Understanding Google Analytics: When is a high bounce rate not a bad bounce rate?

bounce-rate Photo Steve DavisIf you spend 30 seconds googling about Google Analytics or listening to ‘web gurus’ chatting, you will come across well worn sayings like:

High bounce rates are bad, low bounce rates are good.

You’ve got to improve your bounce rate!

Today, I want to explain what the bounce rate is, encourage you to be very wary of generic advice dished out like it’s gospel truth and explain why sometimes the exact opposite might be true for you.

So what? Make that question your friend

I have found myself repeating this mantra with some clients recently: challenge conventional wisdom.

In fact, I was saying it yesterday when I heard the ‘my bounce rate should only be about 20 per cent’ spouted at me during a discussion about Google Analytics.

Our response to any ‘off the cuff’ saying should be, ‘so what?’

‘So what’ should give your advisor an opportunity to explain themselves.

If they can’t, you’ve just dodged making a decision based on hand-me-down cliches.

So what is bounce rate?

Within Google Analytics, which is a free service you have installed on your website to track visitor numbers, behaviour, technology (and a lot more, which I’ll cover in future articles), there is a metric called Bounce Rate.

Put simply, the Bounce Rate is the percentage of website visitors who leave after viewing only one page

For example, if you have a bounce rate of 82 per cent, that means 82 out of every 100 visitors to your website landed on your site and left without clicking through to any other pages.

As I mention in my workshops, it is commonly agreed in the web industry that low bounce rates (20-40 percent) are the gold standard we should be aiming for, with the average sitting somewhere between 40 and 60 percent, depending on your sources.

But I also take great pains to explain that that is not always the case.

When is a high bounce rate a good bounce rate?

To work out what an ideal bounce rate range might be for your business or organisation, we need to think deeply about the needs of your audience, the objectives of your website, and what an ideal on-site behaviour might be.

For example, if you are running a news website, ecommerce website, forum or portal, you would ideally be striving for a low bounce rate because if you have your site set up correctly, a visitor would typically be browsing, clicking from page to page, and then performing actions like sharing, commenting or buying.

But there are some occasions where a higher bounce rate means you are doing the right thing.

A counter example might be when your searching brought you to our WordPress Website Package page and you liked what you saw and used the phone number to call us. Would that ‘bounce’ be bad?

I would argue that high bounce rates in that scenario mean you are doing things well.

Imagine you have shared a ‘how to’ tutorial in your WordPress blog. A reader is likely to come, use the tutorial and then leave and that would register as a bounce.

So instead of viewing that as a negative, ponder this. You now have someone in the community who has been helped by your information and likely to either return to you as a customer when they next need your products or services, or mention you in conversation when they are retelling the story of how they found your tutorial which helped them solve a problem.

It all comes down to knowing your ideal customer type

Funny how the gaining of correct perspective always boils down to knowing clearly who your ideal customers are, the needs that drive them to search online, and the measures of a successful outcome for both of you.

The purpose of today’s article was not to let us all off the hook when we have high bounce rates but rather to give us a framework for making better decisions about what is broken and what is working.

If your website is trending poorly in relation to bounce rates for your industry, that does need addressing because it signals to Google that your content might not be resonating with visitors well enough.

There are also a myriad complexities I have not been able to touch upon in today’s reflection, but that is my point: Always think through conventional wisdom spouted out in this noisy marketplace of web marketing and ask yourself or your advisor, so what?



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