What Does My Bounce Rate Really Mean?
As a modern day website optimizer I deal half of the day with decreasing bounce rates. It means:
I try to make people visiting websites stay longer on them or stay at all and click.
The bounce rate is a weird metric though. It doesn’t even have the same definition everywhere.
- Some people define a bounce rate as the percentage of visitors who leave a landing page immediately (that is often stay below 5 seconds on it) without performing any other action onsite.
- Others define the bounce rate metric as the percentage of visitors who have just visited one page on a given site and haven’t done anything else there.
I prefer the first definition, where the person comes, pukes and leaves immediately.It allows us to use bounces as a measure of quality or rather lack of it.
The other definition would mean that even in some cases perfectly content users would be considered worthless bounces.
What is a good bounce rate?
When considering one page visits a bounce a one-page microsite where all the information is condensed right there on the homepage would have a bounce rate of 100%.
Asides of that it depends on the site and other circumstances what a bounce rate means and what a actually a high bounce rate is. For instance
the ecommerce sites (aka online shops) I have optimized for had bounce rates around 20% – 25%.
Why? The search traffic they mainly received was very highly targeted. In short the people got exactly what they wanted and expected, why bounce then? On the other hand
the blogs I write for have seemingly abysmal bounce rates of 60 to 80%. Why?
Are the blogs so bad? No, people reading blogs are casual readers, especially when visiting from social media. They check a post out quickly and decide whether they want to read it or not.
At the end of the day depending on the context your bounce rate of 50% can be awful, OK or great.
What does your bounce rate really mean?
On the other hand the bounce rate is far from random and can give you crucial insights into your visitors expectations.
A lower bounce rate can improve both the conversion rate and the return on investment. When people bounce they can’t convert because they left already.
You really have to deal with bounce rates half of your day or your business will suffer.
What sense does it make to get thousands of visitors when 90% of them just create load on the server without even viewing your site?
There we are in the process of interpreting bounce rates. The right question is “what does my bounce rate really mean?
You can pose this question for each site and even on page level. A bounce on the homepgae is not the same as on a deep link etc.
Understanding the meaning of your bounce rate is the key to improving it. It shows you how you can improve it.
To start even earlier it helps to find out whether you really need to improve it in the particular case.
Instead you could even block some traffic sources or remove a page that just creates unnecessary load.
Find out what your visitors actually want
1) First determine your page or site type and its purpose:
- Is your site a one-page-wonder like the microsite above or like Seth Godin’s blog where you end up happy after reading one of his posts?
- Is you site an ecommerce site aka online shop where you actually sell stuff on the same domain (not redirecting to a third party shopping cart)?
- Is your site a news site or blog or other type of site where people seek information from it instead of regarding it as the end of their current quest?
2) Then find out what kind of queries lead to your site? Search engines are used mostly for thre kinds of queries:
- navigational ones (people type [amazon], [facebook] etc. in the browser address bar or search input)
- informational ones (people seek general or specific information on a given subject)
- commercial ones (people want to buy a product or us a service and who are informed already about it)
Depending on the query type most of the search users who find you use your bounce rate will differ significantly.
Navigational queries have often the lowest bounce rates as long as the people find what they seek.
In case you search for Facebook you want to end up on it when you type it. So Facebook has probably a very low bounce rate from these queries.
One of my blogs ranks very high for Facebook and I get lots of people who search for Facebook on it. Most of them bonce of course.
Commercial queries have a low bounce rate in case the people really find the product or service they are after. In case it’s not 20% you may want to check whether the products you are selling are the ones people want to pay for in the first place.
Informational queries lead the most fickle users to your site. They often do not even know exactly if they really search for what you write about.
There are often misunderstandings when queries do not reflect the users intent at all.
For instance people searching for SEM do not necessarily seek search engine marketing advice but instead they may be interested in scanning electron microscopy.
3) After that think about the ways you want your people act on your site, do you really want them to stay long and read lots of pages or do you prefer a quick conversion?
Michael Gray of Graywolf SEO indeed noted how for affiliate sites a click on the affiliate link is a bounce in a sense but it’s also a conversion of course.
That’s true, a visitor who finds the product you recommend as an affiliate and clicks on the affiliate link has been converted.
In contrast a news site that earns money by ad impressions wants you to stay onsite as possible and to reload or click as often as you can.
That’s why image galleries on such sites tend to show only one image per page. They want you to see 10 ads instead of one.
Advance in the right direction
Now that you know all these things you can start improving your bounce rate or you can focus on other parts of advanced onsite SEO.
You can try to rank for more specific terms instead of the broad industry terms. Ranking for “seo” may bring loads of traffic but “local seo for travel” might be more effective at retaining visitors.
You can add commercial keyword modifiers to make the purpose of your site clear so that people who just seek information don’t visit at all.
A very broad keyword like [seo] might lead lots of people to your site who just want to find out what it is in the first place.
A more specific key phrase like [seo services new york] might bring you both clients and people from your area who are more willing to deal with a local service provider.
Branding efforts beyond old school SEO might make people more aware of your brand.
By establishing a brand you are making people search for it next time (aka using a navigational query) and not bounce again in contrast to generic terms like [seo services new york].
Don’t forget to ask yourself: What does my bounce rate really mean before trying to improve it. When it’s not broken don’t fix it. In all other cases improve your site quality.
Last updated: March 26th, 2018: clarified the examples in the last paragraph and added more line breaks.
Updated: November 2nd, 2017. Changed the images. Added subheadings and white space. Clarified some paragraphs.
Bounce rates can be rather annoying I have to say. Like you said, a lot of it depend on the type of website you’re running.
For instance, when my blog didn’t have a brief summary on the homepage, I had a higher bounce rate, but when I started making summaries for my blog posts, my bounce rate reduced. I believe this was based on the fact that people actually had to click on the link to read the post, where as in the past they literally just read it and left, which was recorded as a bounce.
All in all, it’s a learning stage…
that’s a great example for the sometimes questionable value of the bounce rate metric. I mean is it really better to force people to click to get a lower bounce rate?
In this case it’s less user friendly then as I guess you prefer to read a post right where you land without having to click again.
GREAT Article! Some really good information. Bounce rate is always tricky especially when trying to discuss with SEO clients.
Mike: Yes, indeed. Just yesterday I had to explain a client an actual rise in bounce rate which was due to more generic search traffic from my SEO efforts. Before they got mostly branded searches (navigational ones). This has inspired the post here.
Good food for thought. Thanks for bringing it up. Two things to add:
1) You said, “That’s why image galleries on such sites tend to show only one image per page. They want you to see 10 ads instead of one.” That’s true but it’s also a catch 22. That is, annoy the visitor with that tactic and you’ll have one less visitor to show ads to. Trouble arises on sites where the UX is pro-site’s needs, and anti-visitor expectations. A UX can at times favor the site but one must be very aware of when that line is being crossed, why and the repercussions.
2) Maybe I’m overstating it but concerns about bounce rate strike me as a myth. No doubt it can be entertaining to watch, and occasionally offer insights. But when resources are finite I can think of more important things to worry about and more essential measurements to obsessive over, tweak about, etc. I’m not dismissing bounce rate as a metric. I’m simply saying that there’s probably too much obsession over it (unless of course you’re paying for hosting by the visit).
Hey CA, yes, “one” is very true, I hate the poor user experience of having to click ten times, I rarely do. Scrolling is much better but can lead to higher load times.
Two: Yeah, you could easily dismiss bounce rate in favor of conversions or ROI, but people who bounce don’t convert usually and they just cost you money (no ROI at all). Thus you really have to care about bounce rate.
Do you have a phone number on your site? If so, do you have call tracking in place? For some of my clients, when we added call tracking, we discovered the high bounce rate was actually an illusion- 2 out of 3 conversions were coming from people calling the phone number, then leaving the site.
Do you have a contact form that loads in an AJAX window? Bounce rates are an illusion on those sites as well.
If I increase your site traffic by 60% organically, and your profit revenue by 30%, I don’t care if your bounce rate went up, initially. Sure, if I’ve got a budget to work on conversion optimization testing, I’d want to test things there. But it’s much less important.
And a low bounce rate (and a high time-on-site) could very well mean people are having a harder time finding what they want after a search, rather than being taken to the right page the first time.
2) Agreed. If it’s PPC then a bounce can be costly. That said a good landing page should be pretty self-contained, no? That is, more clicks “in” could be a bad sign (which you kinda hinted at already). The exception here being e-comm. If we’re PPC’ing to get a buy, then damn it, we want a buy! :)
That said, I believe that too often the client/site’s expectation is too high. The internet is the ultimate window shopping machine (and time killer). Every visit is not going to convert, is it?
Which reminds me, am I the only one who finds Google’s 30 day window on AdWords conversions far too short? I can visit a site today and maybe not pull the trigger for 60 or even 90 days. But that’s not counted? Speaking for myself, short of toilet paper, most purchase cycles are greater than 30 days.
Finally, I’d like to recommend more sites make use of a share feature. After all, we have become a share (if not exhibitionist) culture. If you paid for a click (or even if it’s free) and the new visitor sees something they like shouldn’t it be easy for them to share that with their like minded friends? In theory, some added traffic from alone can increase PPC ROI. Yet there are still plenty of sites without AddThis, etc. Why?
It’s a good point on the images 1 per page. More and more sites use that technique and to be honest they are sites I frequent less and less. I can understand 15 years ago with no broadband but not now guys!!
In terms of blogs, I think we also have a wider variety of traffic? For instance we may only have 20% of traffic via search engines and much more through social media avenues.
Getting someone to click on your link is all about a compelling title, but a compelling title is no use if your content doesn’t grab the user in the first sentence. Think beyond the title…
Yes bounce rate is hard to target, what is triggering it could be a number of things, all which are unique to the type of site you are running. Regardless of the type of site, you should always keep in mind the following things, making sure your site is user friendly, easy to navigate will keep your bounce rate low, and ensuring you have great content that is of value to readers will also keep the bounce rate down. In the end, is your bottom line goal being met?
This is really a great article which is very helpful to get perfect idea about bounce rate. I think that the title is not perfect for this article though. It should reflect the topic of the post better.
Bounce rate is only one of the parameters for generating leads. What matters is sales or results through your site. In some cases, people need to research more, in others they don’t. So bounce rate varies accordingly.
No need to praise, the others before me did that and I am sure you know very well how good and informative this article is, anyway, great job.
In my case it’s all about the first impression, I have measured bounce rates on my home page and I can tell the difference and aim for a good bounce rate, a lower one very simply. you see my blog has a n average bounce rate below 25%, on some days it goes below 10%, so my readers are interested in what I have to say.
Like most I have a specific blog revolving on a certain topic, not a broad one, so people visiting my blog want to learn about SEO. Whenever I write an offbeat post my bounce rate jumps high, which is a great metric for me, but I simply can’t keep up writing only SEO posts, so I decided to live with that. On the other hand it just affirmed what you said in the post, my landing page is my homepage, most queries are well targeted and people wanting information can find it there so they stay to read more. The average person staying on the site approximately 9 minutes. Which will increase over time. On the other hand, my domain site has a bounce rate of 70%, and i still can’t figure out what to do with it except the design change which will be over in a week or so. I hope that at least lower the bounce rate a little!
Sorry for the long comment :)
I know after working in SEO for 2 years that its the most important part of your Website Analytic’s. You need to keep visitors on your website as long as possible – which can be achieved in many ways – costing various budgets. No matter how your visitor gets to your site you need to keep them there!
I understand the need to have a single definition for “bounce rate” but in the absence of such a standard definition, I go with Google’s definition since I use Google Analytics.
At last I know! people kept telling me my bounce rate was wrong! I now know for sure it’s correct, excellent, thanks alot!
Why is the correct info of everything on the interent so hard to find!
“the commerce sites (aka online shops) I have optimized for had bounce rates around 20% – 25%.”
That bounce rate is really impressive for an e commerce site. Our site bounce rate fluctuates 5-10% during our busy season. But as you stated in your post, in the terms of measuring a successful bounce rate, it really depends on the purpose of the site.
Bounce rate has become my scourge in the last 6 months or so. I’m very impressed to see you mention rates of 20-25% for ecom. I certainly have more work to do here!
If your SEO traffic is bouncing more, you can try reducing that by checking search traffic on landing pages and then analyzing which Keyword to Page combinations are not working for you.
Traffic from Keyword A to Page A may be better as compared to traffic to page B. If that is happening look for why it is that way and either link to page A from B or get more links externally (or even modifier content) to page A.
That said, brand terms would almost always have a lesser bounce as compared to generic searches.
Bounce rates really are one of the most fickle KPIs in that even using the first definition as you say you prefer can tell you absolutely nothing depending on the type of site you run.
At the end of the day, bounce rate is something that I like to keep track of but I don’t worry too much about it.
Interesting insights! There’s a lot of smoke around about what constitutes the proper bounce rate for a certain type of site. In truth I don’t have a clue – I just work to reduce the bounce rate and increase the number of relevant visitors coming to the site! I don’t know that there is such a thing as a standard bounce rate.
Pete @ Pure FX
This is really helpful. Nearly all my blog traffic comes from natural search and I know the answer to people’s queries is on my content but they just don’t seem to be staying to read it. Frustrating! On a mission to bring down the bounce! It does warm my heart when I see someone has spent half an hour reading on and on though :)
interesting article! The bounce rate on my website is about 40% which kind of bothers me. But, it true that not everyone defines bounce rate the same.
yes it is true that everyone has different definition of bounce rate.
some think less the bounce rate, more good is the website to hold the visitors while others might think that higher the bounce rate means visitors have found the accurate page on first click only