The Many Things You Can Learn From Bounce Rate

At the age of 58, my mother started a small business in the travel industry, booking curated travel experiences for tourists in South Africa. And what’s the first thing you do upon striking out to forge a customer base? Yup, you set up a website.

Fast forward a couple years and her business, African Stay, is thriving. It’s mostly a referral based business. For my mum, her website is a resource to help clients find a starting point for their adventure. Are they interested in Johannesburg nightlife, or is a week glamping in the bush the better option? Seriously, glamping is totally a word!

In January, Ma had her site redesigned and Damian, her web guy, set up Google Analytics. On day two, she called me:

“Hey Deanie (sigh, she’s always called me Deanie…), I’ve been looking at Google Analytics. What is a bounce rate?”

My response was something along the lines of “blah blah, customers who come to your site and leave right away, blah blah.”

“Okay Deanie (I could practically hear her rolling her eyes), so, is my bounce rate good? And why do I need to know this?”

Ma, this one’s for you:

Just What Is Bounce Rate?

Ok, quick ’n dirty description is that bounce rate refers to visitors who come to your website and leave pretty much right away. The assumption is they didn’t really like what they saw and turned right around, kinda like if you walked into a tough biker bar but expected the ballet.

There is one major caveat here though… Google Analytics calculates bounce rate as single page sessions in which the visitor leaves without taking any actions on the site.

The implications here suck for bloggers in which often, readers come, read, see the ads, increase your visitor count, don’t take action and leave. So, if you’re a blogger, be prepared for high bounce rates.

What Is A Good Bounce Rate?

Quick Sprout has an infographic with some average bounce rates. I believe it’s better to benchmark against yourself. Aim to improve whatever your bounce rate is until you’re satisfied with it. You’ll always have a bounce rate but if you get it down to a level you’re OK with, along with a conversion rate you’re delighted with, then move on to other analytical opportunities.

High Bounce Rates Can Show Bad Landings

This is pretty much the most direct insight from a high bounce rate. A high bounce rate shows that visitors ain’t finding what they’re looking for. This matters most for search results, both paid and organic.

A high bounce rate for organic search shows that while your site is popping up in the search results for certain keywords, the intention of the searcher is different. For my mother’s site, this occurred when people were searching for “Mining in Africa” related queries but finding my mother’s site which offered tours which included old mines from Johannesburg’s early days. The searchers wanted investment opportunities whereas my mother was offering history lessons and museums.

With paid search, a high bounce rate shows you need to work on either your landing page or your keywords. Stat! Your ad might be super effective at getting clicks but if it’s misleading (unintentionally, of course), you’ll see a high bounce rate.

If your ad offers historical tours of Jozi (that’s what the locals call Johannesburg), and your clicker is a history buff with a burning passion for old mining equipment, yet when they land on your site, they get to a page that shows safaris and hiking in Cape Town, well, they’ll probably wander off quickly. Pow! High bounce rate.

The solution:

Make sure that people visiting your site find what they’re looking for right away. Landing pages for paid ads is a must. That’s a whole topic in and of itself but at least you know what to look for next.

Your Bounce Rate Can Warn You Of Technical Issues

This one’s my fave! Let’s dive into a hypothetical story here: a site looks fantastic and has a bounce rate you’re comfy with. But there’s this one page with a high bounce rate, much higher than other pages on your site that are similar. That’s like having your own little virtual canary twittering on about warnings and whatnot. You have just found a great opportunity to improve a little.

The solution:

The likeliest culprit here is slow loading content. It could be you have images that are taking too long to load for a mobile visitor. Sometimes it’s heavy Javascript that, while super fancy and interactive, is slowing down the page. Either way, it’s easy to test and easy to solve by minimizing the file size (of the picture or the Javascript file).

Mobile Optimization Lessons From Bounce Rates

I strongly recommend diving into your mobile traffic behavior. Even at home, I often use my phone or tablet to browse the web. So, when having a cup of tea, and idly surfing the web, my experience might be very different than if I were to move over to my desk and hop onto my desktop computer.

Considering that as of April 21st, 2015, Google’s search rankings on mobile are strongly influenced by mobile friendly sites, it’s absolutely worth monitoring your mobile audience’s behavior. Are you seeing differences in bounce rate between mobile and desktop? If so, it’s time for action!

The solution:

Just like above, slow loading content could be an issue. However, another very common cause of high bounce rates is a site that isn’t mobile friendly. Your visitors don’t like navigating a busy desktop-centric design on a tiny screen any more than you do. If you’re losing mobile visitors where desktop visitors stick around, then congratulations! You’ve just found a really neat opportunity.

Bounce Rate Measures Quality Of Traffic

This is an oft overlooked lesson you can learn from your bounce rate. Sometimes, bounce rate isn’t something you need to improve. Sometimes, it’s an indicator that you’re spending too much time on a particular channel that just isn’t valuable for you.

Avinash Kaushik mentions this in an detailed post on his blog, Occam’s Razor.

If my mum’s site, which deals in high end, and yes, kinda pricey tours, gets referrals from a budget travel site, it’s likely there will be a high bounce rate. However, the solution in this instance is not to improve her site. Nor would it be to change her business model (her current one is doing great). It’s simply indicative that the referrer isn’t sending quality traffic her way. If my mother was thinking of advertising with them, she now knows it’s the wrong audience.

When Is A High Bounce Rate OK?

My final point in all this is that sometimes a high bounce rate is alright. Specifically, I’m talking about bloggers. Say you had a post that rocked your readers’ world and they shared it far and wide. You might see a spike in traffic but also a high bounce rate.

Don’t lose sleep over it. Like I mentioned way up top, this is because Google Analytics measures bounce rate as single page session with no interactions. In real life terms, this is exactly the same as reading a blog post, enjoying it, and closing the window to go back to your job, right before the boss walks by.

The solution:

If you’re a blogger, you may want to dig into other cool metrics like recency and frequency. These are metrics that can show engagement in a different way. These metrics show you if people are coming back, and how often.

If the bounce rate does bug you, try to encourage new visitors to dive deeper by adding in links to related posts or inviting visitors to subscribe to a newsletter.

Bounce Rate Is A Positive, Not A Negative

In closing, bounce rate can feel like bad news but it’s actually a really great metric. Bounce rate is the friend who tells you that you have a booger. It may be embarrassing, but in the end, you appreciate their honesty and it’s way better to have a clean nose. Right?