Why high bounce rate doesn't mean your site is in trouble

Nov 25, 2013 · 7 min read

Day 96: Free Falling - Explored

Bounce rate is one of those parts of website analytics that is most often misinterpreted. Those who don't understand it tend to think high bounce rate always means a website is in trouble and low means it's doing great. They have no clue how people function and how web works.

Additionally bounce rate as a term is usually misunderstood. Therefore you are likely to find lots of information on how it's time to panic if your bounce rate is high and how to reduce it right now. How your website is too ugly or your content sucks. This might be the case, but there's much more to bounce rate than meets the eye.

Bounce rate doesn't mean what you think it means

Bounce rate is named to scare you. Well, I don't know if it was intentional, but it does sound worse than it is. When you hear the term bounce rate, do you believe it's all about those who came to a page on your website and bounced off right away? Don't worry, it doesn't.

In reality bounce rate counts a percentage of the visitors on your website who only viewed one page of it. So how does this differ from the definition above? They didn't bounce right off. Some of them did, but that will always happen. Many of them stayed on that page, read it through, perhaps spent a lot of time doing so, and then left. No bouncing, but floating.

Bounce rate doesn't really tell about how engaged people are with your content nor it tells how many visitors your site gets. It only tells what percentage of the visitors left the site after seeing only one page of it.

If your site's bounce rate is high AND the average time spent on the site is low, then it sounds like trouble. Which brings us to my next point.

Average bounce rate alone tells only a part of the story

When you go to your Google Analytics overview, there's a bunch of averages (of a certain time period) for you to see. One of them is the bounce rate. These averages are interesting, yet they don't tell really much of the performance of your website.

If your website had one visitor during the chosen time period, your bounce rate is either 100% or zero. That one person either viewed that one page or they took a look around.

I have actually seen websites with low visitor counts having the best bounce rates ever. However it doesn't mean the website has a very good performance, because the visitor count is terrible.

Looking only at the bounce rate and looking only at the average bounce rate tells you only part of the story. For instance looking at the bounce rates of different pages gives you much more detail about what's going on. And if you add the average time spent on that page to the pack, it gets even more interesting.

A blog post on your site is likely to have a high bounce rate. The readers came about, read the post and were done. My post about how Instagram is censoring hashtags is close to top of related Google searches. It gains lots of views day after day, week after week. It has an extremely high bounce rate too. What is interesting though is that in average people spend over 3 minutes on that page. That's a lot on web, you know.

Instagram users are frustrated and confused about the censorship thus they try to find out what the hell is going on. They search for the subject and find my post. And it gives them what they need: Confirmation that censorship happens and it happens to other people too. Some even write comments asking me further questions or voicing out their frustration about the subject.

There's also another factor that makes a change to the bounce rate. That's the devices used to reach your site. However well your site works on mobile, it's bounce rate seems to be likely to be higher on different sorts of phones than other devices.

Also if you look your statistics even closer you will notice that many of those high bounce rate cases are in-app views. This is because people click on links on Twitter and Facebook apps, read what there's to read and go back to the feed. In-app bounce rate is higher because it's very rare for someone who clicks a link on Twitter, Facebook or other apps alike to stick around browsing the said site. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the site. It tells more about the way people use these apps.

Good and bad bounce rate depends

There's no universal good or bad bounce rate. For a one page website the bounce rate is always 100%. For a web store a lower bounce rate tends to be good, cause it means people viewed through several products. Though if they didn't buy anything, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Different types of websites and pages on those sites have different bounce rates and they have different "good" and "bad" bounce rates. It depends on the type of content, the amount of in-site and outbound links (in my experience it doesn't really matter if they open in the same window or not) in the content and many many many other factors.

Blog posts and other articles tend to have a high bounce rate. If you think about it, you are also likely to visit an article you either found through a search or a link somewhere, read it and then move on. That will give it a high bounce rate, even if you did read the post through and take a time to think about it.

If you take a look at your own website's stats you might notice that certain pages have a higher bounce rate and other's (one of them is usually the front page) have much less bounces. It depends on what sort of a page it is and what sort of content it has.

As mentioned above the bounce rate also depends on the device used to reach the site. While mobile usage of web is getting up the mobile users also tend to have shorter concentration on what they browse. Smaller the screen, shorter the concentration. It takes effort to read stuff on the small screen.

The overall behavior of your website visitor(s) is much more interesting than the bounce rate itself. How did they come to the site? Where did those who didn't bounce go? Where did those who bounced go? Which pages have the highest bounce rates, which the lowest? Did the goals of your site get fulfilled and how often? How long did they stay, what did they do?

Reducing the high bounce rates

While the high bounce rate doesn't mean straight forward that there's anything wrong with your website, there are a couple of things you can try if things seem really gloomy. I highly recommend checking not only the average statistics of the site, but the more detailed stats of individual pages. Also don't only look at the bounce rate, see the visitor flow, which devices they used, how long they stayed on the individual page and as many other details as your mind can process.

If you still feel there's something you need to do to improve things (hey, there's always room for improvements), try these little "tricks":

  • Create links to other pages and posts on your site. Don't overdo it, use describing links and only go with the relevant ones. Spammy looking page is bad too.
  • Make sure the links in the content are underlined AND otherwise clearly visible. They need to have contrast and to be seen with a first glance of the content. I've seen too many fancy artsy sites that use grey or black links within black text. Often they aren't even underlined. No wonder no-one clicks them.
  • Use calls of action, but don't go nuts with them.
  • Fix the navigation. Cut down the excess, make it easy to find what the visitor of your site wants to find.
  • Write short blog posts. Oh yeah, shorter ones with links within them are more likely to lure visitors to check out more than the long ones. It's a funny thing, I know.
  • Produce new content constantly. Don't let overthinking kill your blog.
  • Make your blog more readable. Besides other details, use bigger content text size.
  • Fix the overall look of your site. Make it attractive and your site's visitors are more likely to stick around. Think how the ads are displayed on your site. Test it with different devices to see what works and what doesn't.
  • Try something new. Perhaps what you have been doing so far hasn't been working. Or it used to work, but doesn't anymore. Try new things, evolve.
  • Relax. Close the site, put your computer to sleep mode, take a walk, have a dinner, meditate. Mute the buzz and the fuzz. Come back with a refreshed mind.

Photo by Sodanie Chea under Creative Commons license.


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