Google Bounce Rates: The Untold Story

Background for the post: I recently took (and passed, yay!) the Google Analytics certification exam. Like a good SEO, I read and watched all of the training material. Part way through, they discuss bounce rates. It occurred to me that many people get bounce rates wrong, the definition that is. The misconception of what a bounce is might be influencing the misunderstanding of other metrics in Google Analytics. Therefore, this is somewhat of a guide to bounce rates. This is one of the more advanced metrics and one that I got wrong for a long time as well.

Definition of a Bounce

From Google: "Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page."

In normal people English, it's when someone only visits one page on your site. It has nothing to do with how fast they were on the site, use of the back button, nothing. Just the percentage of visitors who only visited one page on your site.

So what does this mean for your site? If you are relying on bounce rates to tell you how targeted your traffic is, it might only be telling you part of the story. If the user just gets the information they need on the landing page, and you have no call to action, that visit is a bounce.

If the user gets to your Contact Us page from the search results, and the form doesn't go to another page (thank you page), that is a bounce. If there is no form, just a phone number and email address, that visit is a bounce as well.

Not for Bloggers!

On my personal blog, I used to think it was a few off the wall posts that created my high bounce rate (70-80%). Favorite Cereals of SEOs and How to Tell if an SEO Girl Likes You brought me traffic for terms like "Captain Crunch" and "How to tell if a girl likes you." Lo and behold, that was not the only reason for my high bounce rates. It is also because bounce rate is a poor metric for blogs. Most people come to read a single post on a blog, that is what is supposed to happen. Unless they land on the homepage and click to the post, most users will be bounces as they land on the specific post they came to see.

Keep in mind what the focus of your site is before you hold yourself to a standard for another type of site. This also applies to those sites that work on advertising models (this means you affiliates). If you want users to leave your site, then understand that bounce rate is may not be a metric for you. You want a high bounce rate. :P

Edit: If you want to track specific clicks as pageviews in Google Analytics, you can do so, allowing time on page and bounce rate to drop. For more info on how to do this, check out this tutorial.

Effect on Landing Page Optimization

The definition of a bounce can impact your landing pages for SEO, PPC, or any other campaign. If traffic is coming to your site and you want to keep user's engaged (read: your executives want to measure bounce rate), then you need to do a few things beyond giving them good content.

  1. Ensure there is a clear single call to action above the fold that results in a form filled out or a purchase.
    Single. One. That doesn't mean you can't place others at other points in the page, but your preferred call to action should be what draws the eye. That conversion pushes them to another page and that stops the bounce rate from going up.
  2. Give them other data on the site to reference.
    Reference your own site's pages within blog posts or other content on your site. The more information you give and the better it is presented not only means good site architecture but also means that users will flow through the site better.  Every bit of information doesn't have to exist on one page.
  3. Don't silo the pages you are tracking bounce rate.
    There are many times I've head that landing pages should not include navigation lest you lose the user to another page. If you're tracking bounce rate, ignore this advice and give your users the ability to see other products and information on your site.

Time on Page and Site Calculations

Bounces affect calculating time on page and time on site. For time on page, that is only registered when a user visits a page on your site after visiting the page in question. Let's say you want to know the time on page for your "Red Shoes" page. When you look at the metrics in Google Analytics, the time on page is only showing those people that did not leave after viewing that page. Anyone that exits the site on the "Red Shoes" page will not be included. That is because Google Analytics uses time stamps of when a user hits one page and then the next to calculate time on page. Want to know more? Check out this tutorial from Google.

For time on site, bounces are included in that report as it is based on the total time for all visits divided by the number of visits. This happened because a number of site owners complained back in 2007, so Google reverted back to its original time on site calculation.

I hope this helps clarify some of the misunderstandings of bounce rate. It's an awesome metric to track, but not the best for all site owners. Be sure to know what you are tracking before you start tracking it.

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