to the tracking code on your web pages so you can see the Adjusted Bounce Rate.
  • If you’ve got a higher bounce rate than you’d like, try a few of the tips above and then check your statistics in a few days, to see if it improved.
Lisa Parmley
Lisa Parmley

Lisa Parmley is the founder of coursemethod.com. After gaining a Master's degree, she worked in research for about seven years. She started a training company in 2001, offering a course helping people pass a professional exam. That course has earned multiple 7 figures. She created SEO and authority site building training around 2007 which went on to earn well into the 6-figure mark.

She has 22+ years of experience in the trenches creating and selling online courses. Get help starting and growing your online course business here.

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