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Why ‘bounce rate’ is being retired

Not before time, the ‘bounce rate’ metric in Google Analytics is being retired, at least as a headline figure. Although it’s a useful thing to know for people who fully understand its implications, it has confused too many people over the years, and resulted in many website owners making bad decisions.

‘Bounce rate’ refers to the proportion of site visits that just take in one page. I guess the theory is that if a visitor takes a look, doesn’t do anything, and leaves, that’s unsatisfactory. But we can all think of situations where it would be just fine. Think of visitors who arrive from a search engine having asked what the maximum throughput of our Blue Widgets is. If the search engine and our website are doing their jobs, the visitors will arrive on the right page, get the answer they need, and leave.

It’d be just the same with someone wanting to look up our address on the website.

On the other hand, of course if we were aiming to attract visitors to our website and get them to explore our range, a ‘bounced’ visit would be a failure.

Despite what some SEO consultants have claimed over the years, ‘bounce rate’ data from Google Analytics is not used in search results ranking (indeed, no data from Google Analytics is). The metric is solely provided for us as website owners. And it can be useful, especially when comparing one page (or page design) with another, or investigating changes. We use a customised version of it for our Google Ads clients to measure the proportion of visitors from the adverts who don’t appear to engage with the landing page or the site. Keeping this low saves a lot of advertising budget, but as much as anything else, minimising ‘bounces’ can be about how closely we’ve linked the advertising message to what the page delivers.

However, ‘bounce rate’ is being given a back seat in the new Google Analytics 4, and I’ll discuss why (and what’s happening) in the next article.