The Bounce Rate Paradigm Shift
Don’t judge content by bounce rate alone.
For advanced web analytics users, bounce rate is quite possibly the most popular stand-alone metric — Bounce Rate can be the “sexiest” web metric ever. It’s certainly should be top of your list. Google defines bounce rate as “the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page.” It’s great because it tells you right away that something is wrong with your website. Or does it?
Analysts typically use bounce rate as a measure of poor quality content — or as an expression of dissatisfaction with your site. But bounce rate has a lot more to say than simply “your website stinks.” In fact, it might even say something good!
Every web metric has more than one angle.
As with all web metrics, we need context to provide meaningful insights. Maybe one bounce means a visitor left because she immediately found what she was looking for or bookmarked the page to view it later. Every web metric has more than one angle.
Look at “time on page,” often regarded as a positive stand-alone metric. Surely, the longer someone stays on your page the more engaged they are with the content, right? But maybe a long time on page means the visitor had a difficult time using or understanding the content. One metric never says it all.
What’s the Value of a Visit Without Action?
Contrary to popular belief, a bounce does not mean a visitor didn’t take action.
Here are common visitor actions that people don’t often account for with bounce rate:
- Followed you on Twitter
- Liked you on Facebook
- Mentioned you online
- Left a comment
- Bookmarked your site
- Emailed the web link to a friend
- Printed the page
- Watched embedded video or listened to embedded audio
- Recommended you to friends or peers offline
- Returned to your site later to take action or took action offline
Some of these actions can be properly tracked with web analytics tools to reduce your bounce rate, including establishing events and virtual pages for external links, downloadable files and user comments. Others, such as social media mentions or offline actions, require additional measurement solutions.
Make Your Bounce Rate Meaningful
Segment new visitors
Loyal, repeat visitors will not take an action every time — they already know where to look for news and information — but the fact that they are returning and reading your content regularly is positive.
Narrow your definition of bounce rate
Use time on page to more narrowly define bounce rate as “the percentage of website visitors who stay on the site for a small amount of time (usually five seconds or less).” I will discuss the complexity of measuring bounces by time on site, at a follow up article.
Track all online actions
Not all analytics tools track all online actions by default. Make sure that your bounce rate accounts for links to Twitter, Likes on Facebook, PDF downloads, video views, user comments and print-button clicks.
Track offline actions
One of the things analytics can’t tell you is what actions people take offline. But don’t let that deter you from learning. Conduct user research. If prospective students inquire by phone or email, ask them how they learned about your institution. Understand web content that encourages offline action so you can measure it.
You can’t automatically tie offline action feedback to web analytics, but you can identify it as a key performance indicator alongside your analytics data to identify trends, including successes and unmet goals.
Prepare Your Content for Action
Our content plan needs to recognize and account for the many ways people take action. Content can’t be measured by clicks alone. We need to define the right combination of web metrics to support our measurement goals.
However, while no stand-alone web metric is enough to make informed decisions, bounce rate is often a great place to start. It may not account for every action a visitor takes, but it accounts for a large chunk of them and is a great lead indicator for content problems.