Bounce Rate explained.
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Bounce rate is something that you will probably come across when looking at analytical data for a website. It basically shows the amount of traffic that left your website after only viewing one page. For many it is a statistic that can be used to show how engaging your website is along with the average number of pages viewed per visit.
We are often asked by website owners what the ideal bounce rate is or if their websites bounce rate is too high. It is very hard to really compare bounce rates as every website and its audience is different. In some cases the different areas of your website may have dramatically different bouncerates.
The key to really using bounce rate is to understand what it is and more importantly what it means in the context of your website and your sites traffic.
Reasons for a high bounce rate
There are many different reasons for having a high bounce rate, many of which are bad but some that are also quite legitimate. The visitor may not have found what they were expecting and left fairly quickly or they may have found exactly what they wanted and had no need to view any other pages of your website. A prime example of this is customers looking for your phone number. As a consultancy we get this quite a bit and with our phone number being on every page no matter where they arrive from they will find it and have little need to look at any other pages.
What to look for when dealing with bounce rate
To really use bounce rate you need to view it in conjunction with your website structure. In our case we have a number of service pages (such as website design and IT Services). We can compare these to each other and see if any pages stand out as being high or low.
If one page / group of pages stands out we can then look at those pages to ascertain why. Is this page talking about a more stand alone service (like our photography page) where visitors are just less likely to be interested in other services or products? Are there not as many links to other areas of the website than the other pages?
You can also look at the traffic sources, where are these visitors coming from? If it is predominantly search traffic have a look at the search terms. If you get quite a bit of traffic from links on other website have a look at those website that are sending you traffic, the pages with the links on them and see if there is anything there that could be causing a higher than average bounce rate.
You can also compare the traffic that doesn't bounce. If some pages have a lower bounce rate where are these visitors looking at next?
Comparing your bounce rate over time
Bounce rate can also be used to monitor the performance of website changes. Comparing the bounce rate before and after a change to the website can give a great insight into how your website is being used.
Bounce rate may highlight problems, it is not a problem in itself.
The key point I want to make is that you need to understand and evaluate why your bounce rate is what it is. Bounce rate is a set of data that needs to be interpreted and if its interpreted incorrectly it could lead you to make changes that may potentially harm your websites performance. Making changes solely to lower your bounce rate is nearly always a bad idea. In the case of our phone number being on every page we could easily hide it on a contact us page and dramatically lower our overall bounce rate but I doubt you could say this would be an improvement from a visitors perspective.
What can you do to improve bounce rate?
When you spot an area you think you can improve on you need to look at it from the point of view of a user. Look at the page and use what you have learnt by looking at the data to find ways you can make improvements. In some cases there may be able to highlight other areas of the website which are relevant.
If the page you are looking at is a service or product page try including information about other related products or services. If you don't have any other pages which are relevant look for ways you can create relevant pages.
Many analytical packages will allow you to track visitors through your website. Try and identify common paths and look for ways you can direct traffic from high bounce rate pages into relevant streams of traffic.
Lastly you can ask real people. Ideally asking for the opinion of a genuine visitor is the best way to source valuable feedback but even asking friends and family can throw up some good points. As with many other things in life, a fresh pair of eyes can make a huge difference.
Ultimately it is a case of keep trying to improve the site, monitoring the changes and working out what works best for your site and your visitors.