What does bounce rate mean in Google Analytics?
You’ve heard the term “bounce rate” before. It’s possible (and probable, since you found this article), that you saw the metric for bounce rate in Google Analytics and wanted to know more about what the term means and how you should interpret it.
There is a common misconception that the bounce rate for a website is similar to the bounce rate of a tennis ball: it takes seconds for the ball to drop to the ground and come back up. When applied to the internet, this means that someone enters a website for seconds and then immediately leaves, without taking the time to see what’s on the page.
This interpretation is misleading, if not outright wrong. For instance, a user could spend 10 minutes on a page, never click on anything else, and exit the site, and that would still count as a bounce.
Let’s define bounce rate
Bounce rate is defined by Google Analytics as “single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions on your website in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server.” If we break this down into simple terms, it’s essentially the percentage of times someone visited your website and left after viewing only one page.
So, if a visitor arrives to your site on page A, then leaves, that counts as a bounce.
If a visitor arrives to your site on page A, then clicks through to page B before leaving, that’s not a bounce. Simple, right?
But, there is an exception to this simple rule—interaction events. Interaction events are custom parameters that can be set up in Google Analytics that occur as the result of a user interacting with page A. These interaction events prevent a bounce, even if the visitor never clicks through to page B. Examples of interaction events are link clicks, downloads, video plays, etc.
For example, say you set up an interaction event for video plays on page A. When a visitor lands on page A, plays the video, and then leaves, that doesn’t count as a bounce, because the interaction event was triggered. Only if a visitor lands on page A and doesn’t play the video before leaving is it considered a bounce.
Why does bounce rate matter?
Your bounce rate gives you a straightforward way to evaluate the “stickiness” of a webpage, which is important for top-of-funnel pages like your homepage or your blog. You want users to come to your website to explore and learn about your product or service. If users leave after reading only one blog post, or they don’t find anything of interest on your homepage, they can send your bounce rate soaring.
A high bounce rate can also help identify user experience problems. Users may bounce because they can’t figure out how or where to go next, or because your site takes too long to load. Monitoring your bounce rate can help tell you which areas of your site are doing well and which areas need improvement.
Bounce rate is also a ranking factor for Google and other search engines. A high bounce rate can indicate bad content, and search engines take this into account. Pages with extremely high bounce rates won’t rank as highly as those with lower bounce rates. However, Google does account for outliers—if a page is expected to have a high bounce rate (such as Wikipedia articles or Quora answers, where readers grab their information and leave), the metric is less relevant in ranking.
Bounce rates also affect average time on page and average session duration metrics. Knowing your bounce rate provides context for these metrics, and analyzing them in conjunction helps you decide what’s best for your site.
What if my bounce rate in Google Analytics is high?
A high bounce rate isn’t necessarily bad; it depends on what you want someone to do once they’re on your website. Consider the expected behavior for the pages you’re examining: if you expect a user to come to your website to visit multiple pages—homepage, blog posts, product pages, etc.—then a high bounce rate could be a bad thing. But if you expect them to get what they are looking for, then leave—for instance, when looking for definitions or an answer to a question—then a high bounce rate may not be anything to worry about.
People often think if Google Analytics shows a high bounce rate, it means visitors aren’t engaged. This could be true, but bounce rate doesn’t take into account the amount of time a user is on a page.
It can be easy to confuse bounce rates with engagement. In the past, this may have been the closest metric we had to measuring engagement, but now we can use a combination of other metrics like average time on page, average session duration, and completion rate to understand user behavior.
The bottom line
Don’t look at your bounce rate without considering other factors. Evaluate the purpose of a page, and what it is supposed to accomplish before making major adjustments to your site. And don’t forget: bounce rate doesn’t indicate actual engagement.
Image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock