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Tuesday, Jul. 15, 2008 at 9:04 am

What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You

By Melissa Burdon
July 15th, 2008

bounceAre you measuring your bounce rates? These are the visitors who are landing on your site and are leaving without making a second click. Bouncers to your website should be considered a negative statistic: the site failed to engage them enough to entice even a second pageview.

How much did you invest to get them there? Did you get your money’s worth out of that visitor?

Usability expert, Jakob Neilsen, recently indicated that one of the biggest findings from his latest user research was a huge increase in “deep dips”. He describes this as more traffic arriving deep within a website rather than entering through the website’s homepage. He found that for many sites, this increase in “deep-dips” has resulted in much higher bounce rates.

Average Metrics Produce Only Average Results

When working with our optimization clients, I frequently hear them report their average site-wide bounce rate is. This overall bounce rate is rarely telling us anything at all. If the number is fairly high (above 40%), they assume that they just aren’t answering people’s questions. How do they know where their problems exist? Are all of the pages bouncing people off of the site equally?

Don’t pay too much attention to this average bounce rate. Bring it a step further. Find out what your top bounce rate pages are and try to analyze why visitors are bouncing off of them.

Breaking Visitor’s Momentum

Look at all of your top traffic driving points (search, ads, emails, etc) that are sending visitors to these top bounce rate pages. Is there a disconnect between the motivation the visitor had when beginning their journey and what they found on the page they landed on? Did they not get what they expected? Are you not offering links on this landing page to move the visitor forward in his buying process to answer some of his other questions?

When we see this happen we tell clients that they have a break persuasive momentum and the principles of scent. Either a page has the content our visitor is looking for or links to the page the visitor is looking for. Usability expert Jared Spool calls this the “move forward till found” rule.

Getting Past What’s Wrong and Working on Why

Neilsen says that “Web Analytics is a dangerous game. If you measure the wrong thing, your metrics won’t just be weak — they’ll be directly misleading and might cause you to pursue an erroneous strategy that reduces your design’s business value.”

He suggests that you analyze your bounce rates for different sources of visitors. The point from which the visitor was sent to your site will indicate the level of interest they have for finding what you have to offer. Web analytics is great at reporting what happened, but you need a process to help you figure out why.

At FutureNow, we’ve been educating clients and readers that sources of traffic demonstrate a certain level of intent. If visitors are coming from a source that indicates that they have very low interest and almost “accidentally” land on your site, you should not be concerned about higher bounce rates.

But, if visitors click on a link, search for a keyword, or click on an ad that is specific to what you have to offer, this could indicate that they are middle or late stage in their buying process and are interested in your offering. If you have high bounce rates from these traffic sources, you should be more concerned and analyze why this may be happening, and do some conversion optimization to help reduce this bounce rate.

If you’d like help reducing your bounce rates, let’s talk about how we can do it together.

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Comments (47)

  1. Nice article! Interesting, well-written and full of good follow-up links. And a ton of spot-on advice!

    One funny thing about measuring bounce rate that I’ve run into a couple of times: I’ve seen traffic coming in from a specific channel and a specific keyword, that has a higher than average bounce rate, but also a higher than average conversion rate!

    So don’t focus too much on bounce rate alone. Keep an eye on the whole funnel before you go shut down a traffic source just because it looks like it’s irrelevant to many. It might be highly relevant to a few!

  2. My home page has a low bounce rate but my category pages are high. Biggest reason I can figure is, I have no individual item pages. I am working on this right now and expect my bounce rate to drop when these pages come online.

  3. I completely agree about looking at sources, especially with search and social media. Traffic from a site like StumbleUpon, for example, has a naturally high bounce rate, and people who come from search are more likely to do a quick once-over and leave then those who come from more authoritative sources. Bounce rate is a good window into the types of visitors you can expect from different sources and, as you track it over time, how good a fit those sources are for your site.

  4. Thank you Melissa… Very beneficial article :)

  5. What do your customers want? (Small Business Ecommerce Link Digest – July 18, 2008)…

    Great thoughts around the web this week on how to learn from your customers and find out what they want.
    ……

  6. Bounce rates are a good metric. However, it is important to find out what the average bounce rate is for your industry. Some content naturally has higher bounce rates than others. For example, if you did a search to find the definition of a term, you would land on the page read the definition and leave (bounce). On the other hand, if you’re looking for a job and land on a ‘job seeker’ site, you are more likely to go deeper into the site for more information such as jobs in your state, city, etc. In a perfect world everyone would have a bounce rate of 40% or less, but that just isn’t a reality for most sites.

  7. Bounce rate is something that has always concerned me with my site, as well as my clients. As always with your posts, this entry encourages me to focus on my visitor’s intent. Nice job.

  8. I agree on the importance of understanding bounce rates, particularly for paid landing pages but for organic information pages, a high bounce rate may be a good thing. If a user is looking for info on X on Google and follows a link to a page on X on your site, then if the information is okay they will have no need to look further. Of course the same can be true if they hate what they find. To tell the difference we have to look at engagement.

  9. So, can it be measured by the search terms used, and optimize for just those terms? Or will that make the niche wrong if the term isn’t right for your niche? I’ve long wondered how many of my ‘bounces’ are people and how many of them are bots, how would I know that for sure?

  10. Guy: A very good question!

    Google Analytics seems very good at identifying and disregarding traffic from bots. But I don’t have any raw data on this, only a gut feeling.

    Otherwise, if your analytics package allows it, try filtering out all traffic from “users” who doesn’t allow cookies. 98% of all real users allow cookies, and 99% of all bots doesn’t support it. So it’s a good “hack” to figuring out how much traffic you get from bots.

  11. Guy R Cook,

    If you’re using Google Analytics then you don’t have to worry too much about bots. Since bots don’t execute JavaScript Google never records the visit.

  12. Even though we drive visitors through PPC, for vert target keywords and landing to the relevant landing page, still 40-50% bounceing rate. Ex: ABC hotel in london keyword drive to ABC hotel page, not the home page, but still bounce rate is higher than 40%.

    any reason

  13. Good starter post on a very important categorical topic. In the context of behavioral monitoring, bounce is a lesser metric, IMHO. Check out Occam’s Razor for a richer discussion that included primary purpose segmentation and task conversion ratios, which are much more telling. As we segment our visitors and target the “relevant” ones, we are able to deliver much more appropriate marketing offers to accelerate their progression through the funnel.

  14. A high bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean that your page didn’t deliver for the visitor. Especially if your site is purely informational:

    If your visitors click on Google ads (or other ads) on that first page they visit, then a high bounce rate is actually a good thing :)

  15. If you are trying to sell a product or a service, then a high bounce rate is clearly not a good thing. If you are trying to get people to click on advertisements that generate your revenue, then I assume a high bounce rate is a good thing as long as they are clicking through to your ads.

  16. Very nice article,my site has a very high bounce rate. after reading this I know what I have to change and will begin to work on it. Thank You

  17. Never really considered the bounce rate of my site-but after watching a few videos on Google analytics and checking my own bounce rate it seems I have some work to do.Learning new stuff all the time!

  18. Google Analytics highlights the bounce rate much more these days, proving it’s a statistic worth paying attention to.

  19. Hi Melissa,
    I love that this post is both thorough AND clear. Thank you!
    Would you (or any commenters) happen to know where I can find any stats on average changes to bounce rate immediately after a site makes major changes? I’m an art director for a large site that has taken major hits since we re-launched — but I’m wondering if it’s just our regular users reacting to the change.
    Thanks again!

  20. [...] normal is for your site) bounce rate indicates that visitors are not getting what they expected. GrokDotCom has an excellent post on this topic this [...]

  21. [...] FutureNow: What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You [...]

  22. I’m new to the website owners realm, I’m getting quite a few visitors to my site but no new members and looking at the stats they aren’t staying long. some will move around a few links and then leave. not sure what it will take to gain membership numbers.

  23. Very informative—great job.

    Analytics most definitely requires the INTEGRATION of data. If a good percentage of your traffic comes from places like Google Image Search (where you will see extremely high bounce rates), then you may think that you have high bounce rates. By isolating out that traffic, you will get a better read on the situation.

    So integrate, integrate, integrate! :)

  24. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You [...]

  25. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You form FutureNow’s GrokDotCom [...]

  26. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You form FutureNow’s GrokDotCom [...]

  27. Thank you for this post. It has clarified the key learnings of the bounce rate, this statistic was simply a number and I was unsure what this means to the user journey. I am going to try to improve my exit pages now – as you have suggested. Keep up the great work! Elaine

  28. My partner and I just started our site, http://www.lawyercardsonline.com , on July 25th. We have a bounce rate of 49%, and I can’t figure out if this is good, or bad. We are a retail sales site, B2B, and also sell to actual physical retail locations, but are relying on the website to do most of the work. Should we be trying to lower the rate, or raise it ? Thanks, all help is appreciated.

  29. Bounce rate has little to do with my client’s site b/c of the fashion element, along with the fact that some 14 yr-old boys are seeking out these keywords for an entirely different purpose. I’d rather, in this case and this case only, look at those that stayed on the page and see where they browsed.

  30. Bounce Rate
    The percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page).

  31. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You form FutureNow’s GrokDotCom [...]

  32. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You – FutureNow’s GrokDotCom [...]

  33. My bounce rate for http://scrabblecheat.com is 25%.
    It takes research to figure out why your bounce rate is high. Maybe poor content or people are coming to your site thinking it is something else.
    Gather as much data and track back the people to see what sites they are coming from. Then go deeper until you find an answer.

  34. I agree with idea. And hope that it will be useful in the days ahead.

  35. Hi Melissa, a very useful post and the questions really contributed to your explanation! My experience shows that the bounce rate really depends on the content of the site.

    With blogs, for instance, a high bounce rate shouldn’t be considered a negative thing, since there you want your visitors to quickly scan and read posts, which are almost always on the landing/home page. In a blog return visitors are way more important than bounce rate (which tells you little about how interesting your content is). Also, for university pages, where the home page contains links to external pages ( e.g a university site with the different faculty pages) the bounce rate for this page would be 100% most of the time but this doesn’t reflect the actual performance of the site.

  36. Hello Melissa,

    Thank for sharing.

  37. I find bounce rates are directly relevant to the referral source. Adsense in general frequently tend to have higher bounce rates than other paid types such as adwords. The key as stated in this post is to really determine the source of the traffic and analyze your traffic with a bias.

  38. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You form FutureNow’s GrokDotCom [...]

  39. The article seems to also miss the possibility that the information is good, and is all on one page. I have a high bounce rate as members come to my site to the page they want to view, and generally don’t need much else. However, many sites can avoid this by spreading 1 article over 2, 3 or 4 pages.

  40. Thanks for the helpful explanation.

    We have a “personality” website we post to daily, mostly for fun and to keep our humor writing, cartooning, and photo skills in shape. Topics range across the spectrum of whatever we found interesting that day. Still, it’s interesting to see what topics and medium were most compelling. And no surprise, looking at bounce rate shows that topics that are part of a thematic thread or are completely unique to our site have the lowest bounce rate.

    For instance, I crocheted a hat last week in honor of Alexandre Bilodeau’s Olympic gold medal for Canada and blogged on it, titling it “In Honor of Gold, I’m Making A Bobbled Bilodeau.” Three days later, we posted “Bobbled Bilodeau Update,” and guess what? A bounce rate of zero.

    Thanks again for enlightening!

    Ciao, Kathy

  41. IF the bounce rate is on the click of an ad, it may actually be more profitable to try to convert to some paying customer. If someone else is offering x cents on a click, it means that they may have a way to profit from that click. Rather than sending them away, you may increase your ROI if you can figure out what that conversion means.

  42. Well sometimes high bounce rate cannot be avoided… especially when you have a low number of pages.

  43. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You form FutureNow’s GrokDotCom [...]

  44. I think one of the big reason of high bounce rate is relaying on social media site for traffic, although they are the best source of traffic but traffic from them most of time not relevant or interested in content. For decrease bounce rate organic traffic needed which i think is more relevant

  45. Thank you Melissa, my site had a very high bounce at the home page, though it has come down a bit, since i installed a new theme.
    I will try to keep the points you mentioned to decrease the bounce rate.

  46. [...] [...]

  47. [...] What Your Bounce Rate is Trying to Tell You form FutureNow’s GrokDotCom [...]

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Melissa is a Senior Persuasion Analyst at FutureNow.

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