Data-driven Marketing

Debunking the Bounce Rate Myth

May 11, 2021

What’s in a bounce rate? Long hailed as a key metric, the bounce rate in digital marketing is overrated. What does the bounce rate alone really tell you? What can you tell from a high bounce rate? While the bounce rate is indicative of how many people left your site after visiting only one page, it’s an incomplete and imperfect metric. Does what the bounce rate tells you provide true insight? What is a “good bounce rate”? Is there any such thing? Clearly, the bounce rate concept is also much talked about but misunderstood. Let’s clear some of the misunderstandings up and get to the true value of the bounce rate.

Understanding the bounce rate

Make no mistake: the bounce rate has a place in the overall picture. It just cannot be understood as a standalone metric. It’s not as simple as that. Let’s dive into what you need to know about how to evaluate the bounce rate in different levels of the funnel. 

First things first: what is a bounce rate? According to Google’s definition, a bounce is a single-page session on your site, and the bounce rate in Google Analytics is the percentage of sessions with only one page view compared to the total page views (for that particular page). Thus, a user opening only one page on your site and then leaving without taking any other actions during that session will only trigger a single request to the Google Analytics server. 

It’s also important to understand the difference between the bounce rate versus exit rate, as these metrics feature in Google Analytics and cause some misunderstandings in their interpretation. A bounce rate for a page is based only on sessions that start with that page (which we might call a “landing page” because it’s the first page the user sees), and for all sessions that start with that page, the bounce rate is the percentage of those that were the only one of the session. The exit rate is the percentage that was the last in the session. The user may have clicked any number of different pages on your site, and the exit rate captures that last touchpoint/page in the journey. These metrics do not measure the same thing but sometimes are incorrectly used interchangeably. 

The misleading path of evaluating the bounce

All of this should make clear that all users (whether they read the page content or article or not) who don’t proceed onto other pages on the website are considered bounces. But if a user actually reads the article and then leaves, we cannot say for certain that this was a “bad bounce”. The goal of having the user see/read with some content, even if it was only one page, was accomplished. Sure, we would like the user to stick around and look at more of our content, but we can’t tell from a basic bounce rate whether we’ve succeeded in planting a seed, so we can’t decide that a single-page bounce is purely negative. 

Bounce rate: Piece of the puzzle, not the full picture

While standard approaches suggest that a high bounce rate means that your site or content isn’t engaging enough, it isn’t necessarily the right conclusion. If a visitor leaves your site right away without completing any other actions, the bounce rate only gives you that basic information. It doesn’t tell you whether a user, looking at one single page, immediately found what they were looking for and left. It doesn’t tell you whether you’ve accomplished your content goal for that page. At best, the bounce rate gives you one piece of a puzzle that you still need to put together with other information to get a full picture.

Luckily, with the capabilities currently available using a variety of data and techniques, you can go beyond the bounce rate, and begin to dive into other critical information that will complete the picture. 

The bounce rate: Beyond the page

From a slightly more technical point of view, the bounce rate is a page-level metric, which means we need to scrutinize the page itself. Google Analytics, for example, provides an almost endless list of different metrics one can consider, but without a context, they are fairly meaningless. When we say that something, including the bounce rate, is a page-level metric, this means it only applies to dimensions on a single, specific page. Other metrics are session-level, meaning that the metrics apply to an entire session. This can be confusing, especially if you’re trying to interpret these Google Analytics data on your own. 

What should be the takeaway for the purposes of this article is that we need to examine the single page the user has reached before leaving our site and discover what more we might be able to do, for example, in terms of acquisition tactics and campaigns.

Digital Marketing Audit

Trounce the bounce: Create opportunities for stickiness

Once we surrender our attachment to assigning outsized importance to the bounce rate, we can start to look at bounces as opportunities to seize. That is, what can we do with the page a user just left to make it more engaging and sticky? For web content and blog articles, there are usually multiple opportunities to improve them and make them better serve their purpose.

For example, here are some common, but easily resolved, issues and relatively quick fixes that can improve bounce rates, lead generation, and possibly even monetization efforts: 

  • Add links to other relevant articles in your blog or site content to drive users to more pages/content that could be of value to them.
  • Make other content, related articles, or blog categories immediately visible and linked on the page — on every page where this is possible. This could require adding a widget to the page that leads to related/same-category articles.
  • Ensure that there are very visible, clear, and decisive calls to action on every page. Invite the user to perform a specific action (that will hopefully benefit the user and be in line with what they are seeking). 
    • This could, for example, be a call-to-action banner at the bottom of every article. This method could lead to premium or high-value content that the user can download after providing their name and email, thus generating a lead through a freemium monetization model).
    • This could also be in-article CTAs, with sentences that invite the user to take a specific action, for example, “read an in-depth blog post on this topic here” or “find out how X customer used this method to boost sales” or even more generic “get in touch to learn more”.
  • In paid and sponsored campaigns, things become a bit trickier, but it’s still an aspect of the digital marketing approach that can be enhanced. By understanding the role of the bounce rate and when it matters, and when it doesn’t, we can see what’s important at each stage of a campaign, depending on campaign goals. 
    • For example, a sponsored blog post on a social channel like Facebook is designed to generate awareness and reach audiences that are not yet familiar with your brand. These sponsored posts will boost awareness, as they are meant to do, but they will always have an initially high bounce rate because these are top-of-funnel general awareness posts. Your content has achieved the goal you set in that it attracted eyes/readers, regardless of whether they immediately took any further action. 
    • Key to keep in mind, though: It’s a multi-step funnel, so it’s important to be patient: money spent on the awareness campaign is not wasted; it pays off in the deeper-funnel, more specific targeting because it is designed to be part of the multi-step funnel that uses the cookies generated in the initial awareness phase as audiences for retargeting. Users who bounce will be part of the retargeted audience, an approach that works very well.

You will never eliminate your bounce rate and instead should think of it as an indicator and a piece of a big-picture puzzle about what is working within your digital marketing strategy — and what isn’t. Believe us now when we tell you that you can stop caring so much about your site’s bounce rate. It may once have had a more significant meaning in looking at your metrics (because there were fewer to measure on), but it is no longer a meaningfully qualitative metric with which to measure. 

Get in touch with us to learn more about meaningful metrics and setting goals for your own successful data-driven marketing campaigns and strategies.