What is your website telling you?
When companies who are looking to increase their online presence are presented with audience overview reports in Google Analytics, the bounce rate is the feature that they ask about almost invariably. It’s fairly simple to deduce what page views and visits mean, but the meaning of a bounce rate is still elusive. Yet despite this, the term ‘high bounce rate’ is universally dreaded.
But this all stems from a misconception about what the underlying catalysts of a bounce rate actually are. To somewhat lessen the spooky aura that hangs around the term, let’s strip it down to its bare parts:
What is a bounce rate?
Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors that leave a website (or “bounce” back to the search results or referring website) after viewing only one page on that site.
A bounce might be triggered by any number of events: Returning to search results, closing the browser, entering a new URL in the address bar, following an outbound link, staying inactive and timing out the session or reading the entirety of a page but not triggering any events, and then leaving.
And what is a good bounce rate?
But before you start worrying about having a high bounce rate, consider that “high” is a relative term. But it is still natural to ask, what is a good bounce rate? Here is an overview:
25% or lower: Something is probably broken
56-70%: Higher than normal, but could make sense depending on the website
70% or higher: Bad and/or something is probably broken
As you can see, the range for an exceptional bounce rate is in the 30 to 40 percent range with the average being between 40 and 55 percent. If it tips over 50 percent, it’s probably time to identify which user segments or content are driving the bounce rate up. However, even a bounce rate over 60% might not be bad. It all depends on the website.
Our first reaction when posed with a high bounce rate is negative. We want to know why our users aren’t drawn in by our site content, design, UX, etcetera. Luckily, most of us can rest easy because a bounce rate isn’t necessarily negative. Rather, your targeted and expected bounce rate should reflect the industry you operate in.
On a website that revolves around events, for example, visitors often want the time, date, location, and that’s it. The bounce rate on that website will most likely be at a higher percentage, which is fine, because the user’s needs are still being met.
In an online apparel store, however, visitors will probably shop around for a bit. The bounce rate there will ideally be lower. An upward trend is particularly alarming for ecommerce because when users leave the site too quickly, that almost certainly translates to lost sales.
Know your channels
Sometimes knowing the overall industry average bounce rate isn’t enough. You also have to consider the channels that drive traffic to your website. Google considers a few channels:
Social: visits from social platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn
Direct: visits where user went directly to the URL of page
Organic Search: visits received from organic (unpaid) search results
Paid Search: visits received from PPC (Pay-Per-Click) campaigns in search results
Email: visits from users clicking on links in emails
Referral: visits from users who had clicked on hyperlinks found on another site
Display: traffic from displayed advertising, such as banner ads
Knowing the differences in bounce rate between the various channels of your pages can help you pinpoint where to focus your improvement efforts. It can also help you avoid optimizing for site usability and content in an attempt to lower bounce rate when the real problem is the proper use of the channels available to you.
So how DO you approach your bounce rate?
You can start by setting your own starting point for comparisons. So instead of worrying about keeping up with companies that have unrealistically low bounce rates, set a realistic starting point for your website and work to improve it in relevant areas.
You must also take devices into consideration. Mobile users are more likely to bounce around quite frequently, so it should reasonably follow that any website with a large, growing percentage of mobile traffic will see a higher bounce rate. Tablets are not particularly predictable; sometimes they have a lower bounce rate than desktops, sometimes higher.
All in all…
It’s important to remember that the starting point of comparison for a “good” bounce rate will vary from site to site. You have to consider the industry in which you operate and thus the purpose of your content, the channels that form the origin of your website traffic and the devices on which your users access your page. While you should care about how you measure up, this must not necessarily be compared to other websites.