Analytics Tip of the Week: Bounce Rate

By Jay Adamsson

Welcome to Week 4 of our series: Analytics Tip Of The Week.

Every Monday morning we’ll be providing a quick tip for your website Analytics. We’ll be presenting topics not just as a “how do I do this”, but “how can this help me”. Data alone may be interesting, but it’s only when we use the data that it becomes valuable.

Quite often, our tips will be Google Analytics related, but not always. Remember, there is a lot more to website analytics than just Google Analytics. We can’t forget other properties like your social media analytics, how best to implement Google Analytics, and perhaps the most important of all: reporting results in a way that makes sense and prompts continual improvement.

Don’t Trust Bounce Rate!

Image showing basic Google Analytics statsOpen your analytics, and look at the very first report. The first six items are good indicators of your site performance (although still need to be read in context of your overall site activity).  But the last two – well, not so much. We’ll leave Avg. Session Duration for a later post, but let’s deal with Bounce Rate.

First, what is bounce rate? A bounce happens when a user comes to your site, and does nothing else. Usually that mans that the user visits a single page then leaves. The bounce rate is the percentage of sessions in which this happens.

Unfortunately, since Google gives Bounce Rate such a prominent position in their report, this metric usually makes its way into the reporting structure for many organizations. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misleading statistics, at least when applied to a full website.

At its heart is this problem: is it good news if your bounce rates go up? Or is it bad news?

On the surface, a low bounce rate seems like a good idea. That means that users are staying on your site longer. But is it really a good thing? A low bounce rate could mean that users hate your site and leave right away, or it could mean that your site is effective and your users can meet their objectives quickly. A high bounce rate could mean that users are very engaged and jump from page to page, or it could mean that users just can’t figure out what to do on your site.

And there is the fundamental issue with Bounce Rate – on its own, it doesn’t mean anything. But it is also a great example of the importance of context in interpreting data, and on making sure the data is meaningful and interpreted correctly.

So, when is bounce rate meaningful? When you can interpret what changes in that number means. And for bounce rate, that normally only happens when you look at it for a single page (or small group of related pages). And only when you can interpret those changes in light of that page’s purpose.

Most home pages are gateway sites for a website (this doesn’t apply to all sites). In this case, you have identified a single page, and identified its purpose – to draw users into your site. In this case, you want to low bounce rate, because that indicates that visitors come to your home page then continue exploring.

What about a blog page? This is a little more subtle. Often, blogs are written with the purpose of attracting search traffic and providing important information. In this case, it might be that a low bounce rate indicates that the page is performing its objectives.

The Impact of Events on Bounces

There are ways of making bounces more meaningful as well, and one of the ways is through the use of events. In Google Analytics, you can define an event – an action a user takes on your site (beyond the normal page views) that is captured and recorded in Analytics. Events can be when someone downloads a pdf from your site. It might be that someone subscribes to your newsletter. It might event be that someone scrolls down to the bottom of the screen.

The important take-away here is that an event is a second interaction on your site. Meaning that user is no longer counted as a bounce.

Setting up events takes a bit more work, but they can be useful in making bounce rate more meaningful.

What is the main issue with bounce rates? It’s difficult to tell if a bounce means that a session is a success or not. But if events are set up properly, you can now define success and capture a successful interaction.

This takes advance thinking and planning for your site. But if you take the time to define your website successes, and put the events in place to capture them, your Analytics become an important tool, and not just an item of interest.

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