Bounce Rate Myths in Digital Analytics

Bounce rate is one of the most talked about metrics in any analytics suite. This is particularly evident when someone is just getting started in digital analytics.

For years bounce rate was a go to metric. While it is still relevant (when used correctly), I feel there is just a constant battle for most sites and companies to decrease their overall bounce rate. The thought here is that it will increase engagement, conversion and ROI. This isn’t always true.

Below I am going to walk you through what I believe are the top five myths surrounding bounce rate and how to approach one of the most common digital metrics in a more pleasing way. This will help you sort the good from the bad, while hopefully improving your site at the same time.

1. A Low Bounce Rate is Good

While I feel many people probably know this, a low bounce rate isn’t always a good thing. There are many reasons why your bounce rate may be low that could result in unwanted actions.

First, if users are lost on your site. A customer comes in looking for something they were promised to see on a referral link, or an organic search, and when they get there it isn’t in front of them.

Traditional logic would say that this will increase the bounce rate, which it should. However, this may not always be the case. If your site is visually appealing and grabbing their attention in other ways, they could continue to look around to see if they can find the information originally promised.

Another way this occurs is when your landing page’s sole purpose is to direct them to another page. Your landing page could be working well in getting people to click through to the next step, but what if they stop there? Just because a landing page is working, doesn’t mean the entire funnel is flawless (see myth #4).

2. A High Bounce Rate is Bad

Similarly to the first myth, on the flip-side, a high bounce rate isn’t always bad.

The most common case for this is when you have a third-party vendor handling eCommerce or other transactions for your site. There are ways to by-pass having a click of this sort count as a bounce (open in a new tab, fire an event, etc.) but many small businesses just starting out in tracking are unaware that this has to happen.

If your site falls into one of these experiences, consider firing a custom event when users click over to the third-party site. This will not count as a bounce and give you a better idea of success on your landing page.

3. You Are Not in Control of How Bounce Rate is Calculated

To state this in a positive way, you actually can control how your bounce rate is calculated. Now, it will always be sessions with a bounce divided by total sessions, but you can control what counts as a bounce.

As discussed in the previous myth, things like firing an event when an action occurs can cut down on bounce rate. In the end it is all how you want to look at the metric, and what bounce rate will mean to you and your business.

Custom events are broken down into two different categories when using Google Analytics. The traditional event (an interaction event), when fired will no longer count the session as a bounce, as an action has occurred.

Want to track an action, but don’t want the bounce taken away on that action? You can fire a non-interaction event. This is typically used for things like scrolling through a image carousel, scroll tracking on the page, clicking to play an embedded game or video, etc.

 

in-line implementation of google analytics non-interaction event
Implementing Non-Interaction Event In-Line Code

 

gtm implementation of google analytics non-interaction event
Implementing Non-Interaction Event in Google Tag Manager (Event Tag)

 

This myth alone proves that bounce rate will be different from page to page and site to site. To compare your business to other sites and industry averages is only relevant if you understand how your bounce rate is being calculated.

4. Bounce Rate is Under-Utilized

Some may argue that companies don’t pay enough attention to bounce rate. I think this is false. We all pay too much attention to bounce rate.

As a digital strategist and analyst, I am asked everyday by clients and colleagues, “what’s the bounce rate?” Whether that is in relation to a site, a singular page or a segment of customers, the question is asked.

Instead of over-utilizing the metric and giving it all the value that we tend to, let’s concentrate on the bottom line. As I mentioned in the myths about high bounce rates, just because it is high, doesn’t mean you aren’t converting. Concentrate on engaging your customers further and bettering your conversion rate. If you notice that decreasing the bounce rate on a page will help to convert better, then it doesn’t become a relevant metric to your goal.

I am not saying we should ignore bounce rate all together. Or even that it isn’t a valid metric, it definitely is. We need to make sure we don’t over-utilize it and trust in its value too much.

5. Bounce Rate is More Important Than Exit Rate

One of the most confusing things in digital analytics can be the difference between bounce rate and exit rate. Most people understand bounce rate just fine. However, when I tend to see that when we throw exit rate into the mix, it creates confusion.

First let’s look at the differences. Bounce rate is calculated for the site overall and to each individual page. On pages, it is only calculated by the number of direct bounces that occur on that page when that page was the first and only viewed on the site. Users have to enter your site on that page to configure in the bounce rate.

Exit rate however can happen on any page at any time. It is a percentage of the number of times a page was the last viewed on your site before a user exits, divided by the total number of pageviews for that page.

bounce rate versus exit rate in google analytics

Exit rate can be a more telling statistic for your site. While bounce rate is a great calculation for landing pages, exit rate is applicable to all pages. This doesn’t matter if the user landed on the page or got there through navigation.

Summary

I know this post may look like I personally hate bounce rate. I can assure you I don’t and I know that it is a valuable metric in many situations. There are a lot of myths out there surrounding and I believe we need to get a better understanding of how and when to use it.

The most important thing to note is that you can manipulate and control when a bounce is registered. Be careful with how you utilize this and make sure your organization knows of any changes you may implement.

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