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

Insights August 23, 2017

What Is Bounce Rate And Why Does It Matter?

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

It’s an important metric because it provides you with a sense of how engaged your users are with your site. If the landing page is in your conversion funnel, lowering your bounce rate could mean more money in your pocket. Google has stated 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.

Even if bounce rate may not be a direct ranking signal, it can still be a useful quality indicator for both you AND Google. If you have certain pages with above average bounced sessions, it’s not always a cause for concern, but they could at least be worth a second look.

What Bounce Rate Actually Measures And What It Doesn’t

While it’s true your website’s bounce rate can be a valuable metric, there’s far more it DOESN’T tell you than what it does. Understanding the limitations of bounce rate and the metrics influenced by it, such as session duration and time on page, will help you craft a smarter on-page 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. Here are just a few examples:

  • Visitors who immediately abandon your site because they don’t like the way it looks or functions, or the content doesn’t satisfy their search query.
  • Visitors who spend a few minutes reading your page, and then return to the SERPs to explore more results.
  • Visitors who read your page, and it was exactly what they were looking for, so they closed their browser and went to the mall.
  • Visitors who started reading your page but got distracted, resulting in the session timing out after 30 minutes. When they eventually return to finish reading the article a new session will begin.

Each of these cases—and many more—will be counted as bounced sessions, and they will all appear the same in your Analytics report.

This shortcoming — the lack of differentiation of “bounced” traffic — is the result of how Analytics measures hits. The clock starts when a user enters your site and Analytics records the time with every hit (user interaction). A hit could be visiting a new URL on your site, or triggering an event you have configured (like playing a video or filling out a form). Because each of the above visitors 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. If you’re using bounce rate to solely sort your traffic into “good” and “bad” buckets, you run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Fortunately, there are several metrics that can help you understand the context behind the bounce rate.

What Other Metrics Are Influenced By Bounce Rate?

Three metrics can shed some light on the quality of your bounced traffic: session duration, time on page, and dwell time. Each is slightly different and frequently misunderstood. Since these measurements are directly tied to your bounce rate, it’s crucial to understand exactly how they’re measured, what makes them different, and when you should use them. Because they are all calculated differently, misunderstanding these metrics could cause you to draw drastically different 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, and it’s calculated by measuring the elapsed time between a visitor entering a page and the next interaction. If there is no interaction before the session times out, the time on page is zero—regardless of how long the user was on the page. It’s critical to understand that time on page is the average of all non-bounced pageviews. This means that bounced visits are excluded from the average.

Why is this detail important?

If you have a very high bounce rate, your average time on page is only based on a few visits, and shouldn’t be used 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 are actually on the page.

2. Session Duration

Session duration is similar to time on page, however, the distinction is the aggregate of all pageviews in a single session—except the last one, which can’t be counted because there is no last interaction. While these two metrics may seem deceptively interchangeable, average session duration is calculated on ALL sessions—including 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 subsequently, returns to the SERPs to choose another result. This action, often 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. Knowing how long bounced traffic was on your site can be invaluable to improving your pages.

Before you get too excited, dwell time isn’t an available metric in your analytics report. If you want to calculate it, you’ll need to implement some simple javascript that will allow Analytics to track time on page without interfering with bounce rate. This can be done by triggering time-based events in conjunction with non-interaction event parameters.

Understanding the limitations of bounce rate, and how it impacts these other important metrics, will give you a much more accurate read on your visitors’ behavior so you can fine tune their experience.

How You Can Improve Your Bounce Rate

Remember, a high bounce rate can mean two completely different things. You may be doing such a fantastic job of answering your visitors’ search queries, that they frequently find exactly what they needed on the landing page and have no reason to click through to other pages. Or, your site may be doing a very poor job of satisfying search intent, and users are quickly jumping back 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:

Is Your Page Satisfying Search Intent?

Check search console to see which queries are bringing the most visits to your high-bounce pages. Make sure these are the terms you intended to rank for, and the pages are doing the best job of answering those queries (compare to pages ranking well in the SERPs). Sometimes a page will rank for keywords that don’t align with the page, and this can result in a disconnected user experience. You may also find that you have the right content on the page, but it isn’t as prominent as it could be. This process should be a priority for any high-bounce page, and any page in your conversion funnel.

Are You Providing Supplementary Content?

Publishing related articles can provide some additional sticking power if your existing page already does a good job of satisfying searchers’ intent. Google even discusses supplementary content in their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, so it’s definitely worth paying attention to. Begin by publishing pages that share a common theme with your target page, and then consider possible overlapping interests of your users. What type of people are visiting this page, and what else do they care about?

Are You Offering A Great User Experience?

Even though your page may be satisfying the search queries, visitors could be abandoning your site because of a poor user experience. Don’t let advertising disrupt your content or confuse your users. Check your page load time to make sure it’s not too slow. Think With Google reported that half of all mobile site visits are abandoned if the page doesn’t load within 3 seconds. Heat maps are another method of scrutinizing user behavior on high-bounce pages. By viewing scroll and mouse tracking data, you’ll have a better understanding of whether users are reading your content before leaving.

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 should be seen as one of many guideposts to understanding your content and your users.

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