You’ve seen it on your analytics reportsbounce rate; but is it something you should track? The answer is, “it’s complicated.” Bounce rate is important to many, there’s no question. What is it that makes it such a critical metric for some? Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigates away from the site after viewing only one page. Meaning, a visitor clicks to enter the site, look just at that page, then close the tab/leave the site, regardless of how long they’re on site. Simple right?

Often times, too much focus is placed on “improving bounce rate” without really knowing what the cause and measurement of the bounces are, creating a false metric to report on as part of a “business goal.”

Hard Bounce vs. Soft Bounce

There are hard bounces, and there are soft bounces. A hard bounce is pretty obvious, it occurs when a visitor enters the site and quickly departs after a few seconds. A soft bounce, is not so easily defined there leaving room for interpretation. A soft bounce gets its value from the visitor that opens the page, then leaves the page open for a period of time, and then at some point leaves the site.

For example, maybe you run a business that has a lot of phone transactions. Someone searches your phone number, they click on your info page in the search engine results page (SERP), call your business, make a purchase over the phone, hang up, and close the tab. They 100% did what was expected, but Google considers that a bounce. It’s a soft bounce, but a bounce none the less. Was that a bad interaction for you or your site?

Alternately, someone searches for the product you sell. They see the exact product page on the SERP and click through to your site. They spend 10 minutes reading about your version of the product, they decide to call the number on the page and make the purchase over the phone. When they are done, they close the tab. Google considers this a bounce as well – another soft bounce.

While both of these scenarios are positive and very common, one could hypothesize many different scenarios revolving around blog posts, product reviews, contact information and probably a lot of other positive-uses that result in the same result, a soft bounce.

So how do you sort out bounce rate?

  • Create custom secondary segments involving time on page or even the type of page that was visited. These will give you a more accurate representation of your bounce rate. This is also a good place to mention that your other metrics, specifically Time On Site, does not include ‘bounced’ visitors in its TOS average. TOS needs to be triggered by a second click – if there is no second click that ever occurs, it is not included. Those soft bounces described above that were on the page for 10 minutes? Not included in TOS.
  • Take a step back and examine how the average user and average organic searcher use your site. Take stock on why you’re tracking bounce rate.
    • Analyze what a common user might do on your site according to how you want them to move about.
    • Review page traffic. Do high bouncing pages have a call to action? Do high bouncing pages have a reason to actually visit a second page?
    • Once you’ve answered all these questions, start to develop a plan to get me to move to different pages on your site (hint: internal linking!!).
  • Review your top referral sources and take note of the bounce rates generated by users from various sources. Not all sources are created equal.
    • Review top sources and look for commonalities to determine which referrer is sending more qualified traffic by reviewing not only bounce rates, but also time on-site, pageviews and conversions.
    • Are these referral sources and users representative of who you want to target and is that reflected in high or low bounce rates?
    • Wash, rinse, repeat. Continue your analytics geekout session to determine if you can go attract more visitors as those defined above.

In conclusion, bounce rate is not a metric to be taken at face value. To state that a site performs poorly based solely on bounce rate is a fallacy and is something your marketing team needs to better understand. Dig deeper into the data, but not too far. Take our recommendations listed above and start to poke around 1 to 2 layers beyond just your general overview and you will see that’s where bounce rate becomes a more powerful metric.

kissmetrics bounce rate infographic

Infographic Source: Kissmetrics