Anthony Mcloughlin

There’s plenty of debate surrounding the analytical phrase “bounce rate” and although it appears to be a straightforward metric to comprehend, it can easily be misunderstood and misconceived.

If you are familiar with SEO (or better still you’ve had a nosey through your Google Analytics profile) you may have made assumptions about what exactly the bounce rate metric tells you about your site visitors. Moreover you may have been ill-advised so I’d like to debunk a few myths and explain in laymans terms exactly what you’re looking at. So here we go:

1. A bounce occurs when a visitor enters your site and immediately leaves.

Yes, this can be classed as a bounce, but a visitor doesn’t have to leave immediately for a bounce to occur. A bounce can only occur in a session that only has one page view. So, on the opposite end of the scale a visitor could view one page for 29m 59s and then leave – this will be recorded as a bounce.

If a visitor views one page for longer than 30 minutes, Google Analytics will automatically record this as a bounce even though the visitor did not actually leave the page. By default, the Google Analytics tracking code has a time stamp of 30 minutes, meaning that if no other page is viewed within 30 minutes of that particular session, a bounce is recorded and a new session is started.

Takeaway: A visitor could potentially read and digest every word on a page and still be classed as a bounce.
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 2. A high bounce rate means your website is not performing well.

Contrary to popular belief, a high bounce rate does not mean that a website is not performing as intended. A visitor may have landed on a web page, got what they wanted and left. For example, a user may have searched for “definition of bounce rate“, clicked on the top result (in this case Wikipedia, surprise surprise), read the definition and then hit the back button satisfied with the information provided by Wikipedia. For that particular search query, Wikipedia performed well in satisfying the users needs.

A high bounce rate becomes a worrying sign when you want a visitor to take further action. If this is the case then the first thing you should be looking at is the pages that have a high bounce rate. Once you have identified these pages you then need to find out why this is, which is a little more tricky. Don’t worry, if you read this post on how to measure bounce rate and this infographic on why a visitor may leave your site, you will be well equipped in understanding why your site has a high bounce rate.

Takeaway: Pay attention to a high bounce rate if its a page you’d like people to take further action on.
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3. If a visitor bounced they didn’t take any action.

Sure, this is definitely possible however just because a visitor only viewed one page and left, it does not mean that they didn’t take any action. Here are just a few possible actions that a visitor may have performed despite bouncing:

  • Followed the website on social media
  • Shared the website via social media
  • Recommended the website online and/or offline
  • Bookmarked the website
  • Watched a video or listened to audio
  • Printed the page
  • Left a commment
  • Downloaded something
  • Clicked on a link to a different website

Some of these actions can be tracked with event trackingvirtual pageviewsscrolling behaviour and time adjusted bounce rate. All of these tracking methods will reduce bounce rate and give you greater insights into visitor behaviour.

Takeaway: Get smart about tracking. Unless you are deploying event tracking or any of the advanced stuff above you may be beating yourself up unnecessarily. If your agency manages your analytics and site tracking ask them about some of the triggers above.
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4. When a visitor enters a web page, reloads the page and then leaves this is recorded as a bounce.

False. As outlined in myth 1 a bounce can only occur in a session that only has one page view. By reloading the page, a session will have two page views, so if the visitor then leaves it will be recorded as an exitrather than a bounce.

Takeaway: A bounce can only occur if the visitor just views one page in a session.
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5. A high bounce rate negatively affects rankings.

Probably the most talked about myth regarding bounce rate. It is commonly believed that a high bounce rate will negatively affect rankings. This is based on the premise that a visitor hasn’t found what they are looking for and left without clicking through to another web page. As outlined above, there are several reasons for a visitor to bounce and still be satisfied.

It’s also worth mentioning here that only around a third of the worlds websites have Google Analytics installed and many of these are mis-installed. If Google used bounce rate in its algorithm then surely this would be unfair on the aforementioned.

To completely put this misconception to bed, an unusually bald looking Matt Cutts (head of Google webspam team for those of you who didn’t know) clearly states in the video below that Google do not use analytics data in their algorithm.

While Google state that they don’t use analytics data as part of their algorithm, there’s an interesting and widely believed theory that they may use a metric called “Dwell time”. In essence, this is how long it takes someone to click back to the SERPs after clicking on a result. This we’re happy to believe.

This theory could warrant it’s own blog post, which is exactly what Dr Pete Meyers has done so we’ll politely pass you over to him for a more thorough going over. After reading his post I’m sure you will agree that “dwell time” is much more of a fair ranking factor for Google to use instead of bounce rate.

Takeaway: Google do not use bounce rate as ranking factor. There’s more truth in “dwell time” as a ranking factor.
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I hope bounce rate makes more sense to you now than it did before. If not, now’s a good time to bounce 🙂

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Anthony Mcloughlin

Posted By Anthony Mcloughlin

Anthony is a key member of the digital team at Tone, helping dig deep into stats to further understand user behaviours. Follow him on Twitter @anthony_mac85 and on Google+