Should You Worry about a High Bounce Rate?

Having a high bounce rate in your stats may not look appealing, but should you be worried?

Video transcript:

David: So, you said bounce rate. Why is the bounce rate so high? Like, eighty percent or more.

Tim: Right.

David: How concerned should I be with that, and what are some ways that I can improve it? So, where are you seeing bounce rate?

Tim: In Google Analytics.

David: Across what dimension are you reviewing bounce rate? Website-wide?

Tim: Yeah, website-wide.

David: Okay. So, before we talk about this, we have to understand what Google Analytics means by bounce rate.  

Tim: Right.

David: Right, and to do that, we have to understand how Google Analytics calculates that. So, when someone visits your site, they set a cookie, right? And that cookie contains information, including a time date stamp of when you arrived. And with every interaction with your website, that cookie gets reset with a new timestamp. And so, every page you visit on the same site, within the same session, gets a new timestamp. And each timestamp is sent to Google Analytics database. So, if they receive a visit, hey, someone visited this page, and they don’t receive a timestamp within the allotted session default time, which is thirty minutes, they call that a bounce. So, it could be someone visits your page, and they visited it, and they read it for twenty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds, and then they leave. That’s a bounce. Google Analytics actually does not know that they stayed to read that one page for ten minutes. What they do know is if you visit another page, how long the time on site was. But they’re calculating that because there’s another interaction, and they get that information. So, understanding that bounce rate isn’t always a bad thing. So, for instance, if we have someone visit a website, and then we have a long blog post up, and they read that blog post, and they said this is great. And they call the phone number at the top of the page. This is a successful visit. But Google Analytics is going to count that as a bounce. Right? Because they didn’t interact with anything. They didn’t go to another page, and it doesn’t know that they called that number. So, it looks like a failed visit, but really, it’s a very good visit. Let’s say you have a video on the page, and they watch the entire video, and they call the number at the end of the video. That’s a great visit. But it’s counted as a bounce. Say you’ve got your email address on there and they click and email you. Great, now you got a customer, but Google Analytics is still going to call that a bounce. So, sitewide bounce is pretty much a useless metric. It doesn’t really tell us much. If we look on a page-by-page basis, even that is a little bit of a fuzzy metric because theoretically, a bounce could still be a very productive visitor. Because we don’t know if they clicked on a link to email you, or they clicked on the phone number to call, Google Analytics doesn’t know that there’s another interaction with the website in order to not call that visit bounce. And so be careful about assuming bounce is bad. Right? And there are things we can do to improve the data and analytics to make sure that bounce is really someone who just visited your page and goes, “Oops, wrong site,” and goes back out. That’s really bounce. I come to the page like, oh, this is totally not what I want, or this website’s ugly, I don’t trust this company, or this is spam, and go back. That’s what we think of as a bounce, but Google Analytics can’t distinguish that from someone who is a productive visitor, who happens to stay on the website twenty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds. So, that’s the first thing. Second, some pages are going to always have higher bounce rates than others. If you have a blog post, blog posts tend to be informational and not very sales-oriented. And so, someone might have digested the information you provided in the blog post and left. And that’s what a blog does, right? It gives you information. Now ideally, someone would read that blog post and say, “Oh, I really want to work with this company,” and then visit the Contact Us page. Now, we have a second interaction, and that visit’s not bounce.

Tim: Right.

David: So, in some senses, if it’s not a bounce, you could say that someone was a productive visitor. But I wouldn’t be worried about bounce sitewide. And I wouldn’t necessarily obsess on it on a page-by-page basis. However, we do know quality visitors tend to visit more than one page, right? If someone’s going to contact your business, they’re probably going to visit whatever page they land on, then go to your About Us page. Maybe they’ll visit your Contact Us page, and then they’ll want to look at reviews, and go to your review page, then look at a couple of blog posts, and then they finally will contact you. That’s a really good visitor. But just because someone didn’t do that doesn’t mean they are a bad visitor either. So, this is one of these cases where Google Analytics does have data like bounce rate, but it’s probably not the biggest thing to worry about. It might suggest to you that you’re not doing a good job getting someone from that blog post to another interaction. It might suggest the blog is less relevant to your business. Maybe it suggests that you need to do a better job on the blog, for instance, I’m using blogs because blogs tend to have higher bounce rates, getting them to sign up for your email list. So, there’s some value in it, but there’s not like a number to shoot for. In fact, I’d probably suggest most websites have an eighty percent bounce rate sitewide, but I’d suggest that’s probably pretty good.

Tim: Okay.

David: Yeah. A hundred percent bounce rate across the site, and you have real problems. Right? Because no one is going to visit any other pages. Unless it’s a one-page website and the only thing they can do is call your phone number. Then every one of your visitors would be a bounce.  

Tim: Yeah. That’s really interesting. That makes me wonder why Google isn’t smart enough to know that being on a page and clicking the phone number isn’t enough information to say that’s not a bounce.

David: Well, it’s the way Universal Analytics is set up. They are only sent information on certain interactions, which are typically page views unless you set up interaction as something separate.

Tim: Okay.

David: Now, this is something GA4 will do much better. GA4 watches people scroll down the page. And therefore, that’s an interaction, and therefore, it’s not bounce. Google Analytics will see where people click on the web webpage, even if it’s not a link, call it interaction, therefore it’s less of a bounce. So, bounce rate is probably more productive in GA4, as far as more accuracy. But you could set click event tracking on an email address or phone number link, and then send an information as interaction to Google Analytics, and then they would know that it wasn’t bounce. That would improve your bounce rate.

Tim: Yes.

David: But is that really going to help anything except your bounce rate? Well, it’ll show you that you’re getting a lot more off your pages than you realized. And tracking click-to-call is always a good idea, especially if you’re not doing phone call tracking. Sometimes people ask this because they hear a rumor that bounce rate is an SEO factor. Is that what’s behind this question?

Tim: No. It’s the numbers staring at you as you look at analytics. Right? It’s just there. And, yeah, it doesn’t sound like a thing that you want to be very high. It sounds like better lower than higher. Yeah, and eighty percent sounds high.

David: Yeah. It does. There are a lot of things in Google Analytics, like time-on-site is another one that they put in. So, here’s a piece of information we have, but is it good or bad? I don’t know. You know, if you’re the New York Times and you’re selling ad space, based on how many minutes someone spends on your website, that’s a pretty important metric. But sometimes a low time-on-site might be really good because that means, “Hey, guess what? I got to the site, I got what I wanted, and I’m done,” and that’s a really good website experience. We didn’t make them hunt through our website to find the information they needed. They landed, they got what they needed, they did what they needed, they were a successful visitor, and they have a very low time-on-site. So, number of pages visited the session, same kind of thing. A high number of pages could be your website is a confusing mess, and no one can find what they need to find.

Tim: Right.

David: Or it could mean your website’s very interactive, and that people really love interacting with your website. Google Analytics can’t tell the difference. It just knows that people tend to visit, you know, five or six pages.

Tim: Yeah. That’s all really valuable information, I think. Thank you for that.

David: Good. Thank you for asking because it’s a pretty common metric that people want to ask about because it’s front and center. I think it’s there because a lot of people don’t set up goal tracking. So, this might be a way to kind of get to a successful visitor if you don’t have goal tracking. But we all make sure we set up goals.

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