Bounce Rate: How (not) to use it for content

Digital Konsulent - Phillip Studinski
About me

I'm a self-employed digital consultant with more than 12 years of experience with web analysis, data strategy and website optimisation. Get in touch.

The Bounce Rate is probably one of the most used metrics in web analysis. But it’s also one of the most misused and misunderstood metrics. Much too often, analysts simply look for high bounce rates on specific landing pages, and recommend changes or even deletion of those pages - based solely on their bounce rate. While bounce rates can tell us a lot about page performance, it’s - as always with digital analytics - much more complicated than that.

What is bounce rate?

The Bounce Rate is a percentage metric showing how many of your sessions that were single page sessions; i.e. sessions from users that only viewed one page on your website, and then left your website without viewing any other pages or without triggering any events. So that means if you have a 60% bounce rate on your homepage, then 60% of your sessions that started on that page only viewed the homepage and nothing else. The bounce rate is applied to just about all dimensions in Google Analytics. That means you can examine the bounce rate for specific landing pages, traffic sources, browser versions, demographics or any custom dimensions.

Myth busted: High bounce rates are OK

First off: It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have high bounce rates. If a specific page’s sole purpose is to deliver an answer to a specific question, a high bounce rate could actually indicate that this page is performing very well. So bounce rate should always be used in the context of purpose. Is this page meant to keep users browsing on more pages? Are users supposed to submit a form? In other words, if you need your users to stay or interact with your website once they land on a certain page, then you’d aim for as low a bounce rate as possible.

What is a good bounce rate?

There’s no such thing as a good bounce rate. It depends. Are your visitors supposed to just find a simple answer to a question, and do they find that answer. If so, you’d expect a very high bounce rate. That’s normal on blogs, forums and magazines. On the other hand, if your landing page is supposed to convert users to customers by having them submitting a sign up form, then you would want to see a low bounce rate. It’s nearly impossible to get to either 100% or 0% bounce rate (depending on your landing page’s purpose). But go for it. Your bounce rate is never good enough. But don’t spend all your time on it since your time may be used better on making more landing pages. That being said, here are my benchmarks (for retail and service landing pages, including home pages). They are entirely, subjectively based on my own experience:

  • Display campaigns should not bounce more than 65 - 70%
  • Generic PPC campaigns should not bounce more than 35%
  • Branded PPC campaigns should not bounce more than 30%
  • Organic search should not bounce more than 25%
  • Direct traffic should not bounce more than 20%

See that? It’s not even possible to give a single answer to the question of “What is a good bounce rate?”. I might as well have said “42”. Because it also depends on the type of traffic you’re getting. So when analysing the performance of a landing page and you get to the bounce, then it’s necessary for you to apply the Default Channel Grouping or Source / Medium as a secondary dimension since bounce rates will be different on that landing page for each type of traffic source.

How to screw up your bounce rate with events

When using the bounce rate, you must be aware how it can be affected. In a default Google Analytics configuration (i.e. you just copy-pasted the Google Analytics Tracking Code onto your site) everything is basically fine. But if you are using event tracking on a page, those events will by default affect your bounce rate. Let’s say that you have set up scroll tracking on your page. Once users reach the middle part of your page, an event is fired and sent to Google Analytics. The reason is that the event is counted as an interaction, and by definition, the user is now a non-bouncer. So even if the user leaves your website without having seen any other pages, this user will not be counted as a bounce and your bounce rate will seem lower than it actually is. To avoid this, it’s common to send events to Google Analytics as non-interaction events. Although there may be cases where you’d consider the user as a non-bouncer if specific events are being triggered (i.e. if the user watches an embedded YouTube video).

Common ways to use the bounce rate

Let’s take a look at some common use cases. One of the first reports I check when analysing a website is the landing page report (Behaviour → Site Content → Landing Pages). This report shows the most common pages for people to start their visit on our website. Usually, your homepage will be one of the landing pages with most entrances. But if you run PPC and/or display campaigns, you will (hopefully) have dedicated landing pages to them. And since a PPC landing page very often will have some kind of goal (buy a product or a service, sign up for a newsletter etc.), you will want to have a very low bounce rate.

Bounce rate for landing pages

In the example report above, I have three landing pages. My most important landing page (#1) has a 43% bounce, which is below my average for the entire website. The second landing page sees just 27% bouncing, while my third landing page bounces 72%. So clearly, I want to take a look at the last landing page and make adjustments so more people will stay on my website. Another common report where bounce rate is very  relevant is the mobile overview report (Audience → Mobile → Overview). If you have a website with a lot of traffic from mobile or tablet devices, it’s important that you have a website that is optimized for mobile.

Bounce rate for mobile device categories

In this example report, I have a website where most of the traffic (51%) is from mobile devices. This particular website does have a responsive version which is supposed to be optimized for mobile. But the 81% bounce rate for mobile sessions compared to just 28% on desktop may indicate that the mobile experience is far from optimal. In this case, I would check the website on different mobile phones to see how it works (or does not work). In addition, you should check the site speed reports (Behavior → Site Speed → Page Timings) to see if the website loads slowly on mobile.

Summing up

In reality, the bounce rate metric can be applied to almost all dimensions in Google Analytics. But it’s important to know when it makes sense to use, how it can be affected (or even manipulated) and what to do next when observing an unsatisfactory bounce rate. The metric in itself doesn’t tell you much other than an indication towards one or more issues that you need to examine further. Also, if setting targets or benchmarks (which I’ve seen many people do) then please do not do so in general, but set targets for specific pages or sets of pages and always consider the purpose of those pages (which is important when deciding if a high bounce rate is good or bad).

Digital Konsulent - Phillip Studinski
About me

I'm a self-employed digital consultant with more than 12 years of experience with web analysis, data strategy and website optimisation. Get in touch.

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© 2019 Analytical42 / Phillip Studinski