Is Your High Bounce Rate Bad? 3 Ways to Find Out

Ron Cierniakoski Senior Project Analyst

What Is Bounce Rate And Why Does It Matter?

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who viewed only one page before the session ended without any interactions.

Bounce rate is important because it provides you with a sense of user engagement. For example, if certain pages have a high bounce rate, then users aren’t interacting with them.

Google claims that bounce rate is not a ranking signal. However, it does use the metric to understand page quality and search intent alignment which are important components of the Google ranking algorithm.

Though bounce rate isn’t a direct ranking signal, it can still help indicate user experience problems. Therefore, if you have pages with higher-than-average bounce rates then they could be worth a second look.

What Bounce Rate Actually Measures And What It Doesn’t

Bounce rate is definitely valuable. However, there’s far more it DOESN’T tell you than what it DOES. When you understand the limitations of bounce rate and the metrics it influences you can craft a smarter SEO strategy.

With such a broad definition for bounced traffic, what type of visitors fall into that category? As it turns out, more than you’d expect.

Examples of bounced visits

  • Visitors who immediately abandon your site because they don’t like the way it looks or functions. Or perhaps the content doesn’t satisfy their search query.
  • Users who spend a few minutes reading your page, and then return to the SERPs to explore more results.
  • Visitors who read your page and loved it, so they closed their browser and went to the mall.
  • Users who loaded your page but left the browser open and the session timed out after 30 minutes. When they eventually return to read the article and engage with your site, a new session will begin.

Google analytics counts each of those sessions as bounces, so they will all appear like this:

bounce rate example

Unfortunately, Google Analytics doesn’t differentiate between those different types of “bounces.” The clock starts when a user enters your site and Analytics records the time with every hit (user interaction). Because each of the visitors in our example only had 1 interaction within 30 minutes—entering the site—analytics treats them all the same.

As you can see, bounce rate is a very digital metric, while user behavior is far more analog. So don’t use bounce rate to sort your traffic into “good” and “bad” buckets. If you do, you might just throw out the baby with the bath water.

Fortunately, there are several metrics that can help you understand the context behind the bounce rate.

What Other Metrics Does Bounce Rate Influence?

Three metrics can shed some light on the quality of your bounced traffic:

  • Session duration
  • Time on page
  • Dwell time.

To better understand bounce rate, you need to know how it influences those metrics.

Let’s look at how Google Analytics calculates them, what makes them different, and when you should use them so you can draw the right conclusions about user behavior and page quality.

1. Time On Page

Time on page is the length of time a user spends on a single page. To calculate it, Google Analytics measures the elapsed time between when a visitor enters a page and the next interaction.

If there is no interaction before the session times out, then Analytics can’t calculate the time on page. It’s critical to understand that time on page is the average of all non-bounced pageviews ONLY. Analytics excludes bounced sessions from the average time on page metric.

Why is this detail important?

If you have a very high bounce rate, your average time on page may only be based on a few visits. That means you shouldn’t use it to gauge overall user behavior. However, since it doesn’t take bounced sessions into account, it gives you a more accurate measurement of how long users may spend on the page than session duration.

2. Session Duration

Session duration is similar to time on page. However, Analytics calculates average session duration by dividing the total number of seconds by the total number of sessions. While these two metrics may seem deceptively interchangeable, average session duration is includes bounced visits.

Why is this detail important?

If you have a high bounce rate, your average session duration will be very low, and relying on it could cause you to misjudge user behavior. It does make sense, however, to look at this metric to understand the length of time users remain on your site.

3. Dwell Time

In theory, dwell time is the elapsed time between when a visitor leaves the SERPs by clicking on your website, and then returns to the SERPs to choose another result. That action, also referred to as pogo-sticking, is presumed to send negative signals to Google about your site’s content or UX. Tracking dwell time can help you glean more context around your bounced visits.

Why is this important?

You may discover that even though you have a high bounce rate, your users are staying on your page for several minutes to read the content. Or, you may find that users are bouncing after just a few seconds, indicating a UX or content problem. If you know how long bounced traffic was on your site then you can improve your pages.

Before you get too excited, dwell time isn’t an available metric in your Analytics report. However, you can get around those limitations with some other tools.

For example, user tracking software like mouseflow records user sessions. If you copy the data into a spreadsheet you can then calculate the average time on page of every single session on every page of your website.

It’s important to understand bounce rate’s limitations and how it impacts other behavior metrics before you take action.

How to Improve Bounce Rate

Remember, a high bounce rate can mean many completely different things:

  • You totally satisfied your users’ needs with one amazing page.
  • They didn’t like your content and returned to the SERPs to find a better answer.

Since you don’t know exactly why they bounced, it never hurts to scrutinize your content on the pages with above average bounce rates, and ask yourself the following questions:

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Satisfy Search Intent

Check search console to see which queries are bringing the most visits to your high-bounce pages. Do those keywords make sense for your content? Does your content answer those queries better than other pages in the SERPs?

If a page unintentionally ranks for keywords that don’t align with the content, you should remove them from the copy if possible. You may also find that your page doesn’t adequately answer a query. Thin content can send users back to the SERPs for a better answer. So cover topics as thoroughly as possible without going overboard.

Providing Supplementary Content

Anticipate your users’ follow-up questions and publish related articles to keep them engaged. Google even discusses supplementary content in their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, so it’s definitely worth paying attention to.

Topic clusters are an excellent way to cover related topics that could interest users and lower your bounce rate!

Offer A Great User Experience

Even though your page may satisfy searchers’ queries, visitors could still abandon your site because of a poor user experience.

Think With Google reported that half of all mobile site users will bounce if the page doesn’t load within 3 seconds. Therefore your site MUST be fast to lower your bounce rate.

Heat maps are another way to measure user behavior on high-bounce pages. Carefully inspect scroll depth, clicks, mouse movement and session recording length. You’ll have a better understanding of whether users read your content before they leave.

The Big Picture

Clearly, bounce rate isn’t the black and white metric that Analytics seems to suggest. And while it is a Chimera of many different types of users, it’s certainly not a monster, either. Bounce rate is just another guidepost to improve user experience.