March 24th 2020

What is meant by bounce rate in Google Analytics? What does it tell me and how can I optimise based on the rate?

In this post we’re going to review what is meant by a “bounce” and therefore “bounce rate”. We will discuss what it can mean. We will review examples of different things that can impact your bounce rate and we will discuss ways to evaluate how to optimise according to what your page bounce rate may indicate.

Before beginning, the most important thing to understand is that bounce rate is it is more of a derivative than absolute performance metric. It’s a good thing to keep an eye on, but a change to it means something about your site needs attention. It is a symptom, not a cause!

A bounce is a single-page session on your site. In Google Analytics, a bounce is a session that triggers one request to the Analytics server, as when a visitor lands on one page on your site and exits without triggering any other requests, such as continuing to another page.

Bounce rate is therefore the rate at which people bounce from a page, expressed as a percentage. For example if 100 people land on your product page in a day, and 20 of these people exit without going anywhere else or triggering another action (like clicking add to basket), then these 20 people “bounce” and you have a 20% bounce rate on that page on that day.

Already you can see that we have mentioned different variables such as:

  • The specific page (a product page)
  • The time frame (a day)

There are several other variables that can be considered and compared in order to understand what might be an “expected” bounce rate for a page and by that token what might be considered anomalous, low or prime for optimisation.

In addition, because bounce rate is a percentage rate, when expressed for your whole site it isn’t very useful, particularly when you have a lot of pages, or if a handful of pages that contribute most of the traffic. In this case looking at the bounce rate for your whole site is only useful when comparing changes over time.

Let’s look at the type of variables that can impact your bounce rate. Some of these variables you may be able to influence and optimise and some may be out of your direct control, so we will classify these as “external variables”. We will classify things we might be able to influence as “opportunity variables”.

External Variables

1. Market Dynamics

I’m writing this post during the spring 2020 outbreak of Covid-19. This is a perfect example of a dynamic completely out of our control that can significantly impact the behaviour of a visitor to our page, and cause patterns to emerge that we didn’t previously see.

For example, perhaps you are running a brand advertising campaign to a landing page that requires physical participation, like a restaurant or an attraction. You may still be seeing traffic volumes, but would notice a very high bounce rate because people are strongly advised to stay at home and practise social distancing.

2. Bot Traffic

Bots or robots are not real users, but are external user-agents. Examples can include search engine crawlers and data collection tools for third party sites or software. Occasionally bots can be malicious, such as those designed to strain your server or scrape your content. Unless you identify and block these bots in Google Analytics, this will pollute your data and can be a frequent cause of high bounce rate or alternatively low bounce rate (if they stay on the site and crawl around). Either way if you experience a sudden and anomalous shift in bounce rate, in either direction this is a good place to check.

If you have access to your server logs you will be able to assess this yourself. If not, explain to person who does have access this data what you need them to look for.

melted ice cream on floor

3. Third Party (Human) Error

It is important to have a data control policy no matter how large or small your organisation. A data control policy can ensure you have a protocol for passwords, password recovery, password access and password security.

As an agency we have had to help numerous organisations to recover access to their company Google Analytics data when the person with access leaves and no change of control is provided for in handover, as part of a data control policy.

Larger businesses may work with many more than one agency at a time. It is not unusual to find a business with at least a PPC agency, an SEO agency, an Analytics agency and more. All with access to change either Google Analytics or Google Tag Manager.

All of this means it can be difficult at times to control who is doing what to Google Analytics.

A drastically anomalously low bounce rate can indicate the addition of a second Google Analytics tag. This can happen if for example somebody implements a new Google Analytics via GTM, without property accounting for an existing implementation. That’s why we always start our client on-boarding process with a Google Analytics audit, to ensure data is tracked correctly from the start.

Opportunity Variables

Once we have ruled-out any external factors that can impact bounce rate we’re left with the things that we are able to optimise. That said on occasion a high bounce rate can be a good thing, It all depends on context. For example, if we are a content website that provides definitions, and a visitor searches for “what is [term]?” if our landing page perfectly answers the question then a high bounce rate is normal and expected.

In most other cases we will want to lower bounce rate by ensuring that a visitor performs an action or progresses in a journey, thus generating another Analytics request.

Here are examples of Opportunity Variables that we can hopefully do something about!

out of stock product

1. Stock

An anomalously high bounce rate that appears suddenly (on a product page) may be perfectly normal if the product is out of stock. It’s a good idea to set up Google Custom alerts for sharp increases in bounce rate as this will allow you to see patterns over time. For example, if one particular product or type of product is frequently triggering such alerts this could mean an internal issue with stock management.

2. Technical

Sudden shifts in bounce rate can be caused by technical issues outside of our control like bots, as explained previously. However, investigate with your host or system administrator if there’s a technical issue at play if you have checked other variables.

If your bounce rate is creeping higher and higher this can often indicate a page is getting slower and slower. There’s an absolute wealth of resources to back this up, so if your page is slowing down, bounce will be going up. Definitely time to invest in a site speed audit!

3. No Journey Progression

Unless a web page is a piece of art, we want people to do more than just look at it. A single page should be part of a journey, so ideally the purpose is to compel activity. The activity depends on the type of page, so if you have a high bounce rate of a page, first assess the type of page, and what it should compel someone to do.

For example, a blog post should compel someone to read deeper (by adding “more on this topic” or including links that expand on deeper concepts within the text).

A product page should compel someone to “add to basket” or “favourite” or “see more like this”.

A category landing page should compel someone to explore by “sorting by price” or “filter by colour”.

Try an exercise in imagining your ideal customer and what might be going on for them. Now try visiting your landing page and ask yourself if there’s a clear, compelling reason or way for them to progress?

If not, then we’d advise engaging in a Conversion Rate Optimisation project.

smashed phone

4. Not Mobile Friendly

As mentioned previously, because bounce rates are percentages, this can sometimes obfuscate a story, which is why it’s not a good idea to focus on your entire site bounce rate but look page-by-page. Additionally, visitor behaviour can be dramatically different from device to device, so it is always a good idea to segment your data by device when analysing bounce rate. You might find that what might appear to be a passable bounce rate for a page, is in actual fact appalling on mobile, and really good on desktop. If we look at this percentage across both devices we’re likely to miss the opportunity because the bounce rate would average out across the two.

It probably isn’t realistic to expect the same bounce rate on different devices, but if there is a far higher bounce rate on mobile, this means your mobile experience isn’t helping mobile visitors progress their journey as well as desktop visitors.

It could be because your page is much slower on mobile, or the user experience isn’t analogous, or perhaps the functionality you intended doesn’t work as well on a phone! Whatever the reason, a significantly higher mobile bounce rate on a page is an opportunity to improve. We’d recommend a Conversion Rate Optimisation project to identify, adapt and improve.

So, we have an explanation of bounce rate what can affect it, and a list of things to check as well as things to consider if you want to lower it. If you’re not sure what a “good” bounce rate is for your type of page, then please get in touch. At Erudite we have worked with thousands of sites over a decade, so have a good wealth of data and experience to be able to judge if you should expect a better performance. We’d be happy to discuss this with you!