We have been taught to fear bounce rates. Taught to do everything in our power to keep this number as low as possible. And for most part, that is sound advice. But it isn’t so do or die all the time, as it is purported to be. Let us try to understand why looking at bounce rate alone may not be the best thing you could be doing.
What is bounce rate?
Simply put, it is the percentage of your visitors who bounce off after landing on your website. They came onto your website, stayed x seconds on the page they dropped by on, and then just left from there itself, instead of hanging around or browsing through your site.
In a nutshell, bounce rate is just a percentage indicator that represents user sessions comprising of single page views only!
Once you understand that, you would realise why looking at standalone bounce rate is not the best metric for you to be observing.
Does a visitor ‘always’ need to browse around?
Consider any number of scenarios.
First scenario. Someone who, by now, is well aware of what you do, what your business is all about, what the product looks like, what are the core features and capabilities of the product etc. In other words, a returning visitor. Would you expect him to look around on your site on his second, third, fourth and other subsequent visits? It is possible that he came onto your website looking for something very specific, so when he found the answer to his question, there was no reason for him to stick around anymore. It could be looking at your contact details, a page on your documentation, practically any small piece of information on your website. Something he knew precisely to look for, and where to find it.
Second scenario. Someone who is intrigued by your product, i.e. he has passed through the awareness and interest phases and is now onto the evaluation phase. He could be researching different competitors of yours and came onto your website for a quick recall to help his comparison, either on the product feature or the pricing/plans. Once again, the reason for him to stick around any longer, or to go through other pages doesn’t exist.
Third scenario. Someone stumbling across a blog post or even a page on your website via an email you sent across, or a landing page you have been running ads on. Howsoever rare, but depending on the efficacy of the landing page, there may not be the need for any further pageviews. Same goes for the quality of the blog post. They were intrigued by the snippet in the mail. They came, they read, they left.
Fourth scenario. Someone stumbling across a blog post of yours on Google because it is aligned to whatever he was searching for. We are in an altogether different frame of mind when we are looking for answers. So once he had that, he left. Even that’s fine.
But, this fourth scenario is somewhat interesting, because here you would be having a few different categories of visitors. Someone who had gone through the awareness and interest phase, i.e. he knew about you. For this category of visitor, bouncing off after having gone through this page he stumbled across on Google is all but natural. You can’t fault him for that. Then, there would be the category that still found you through Google, knew about you as well, but unlike the first category, these people aren’t looking for something extremely precise. They are just researching/exploring. This category would probably not visit any pages on your website (since they have already passed the awareness and interest phase), but the chances of them stumbling down the rabbit hole through interlinked pages on your blog, related blog articles etc is fairly high. If they aren’t checking out the other blog posts you have linked within your article, then there is a good chance your article did not manage to meet up to their expectations. As such, a good chunk of this category would bounce off even before finishing off the article.
The third and the last category is people who came onto your blog via a blog post, are are only now being fed into the awareness stage of the funnel. This category we keep an eye out on. If this category isn’t checking out your product, you are not doing a very good job with your content.
Take an example of this story itself. We are already a few minutes into the article and there has been zero indication of what Benne Analytics is as a product. So even if someone finds this article of some value to them, only the very interested would go ahead and check the product. But as a brand, as a content creator, I have just failed in facilitating that visit. (I ought to work on that.)
So that’s how it goes. Not every visit to your website necessarily needs more than one page view. In many cases, it isn’t required. What you are interested in, or what you should be interested in, is the segment of these single page views that’s low on impact. For example, someone coming onto a page and spending way too little time on it, or someone not going through the page they were on.
The problem is, it is a difficult thing to analyse. A good ‘hack’, so to speak, would be to look at percentage visits that were, say, less than 30 seconds in duration. But it is a hack.
That is why I don’t personally put a lot of stock into bounce rates. Do I want my visitors to stick around? Of course I do. I want them to spend hours and hours on my systems. But that won’t always be the case, and in a substantial percentage of these exits, the bounces would be perfectly legitimate. So either I go ahead and look at data that is not so accurate (because of the reasons we discussed), and can’t be efficiently monitored and analysed, or I look at other segments of the data that are actually giving me valuable analysis, insights and an understanding of my traffic.
I choose to do the later! In all fairness, so should you.
So how should you look at bounce
Averaging it out is not always a good idea. Instead of looking at aggregate bounce rates, look for individual bounce rates, at least at a macro level. For example, I am aware that the blog’s aggregate bounce rate would be much different from the website’s. So if I look at the overall average, I would be looking at corrupt data, and not gain any real insights about either the blog or the website. So I look at them separately. This helps me identify the possible causes of bounce, and when necessary, take steps to fix those.
Eliminate positive bounces. Positive bounces? Those words should be at odds with each other, isn’t it? Not necessarily. Let me take a simple example. A visitor who has stumbled across my blog for the third time. He liked the content the first time, loved it the second time, and by now he can see my future content adding value to him. So when he gets a subscribe popup, he subscribes to it, and leaves. Technically, he bounced, but in reality, the website just made a conversion on one of its goals. So it should be an entry in the win column.
Treat returning visitors separately from new ones. Their motivations, expectations and behaviors are very different from each other. So why let data generated by one mangle the data generated by the other?
Instead of tracking overall bounce rates, track it for the critical pages. Give each page or segment in your website an objective. A logical path a visitor would be taking from that page. Not a path you want them to take because of your own bias, but a logical, natural flow. If they users aren’t doing that, then yes, it is a cause of concern. But if that page is a dead end with no logical, natural flow path ahead, then someone bouncing off should be considered natural.
Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? ;-) That sounds like a lot of bounces. Overwhelming even.
That’s why I always chose to focus on goals and visitor demographics, even when I was using Google Analytics in past. These metrics are simpler to measure, analyze and gives a much more precise insight. It helps me understand both my audience and their motivations, and whenever bounce is a concern for any segment of my website, Benne lets me know in my insights. Sign up for Benne and you would get those insights too.
That’s it for today, see you tomorrow!
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