Why Site Wide Bounce Rate Is a Useless Metric
The average speed of a vehicle in the United States is 32 mph. This is obviously a really worthless statistic and you’re probably mad that you just wasted precious time reading it when you could have been reading the latest BuzzFeed article, which probably has a title like “50 Photos of Bill Clinton’s Forehead.”
The reason I bring it up, however, is because my coworker and third favorite Perini, Zack, used the statistic as an analogy for site wide bounce rate—without context, they’re both equally useless.
When you log into Google Analytics—chances are, your site wide bounce rate is staring at you from your overview report. You’ve probably wondered “what is a good bounce rate?” on more than one occasion, and whether your site has an above average or below average bounce rate.
There are several problems with this type of thinking, and with using this metric as any type of measurement of your website’s success in general.
How Does Google Measure Bounce Rate?
The first step in realizing why site wide bounce rate is a useless metric in a vacuum is to consider how Google measures bounce rate. According to Google, “bounce rate is the percentage of visits that go only one page before exiting a site.” If everyone who visits a particular page on your site leaves without visiting another page, that page has a 100 percent bounce rate.
Web analytics “guru” Avinash Kaushik defines a bounce as, “I came; I puked, and I left.” The implication is that high bounce rates are bad—that the content on your site didn’t match what the visitor was looking for so they left without viewing another page.
What Is a Good Bounce vs. a Bad Bounce?
Zack made a good point here—Google Analytics doesn’t differentiate between a good bounce and a bad bounce. With a bad bounce, the user probably landed on your page, decided it wasn’t for them, and clicked the back button—I imagine this is what happens for most guys who agree to go on a date with me (too bad the real world doesn’t have a back button).
With a good bounce, a user probably landed on your page, decided to stay awhile and read your content, found the answer to the question they had, and left. It’s possible they even picked up the phone and called you afterwards (this is exactly what doesn’t happen for most guys who agree to go on a date with me). If you get a significant amount of leads via phone (as opposed to via Web form submissions), your bounce rate is not telling you the whole picture.
Clearly, there’s such a thing as a good bounce and a bad bounce. The difference between them is what SEO nerds refer to as “dwell time.” According to Moz, “Dwell time, in a sense, is an amalgam of bounce rate and time-on-site metrics – it measures how long it takes for someone to return to a SERP after clicking on a result (and it can be measured directly from the search engine’s own data).”
You won’t find dwell time in your Analytics profile, but some speculate as to whether or not search engines use this metric for ranking Web pages.
Either way, this is just another demonstration that bounce rate doesn’t tell you the whole story when it comes to whether or not your content is well geared towards your target audience.
For more accurate reporting, another way to distinguish between good bounces and bad bounces is to set up event tracking in Google Analytics. There are a lot of different components you can set up with event tracking (Analytics allows you define up to five components for each event), but for the sake of good bounces, you’re going to want to track time on site. For example, you could use event tracking to put a timer on your site so that a visit longer than 20 seconds is not a bounce.
Bounce Rate by Landing Page
If you’re currently investing time and resources into content marketing for your business, you likely have a wide array of service pages, geo-targeted service pages, blog posts, and FAQ-type content on your site. These pages likely target a variety of head keywords and long tail keywords related to your industry and service area.
Rather than looking at site wide bounce rate, it’s more useful to look at bounce rate by landing page. Once again, this number as a stand-alone metric isn’t worth much, but when you compare it across similarly categorized landing pages, you can start to figure out which pages are performing well and which are under performing.
When making your categories, think of pages that function similarly. For example, blog posts and FAQs—which most likely target long tail keywords—can probably go in the same category. For content like this, you can expect it to have a higher bouncer rate than to pages that are hyper-targeted to your service and service areas. For portfolio pages or gallery pages, you can expect these to have a much lower bounce rate.
By anticipating where your bounce rate should rise and drop across your content categories, bounce rate becomes a much more valuable metric. On the other hand, site wide bounce rate is only useful when compared to the site wide bounce rates of other websites within a similar niche. Similarly—if we go back to the average vehicle speed analogy—the 32 mph because more valuable when we compare it state by state to see which states are faster on average, or examine the average speed compared to the speed limit.
Clients always seem concerned with bounce rate, but I imagine most of them don’t know what exit rate is. According to Google,
“For all pageviews to the page, the exit rate is the percentage that were the last in the session. For all sessions that start with the page, bounce rate is the percentage that were the only one of the session. The bounce rate calculation for a page is based only on visits that start with that page. “
So while your bounce rate can (somewhat) tell you how well-targeted your content is based on whether or not someone navigates to another page, your exit rate can tell you the same thing internally. For example, if a bunch of visitors enter your site through your homepage, navigate to your gallery, then leave your site, this could be an indicator that you need to better optimize your gallery page.
Path Page Data
I’m not in love with the Visitors Flow chart in analytics. It kind of reminds me of what a flow chart of fraternity/sorority hookups would look like.
Or rather, it kind of reminds me of this traffic signal:
However, I get why this is valuable. According to Google, Visitors Flow lets you “see whether those visitors are following the paths through your site that you want them to, whether they’re visiting your goal pages in sufficient numbers, and where they’re leaving your site.”
Rather than simply focusing on bounce rate, consider the following:
- Track path page data backwards from a conversion
- Track path page data forwards from a landing page
- Compare your percent of exits vs. entrances
Too Much Data for You?
As you can see, there are way better metrics to use than site wide bounce rate to determine whether your website performs optimally. Ultimately, Google Analytics offers more data than most business owners know what to do with (I talk a lot about this in one of my older posts, “Why Should I Pay You to Analyze My Data?”). If you’re looking for tangible, actionable takeaways from your Analytics data, we can help.
At Blue Corona, we offer web analytics and tracking services to help you get more qualified visitors to your website and convert more visitors into leads and sales. Give us a call.
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