Understanding and Improving your Bounce Rate in 2013


This year I feel like I have had more conversations regarding bounce rate than any other Google Analytics metric and I am positive that people’s enthusiasm to talk of this topic will continue well into 2013 and beyond. The interesting thing is that it seems people often misinterpret bounce rate in a variety of different ways and all too often context is overlooked during data analysis – paving the way for some pretty inaccurate conclusions. So, with this in mind, my CRO tip for 2013 is to ensure that you take the time to interpret bounce rates carefully in order to determine the areas of your site most in need of some CRO love. Don’t panic at the sight of a high bounce rate; instead carefully consider what is influencing this in order to avoid channeling resources into addressing pages which are, in fact, fine as they are.

What is meant by bounce rate?

Whilst it may seem obvious to SEO and CRO experts, I must first be clear on exactly what is meant by the term bounce rate. By Google’s definition Bounce Rate is: “the percentage of single-page visits” or, in other words the percentage of people who left the site from the page in which they entered. The equation used to calculate bounce rate is as follows:

Rb = (Tv/Te)

Rb = Bounce Rate

Tv = Total number of visitors viewing one page only

Te = Total entries to the page

Google Analytics genius Avinash Kaushik also brilliantly describes bounce rate from the visitors’ perspective with the eloquent phrase: “I came, I puked, I left.” And this is not such a bad description – in some cases! However, before becoming preoccupied with the bounce rate of your site, it is worth considering the many factors which can affect this metric and why a high bounce rate is not always a negative thing.  This will allow us all to spend less time pondering the question WHY DON’T THEY LIKE IT? and more time dedicated to better understanding visitors’ behaviour.

People may bounce from a landing page via many different routes:

  • The user clicks a link on the page which takes them to another site – This could actually be a positive thing e.g. if the link takes them to a partner site or to some content which you want them to view.
  • The user found the information they wanted, such as a phone number or an article on your blog, they got the information they desired and left (this is a positive result and thus phone tracking should be implemented and share functions on blog content could be tracked as a goal)
  • They do nothing and their session times out (after 30 minutes) – This may be the result of having multiple tabs open and getting preoccupied. This does not necessarily reflect badly on the site.
  • They close the entire browser – This may indicate that the user has run out of time online altogether.
  • They type a new URL into the address bar and leave – Behaviour which is more likely to imply that the site did not meet the visitors expectations.
  • They simply hit the back button :(

So, out of five routes resulting in a bounced visit, only two strongly indicate that the site did not meet the user’s requirements and even these are not conclusive. So have these influences in mind when scrutinising your data. The bounce rate DOES NOT represent the number of visitors who instantly reach for the back button.

It is also important to put your bounce rate into context by investigating the average industry bounce rate. Take the goal of your website as well as the individual objectives of each page into consideration when making comparisons. In looking at how your site compares, you may find that it does not fare so badly.

Industry Averages (via Google Analytics):

  • Retail Sites= avg. 20-40%
  • Lead Generation = avg. 30-50%
  • Content Websites = 40-60%
  • Blogs = 70-98%

Average Website Bounce Rate= 40.5%

Additionally, certain types of pages are more likely to have a higher bounce rate than others simply because of the nature of the content. A contact form for example, may have a high bounce rate because users are looking for the business contact details, or a checkout page may have a high number of visitors bouncing off simply because it is not an optimum landing page. However, if users are exiting the site at pages such as these, after having spent some time browsing the site, this more strongly indicates that the page is in need of some conversion optimisation.

How to improve your bounce rate

So, once you’ve examined your data carefully, taking the above factors into consideration, how do you go about improving the bounce rates of pages which should be performing better?

  • Look at the individual page and try to empathise with the user; ask yourself what would this page tell me about the site if I had never visited it before?
  • For a more objective viewpoint – listen to what your customers’ want. Use conversion tools such as Qualaroo and 4Q Survey in order to determine what each page is lacking, then – most importantly – listen and attend to this feedback
  • Try to streamline the conversion path as much as possible. Make the checkout/sign up process as quick and simple as you can by trying to cut out anything that is not absolutely necessary
  • Have clear CTAs so the user knows what they need to do next in the process, if you have no call to action, the user has to work it out for themselves, or find a competitor who makes it clearer!
  • Make the site search function obvious and easily accessible so that even if the visitor cannot find what they are looking for straight away, they are at least invited to explore the site further

Ultimately, whilst there are many CRO best practices which will help to lower the bounce rate of areas in need of improvement, just remember not to focus on this metric too heavily. There are many other metrics to consider alongside bounce rate, such as the average time visitors spend on particular pages, which can give a better insight into the thought behind consumer actions. Also, keep in mind that not all users will be ready or willing to convert straight away. Therefore, even the most user-friendly and engaging websites will still have a percentage of users which bounce straight off. This is where purchase incentives (free delivery, discount code, sale price countdowns) come into effect – when tested of course.

Now you have a clear understanding of bounce rate, set-up some usability tests using my tips and watch that bounce rate fall, which in turn will have a positive impact on conversion.


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