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Why you should ignore the “Bounce Rate” column

Most website traffic analytics applications, including Google Analytics, give you a statistic called “bounce rate”. Far too many people take it seriously without really thinking about what it means. So let’s see what bounce rate really means.

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to the page, or site, who enter the site there but go no further. They come in and “bounce” straight out, which means they’re no good to you, right? Well, not necessarily. The critical thing is to think about it in relation to the page, and the traffic source. In many cases, someone who comes in, takes a look at a page, and leaves, may have had their (and possibly your) requirements fulfilled perfectly.

An example of why you need to consider the source/landing page combination is what may be the single biggest category of visitors to your company website: visitors coming from Google, looking for your contact details. Now, the chances are, they’ll have searched for your company name, and been directed to the home page. You may have the contact details right there on the home page, so they get what they need, and leave …and therefore “bounce”. Looking at the overall bounce rate figure from Google might therefore lead you to believe that Google traffic is really poor quality, when in fact the source and landing page combination was delivering perfectly.

Most companies don’t have their contact details on the home page, however, so the biggest category of Google visitors will have to click through to the “About Us” or “Contact” pages. In that case, your bounce rate will be really low. This makes Google traffic look really great, when in fact all that’s happening is that Google is sending people to the wrong page.

I run many AdWords campaigns where the bounce rate can be 80% or more. You might think this means that a large percentage of the people being attracted to the site are finding it’s not what they wanted. What a waste. Hang on a minute though; AdWords allows you to send people to exactly the right page on your site, and it’s quite possible that the page concerned has all the information you’re trying to give them. Indeed, I’d suggest that’s just what a good landing page should do! So the bounce rate includes everyone who found the site wasn’t what they wanted, plus everyone who found it was exactly what they did want. It’s just the total of the best visitors and the worst ones: a useless figure in isolation.

Bounce rate comes from a time when the whole object of getting visitors to your website was to get them to look around a lot, and when sophisticated analysis of what they were doing wasn’t available. Nowadays we’ve gone beyond that. It only makes sense in like-for-like exercises, such as when you’re comparing the performance of the same advert on different sites. But even then, you should be measuring much more sophisticated conversions. Unless you really think you’ve identified a source/landing page combination where a bouncing visitor can only be a bad thing, I would ignore it.

2 thoughts on “Why you should ignore the “Bounce Rate” column”

  1. High bounce rate indicates high user prominence. I felt before reading your article that having minimal mount of bounce rate is good. But now i feel high bounce rate which indicates both user stratification and not satisfactions.

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