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Explaining metrics: what is a bounce rate?

One of the most commonly referred to metrics for websites is the bounce rate.

It does not refer to how round your visitors are.

It does, however, give you some relatively helpful information in terms of their behavior within your website.

The definition

The straight-up definition of a bounce rate is “the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page.”

For Google Analytics, it is determined by the total number of visits viewing one page only divided by the total entries to a page. So it’s the percentage of single page visits (or web sessions) for your website.

How people can bounce

Visitors to your site bounce away after leaving the site in some capacity. Say, for instance, you’re reading this blog post but I have this link here to a really cute cat gif. If you click that cat picture, you are technically bouncing away. You only affect my bounce rate, however, if this is the only page you’ve landed on within my site.

Essentially – if someone visits your site and doesn’t visit any other page within your site, it’s a bounce.

So for example, if you have a 70% bounce rate – it means that 70% of the people entering your site didn’t browse any further.

Which, on the bright side, it means that 30% of the people who visited did stick around and check out at least one other page within your site.

Bad bounce rates

Typically, the general consensus is that the higher your bounce rate is, the worse off you are overall.

It depends on the industry as to what numbers are good and bad. Just keep in mind that it is all relative.

What you do want to do is start tracking your bounce rate immediately by putting Google Analytics on your site (or some other tracking service) and figuring out your own baseline to improve on.

For example, you may have a bounce rate of 40% pretty consistently but then get an amazing mention in the press. Your traffic surges, but so does your bounce rate. Is it the worst thing ever? No. With more traffic, you’re bound to get a bump in your bounce rate as people come check out your site.

What you want to be doing with your other marketing is improving on that bounce rate indirectly by making sure you’re sending relevant traffic to your homepage in the first place.

Obsessing over any one specific metric doesn’t help anyone and your bounce rate also tells you how many people are sticking around, percentage-wise.

Ways to improve your bounce rate

There are a LOT of marketing experts out there who have suggestions on improving your bounce rate (and some who hilariously disregard their own advice). A few general things to keep in mind:

  • Test as many things as you can on your site over time – the pop-ups, design, layout, menu/navigation, SEO, all of the things. Keep testing and improving, per this blog post.
  • Make sure the words on your site are clear and relevant towards a) your organization and b) what you’re trying to accomplish from the site, especially if it’s a landing page. You’ll have different goals with your incoming traffic with a landing page versus a blog post versus your homepage, for example.
  • Enable all of your links open in a new window. It’s a small piece of HTML or a click of a button in WordPress that’ll naturally help minimize your bounce rate.
  • Bug a friend or family member to give you feedback on their experience with your site (aka frugal market research) or, if you have more money to throw at it, consider running a survey or working with a UX consulting firm for more advanced support.

Just remember: at the end of the day, a high bounce rate isn’t the end of the world. People can bounce away for many reasons – sometimes even to just make sure they come back to your site later. For example, a visitor coming to your site on mobile who closes it and comes back later on their desktop will be two separate visitors and that first visit will register as a bounce.

(Which may mean you need to improve your mobile experience but still – I know I’d always rather visit a website on my computer rather than look at it through my phone’s smaller screen).

Keep testing and tracking to figure out where your website fits in the grand scheme of things and how to keep improving your bounce rate but also other metrics in the process. Ultimately, this is just a number that at the end of the day, should support your larger, more important business and marketing goals.

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