Bounce rate is defined as “the percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page”.
The featured snippet kindly uses a word in the sentence to enhance the definition: “a rising bounce rate is a sure sign that your homepage is boring or off-putting.” Surely that means that a high bounce rate is a bad thing – but is it? Not necessarily.
The idea of people visiting your website and then leaving without visiting another page sounds bad. It’s easy to conclude that a high bounce rate indicates that something on your site needs fixing. But here are times when a high bounce rate isn’t an immediate red flag:
They Find What They’re Looking For
If you find what you’re looking for on a website and then leave, are you upset? Of course not! You got what you came for and left. That’s not a failure, that’s an example of things working efficiently. Example: you want to know if a business will be open this evening. You Google them, their info page pops up, and you go to their site. You see the operating hours and then you leave, having found the information you are looking for. If you have an information-centric page there’s nothing wrong with the bounce rate being high.
The Call To Action Sends People Away From Your Site
Sending people away from your site might seem like the last thing you want to do. But a common, positive example of this occurring is on contact pages. Clicking on an email address opens an email client; clicking a phone number on a mobile site opens the phone option; social media links open the profile. Another example is if you’re selling products on another site (such as Etsy), or if a form on your page doesn’t redirect to a thank you page. Pages such as these are ok to have high bounce rates.
One-Page Sites or Sites with Parallax Scrolling
Parallax scrolling sites are very popular these days – they’re visually appealing and, if designed properly, can boost engagement. A downside to this design is that visitors can scroll through different parts of the site without ever leaving the first page. The same goes for one-page sites such as blogs. All of the most recent content is displayed on the front page, with no need to venture further.
But if Bounce Rate Doesn’t Indicate a Problem, What Does?
The situations outlined above explain why a high bounce rate is not an indicator of an error. But if people leaving in disgust contribute to bounce rate the same as people happily finding what they need, how can you tell if your site is effective? If you’re concerned about bounce rate, here’s what you should really pay attention to:
People leaving your website in disgust contribute to the bounce rate the same as people happily finding what they need and leaving, but the happy person will come back. To determine whether or not your site is effective, you need to monitor your returning users.
If you are concerned about bounce rate, what you are really concerned about is the ability to get business out of traffic quickly. Bounce rate worries rotate around the sense of losing people visiting your site – and it’s not unfounded. People leaving your site and never returning are not going to give you business. When you reach this point, audience retention becomes your number one concern.
Comparing your new versus returning users is a helpful way to measure audience retention, but to dive even further, look into your cohort analysis and look at your conversion rates. The cohort conversion rate shows you how often people return to your site and complete a conversion. Take a look at SHIFT’s:
This tells us that if we don’t get people to convert within the first week, they aren’t ever going to convert. Compare this to the cohort conversion analysis of a another company in a different industry:
This company gets solid conversions all the way out to around week 10. This indicated that they’re doing a great job of retaining the audience and extracting business from them. A high bounce rate paired with this cohort analysis does not indicate a problem.
So what if the bounce rate is high, but the site content doesn’t match the above criteria and/or your customers are returning – then what? A few quick tips to improve audience retention:
Link to other pages on your site: Encourage people to visit other pages on your site by providing links to relevant content.
Improve your content: Are people looking for one thing, and then receiving another when they get to your site? If you have an ad for X and they go to your site and it’s actually Y, they’re going to leave.
Consider remarketing/retargeting campaigns: Bring people back to your site by running advertising campaigns targeting your site visitors. Running visitor-based retargeting campaigns will allow you to target your website visitors after they have left your site.
So remember the next time you see a high bounce rate, it’s more than just a number. Take a deeper look to find out what it really means, and what it means for your site.