feathers It is quite likely that your company is spending tons of time, energy, and dollars on web marketing efforts yet conversion rates (or ROI) are stuck in the two to three percent range.

You are trying really hard to figure out how to improve the performance but you are stymied by the fact that there is ton of data and you have no idea where to start.

Ms. Bounce Rate to the rescue!

Bounce rate is a beautiful way to measure the quality of traffic coming to your website. It is almost instantly accessible in any web analytics tool. It is easy to understand, hard to mis-understand and can be applied to any of your efforts.

So what is this mysterious metric? In a nutshell bounce rate measures the percentage of people who come to your website and leave "instantly".

Thought about from a customer perspective rather than I came, I saw, I conquered, the action is I came, I saw, Yuck, I am out of here.

Your marketing efforts should yield more customers who are able to conquer (accomplish the task they are there to accomplish) and fewer who say yuck and leave.

Bounce rate measure quality of traffic you are acquiring, and if it is the right traffic then it helps you hone in on where/how your website is failing your website visitors.


It is usually measured in two ways:

  • The percentage of website visitors who see just one page on your site.
  • The percentage of website visitors who stay on the site for a small amount of time (usually five seconds or less).

I am a bit more aggressive in my analysis and so I personally prefer the latter definition (using time). But either definition is fine, each has its own slight nuance.

It is important to note that the first definition is the standard definition in tools like Google Analytics, WebTrends, Yahoo! Web Analytics, CoreMetrics etc etc etc. Having only a single hit (usually page view) in a visitor's session will mark it as a bounce.

[In Adobe's Site Catalyst bounce rate is not a standard metric, but you are able to create a special custom metric. Please check how to with Adobe's customer service or your account rep.]

So how can you use it?

#1: Measure the bounce rate of your website.

This will help you understand what percent of your website traffic is actually engaging with your site (i.e. you don't have a chance of success with all your site traffic!).

indextools time trend bounce 2

This IndexTools report shows that approximately 70% of the site traffic above is bouncing. This 70% won't even give you five seconds, or see more than one page. You can't even start to impress them with your goodness. No matter how great your goodness is.

There are two exceptions: 1) You have a one page website 2) Your offline value proposition is so compelling that people would see just one single webpage and get all the information they need and leave.

If you don't fall into those two categories you need to pay very careful attention to this metric.

Action: You'll understand better why your conversion rate is so low, if you have made changes over the last x amount of time then watching a trend of bounce rate is a sure way to know if the changes you are making are for the better.

#2: Measure the bounce rate for your traffic sources.

Your goal is to figure out if some sources of traffic are sending you particularly terrible traffic compared to others. In your web analytics tool simply go to the Referring URL's / Sites report and take a look, you'll find something like this……

google analytics referring sites bounce rate 1

For this site Google Analytics illustrates that both myspace.com and simplyhired.com is not sending great traffic, while their direct marketing campaigns (#2 and #3 above) seem to be doing much better.

Action: Do you need to revisit relationships with sites that are not sending you high quality traffic? What is the call to action that is causing people to come to your site and bounce? Are your email, affiliate, other marketing campaigns yielding low bounce rates? You get the idea.

#3: Measure the bounce rate of your search keyword.

Search engines are king and hence probably sending you a large chunk of your traffic. Find out the quality of traffic coming from the search engines. In addition to looking at just the aggregate levels (the row marked Total in below report) also look at each key phrase……

clicktracks search keywords bounce rate 1

In this ClickTracks report notice that each key word / key phrase performs differently, and it also differs by search engine. Sweet actionable information. Instantly useful!

Action: When you create SEO and SEM campaigns ensure that your team has this data. In this case either you have nothing to do with competitive intelligence (hence 90% bounce rate) or that traffic is landing on the wrong pages. Also it is easy to take a dump of top keywords and bid on them with PPC campaigns, the table above will ensure you don't bid on the wrong ones.

#4: Measure bounce rate of your AdWords, AdCenter, YSM (PPC) campaigns.

In my humble experience this is one piece of analysis most agencies and companies overlook when doing paid search campaign analysis.

Sure we measure conversion and roi and revenue, but are you measuring bounce rate for your PPC campaigns? Remember you can only convert if people are staying for more than five seconds on your website (or see more than one page)!

google analytics adwords bounce rate

This screenshot from Google Analytics shows the bounce rate of traffic on each keyword compared to site average, very cool view. Sadly most traffic for this time period is performing worse than site average (so literally you could be sending money down the, well you know what).

Action: First, stop bidding on those keywords, then do a deeper analysis of how good your landing pages are, and your other campaign attributes (maybe your campaign for refrigerators is being targeted to people only in the great state of Alaska!).

#5: Measure bounce rate of your top trafficked pages.

It is entirely possible that your efforts are stellar (as they usually are!) but it is your website that is letting you down. There is what to do to make your case…..

google analytics content bounce rate

What pages are bouncing traffic like a perfectly formed elastic material and which are great at welcoming traffic with open arms into your website? Pull up the above report in your web analytics tool and find out.

In addition to top trafficked pages on your site please also look at top entry pages report and measure their bounce rate (you'll quickly have a list of pages that need your immediate attention).

Action: Check to see if the right calls to action are on the page? Is the content optimally organized? If the above pages are your campaign (direct marketing or paid search campaigns) landing pages then are they delivering on the promise of the email piece you had sent out or the search keyword? Answer these questions and consider multivariate testing to improve page performance.

An Exception :

There is one obvious case where bounce rate might not cough up as many insights. I am thinking of blogs.

They are a unique beast amongst online experiences: people come mostly only to read your latest post, they'll read it and then they'll leave. Your bounce rates will be high because of how that metric is computed, and in this scenario that is ok.

You don't want the bounce rate to be 98%, new visitors to your blog will still come and look around and read different posts etc.

So… if you have a blog segment your bounce rate by New and Returning Visitors. You can ignore the returning bucket, because of above. Focus on the New Visitors. You still want a low bounce rate (say 40% or 50%) for your New Visitors because you want them to take some action and engage with your brand (in my case click on a link to my book or to my company Market Motive or to my RSS feed – all ways in which I get economic value from this blog).

In summary:

  • Bounce rate is a metric you'll easily find in all web analytics tools.

  • It is easy to understand, hard to misunderstand (something you can't say for all, or even most, web analytics metrics).

  • It is awesome at identifying low hanging fruit (you stress about so much, start here and you'll easily find so much to action), try the above five tips first.

  • Please don't confuse bounce rate with exit rate, they are radically different metrics. Also: Everyone who comes to your site has to exit, almost no one who comes to your site needs to bounce! [Relevant blog post: Standard Metrics Revisited: #2: Top Exit Pages]

Would you agree this is a awesome metric? It won't have all the answers for you, but it will help you focus very quickly on what's important, show where you are wasting money and what content on your site needs revisiting.

As a benchmark from my own personal experience over the years it is hard to get a bounce rate under 20%. Anything over 35% is a cause for concern and anything above 50% is worrying.

What do you all think? Please share your tips, tricks, war stories, critique, brickbats via comments.

[Like this post? For more posts like this please click here, if it might be of interest please check out my book: Web Analytics: An Hour A Day.]

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