Let's Talk About High Bounce Rates

Whenever you open Google Analytics, or really any analytics tools, there’s one metric that likely reaches up and smacks you in the face: Bounce rate.

Bounce rate sticks out because it’s got kind of a funky name. You’re probably not exactly sure what it does, but it seems bad, and you’re probably worried that yours is too high. Or too low. Or something.

So what exactly is a bounce rate? How are you supposed to feel about it? When is it good, bad, or ugly? 

Bounce Rate: Defined

Let’s start with the easy one. Here’s what Google has to say about bounce rates, straight from the Google Analytics “help” section:

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).

In other words, when a user navigates to a web page, any web page, no matter how long they stick around for, if they leave the site without navigating to any other pages, that’s called a bounce. In other-other words, they come, they leave, they bounce right off your web page.

Bounce rate tells you what percent of the time a visit to a page (or a “session” in analytics lingo) results in a bounce. The big scary bounce rate number you see when you first open Google Analytics adds up all of the bounces across all of the pages on your site and divides them against all of the sessions on all of the pages of your site. This number is possibly interesting, but essentially useless for most people.

What is far more useful are the bounce rates for individual pages, because those let you see which pages are keeping people around, and which pages are bouncing people like a doorman at a downtown nightclub on “ladies’ night.”

But What Does It All Mean?

Now that the dictionary section is over and we’ve started to demystify the elusive “bounce,” what is it that we are supposed to think about all of this bouncing?

At first glance, our initial suspicion seems to be confirmed. A high bounce rate appears to be a bad thing.

A lot of people will try to make you fear the bounce. But the truth is, high bounce rates are not exclusively bad. Sometimes they are good. Sometimes they don’t mean anything at all. One tool we've found valuable for determining and analyzing bounce rates is Siteoscope.

Think about it. There are plenty of cases where a person coming to a site and leaving without clicking on any other pages is not at all indicative of anything bad or lacking in the site. For instance, long-scrolling single-page websites are a popular design trend at the moment. If there are no other pages to click on, that’s a 100% bounce rate. Another situation is if a page includes a strong call-to-action that takes the visitor off of your site. Say if you are encouraging people to visit an online store on a marketplace like Etsy, or perhaps you are asking them to call a phone number. Both of those situations would also result in a bounce, but wouldn’t be bad.

Spam Bots

Another thing to be aware of when it comes to bounce rates is that they are a metric that is highly susceptible to being affected by spam bots.

There are lots of spam bots on the internet that exist for a lot of different reasons and come from a lot of different places. Attempting to fight them all can be a full-time job, but depending on how badly you are getting hit and how much traffic your site gets overall, it might be worth it. Whether you are being heavily spammed or lightly spammed in your analytics, it doesn’t take much for your bounce rates to get thrown out of whack.

Spam bots will be easy to spot in your data. They will almost always be a bounce, usually come from countries like Russia or Brazil, and likely have an average session time of zero.

When looking at overall session numbers, a few extra here and there probably won’t influence your thinking too much with regard to how much traffic you are getting. But if all of those extra sessions are also bounces, your bounce rate is going to shoot up pretty quickly.

Correlation vs Causation

Finally, a note on correlation. A mistake that is easy to make with many aspects of website analytics (and life), but particularly bounce rates, is confusing correlation with causation.

Just because two things happen at the same time, does not mean that one caused the other, or even that the two are related.

For example, as mentioned above, just because your bounce rate for a page is high, does not mean that the page isn’t doing its job. And conversely, optimizing your bounce rate will not necessarily translate to increase sales, conversions, or traffic. Perhaps on some pages it will, but others it won’t. The key with bounce rates is always to think about why people are leaving without clicking on other pages, and whether or not that is a bad thing.

With any marketing effort it is important to keep an eye on what is working and what isn't and make adjustments as you go. Need help navigating through this process? Contact the 10twelve team to discuss your website and overall marketing strategy.