A guide to bounce rate and how to lower yours
What is a bounce rate?
Bounce rate is when a person arrives on your website – any page – and then leaves without clicking onto another page or link. For example, a bounce rate of 35% on a particular page means that of all of the people who arrive on your website via that page, 35% of them leave without visiting another page. The other 65% click through to another page or interact with the site in some way.
Bounce rate seems to be a simple metric with which to rate the quality of traffic coming to your website. But without understanding why the bounce rate is what it is, the figure is at best useless, and at worst dangerous. Take some time to understand the metric, and how it relates to your website, and you will be able to make informed decisions on how to improve it.
Don’t forget to make sure that your analytics tracking code is correctly implemented and applied to all pages!
Is high bounce rate always bad?
Let’s get this cleared up and out of the way before getting stuck in.
The aim of every website is to give visitors exactly what they are looking for, via the most direct route possible. This may be as simple as an answer to a question: “What time does the Perfect Pasty Co. shop open on a Tuesday?”. If the visitor finds the answer to their question immediately on the landing page, then that is a successful visit. This is true even though the bounce rate may be 100% because the visitor quickly found what they needed and then left. Of course, the Perfect Pasty Co. may hope to entice the visitor to view other pages after they have the answer to their question, but the primary aim is to give them the information initially searched for.
So, if your website measures success by the giving of information or problem solving only, a high bounce rate will not necessarily be bad.
However, how many websites do you know of that do not want some form of conversion – whether it’s an email sign-up, PDF download or use of the contact form? In reality, there are few sites for which a high bounce rate really is okay.
For the rest of this guide, we’ll assume that you have a multi-page website, with goals measured in terms of conversions, clicks, downloads, and so on. So ideally, a low bounce rate is what you are looking for.
Segment your data before analysing it
To get any real value from looking at your bounce rate data, you should be splitting it out before making any sweeping conclusions or acting on the data. Instead, look at the bounce rate of sections and individual pages of your website.
All the time, have in mind the pages or categories you expect or would like to be the highest value or highest converting.
Don’t get distracted by site-wide bounce rate
The site-wide bounce rate you see on Analytics overviews is an average figure and only part of the story. Drill down into the data to see which pages are getting the most and least traffic, and find out which have the highest and lowest bounce rates.
Device type segmentation
Segment your bounce rate data by device type. This can give you an instant insight into how mobile-friendly your pages are.
Focus on your most important pages
Pay particular attention to bounce rate for pages on which you expect to see conversions happening, high volume traffic pages, and the landing pages for your pay-per-click campaigns.
Treat every page type differently
Don’t forget that something like your ‘Contact’ page may have a high bounce rate because some visitors arriving on the page may just be looking for your business hours or address. Others may interact with your contact form or click on an email address. (These last two examples won’t be recorded as a bounce).
New Vs Returning Visitors
Look at the behaviour of new visitors compared to returning visitors. If your site is information rich, it may be that you are happy for repeat visitors to bounce as they may already be your customers, and finding what they want on your site. New visitors should not be bouncing, as you’d generally prefer them to interact – perhaps by signing up for your emails or RSS feed.
Traffic Source reports
Look at these in Analytics; from organic and paid search to email campaigns and social media sites. Sources will all have different bounce rates.
Our best tips for rectifying a high bounce rate
For the pages with a high bounce rate, there are a few reasons this may be happening. You could be targeting or attracting the wrong type of visitor, providing a poor landing page experience, or be attracting visitors from low relevance sources.
Our top tips should help you analyse your bounce rate more thoroughly, and turn things around.
The wrong type of organic visitor
Google has become particularly sophisticated when it comes to determining the intent of a searcher. Gone are the days of having to trawl through pages 2,3,4,5 etc. The likelihood is that Google will present a highly relevant set of results to choose from, within the top half of the first results page.
However, even Google is not a mind-reader, and the broader or less specific a search term is, the less chance there is that it can return the perfect list of pages.
Sometimes, for many different reasons, the searcher may just be the wrong type of visitor, and no matter what they see when they arrive on your landing page, they will bounce. No website has a bounce rate of 0%. Accept that this will happen and move on to affecting the things which you can change.
The wrong type of paid visitor
Adding insult to the cost of your advertising, sometimes a high bounce rate can be traced back to your PPC campaigns. Think about whether your landing pages really are giving the searcher what they were expecting when they clicked on your ad. If they clicked on your ad headline ‘cheap electric kettles’, don’t take them to a page for your most expensive kettles in the hope of up-selling.
They wanted cheap electric kettles, so give them cheap electric kettles! If necessary, create a separate ad for your luxury kettle landing page. If you don’t sell cheap electric kettles, stop targeting those searchers.
Channels and Sources
Use Google Analytics to take a detailed look at where your high bounce traffic is coming from and ask why that particular channel or source may not be working well for you.
Perhaps you write awesome ads and the click-through rate on your PPC campaign is very impressive. But does the bounce rate tell a different story? If a significant proportion of the traffic which you have paid for is leaving your site without completing goals, you need to find out why. Address any misalignment of your ad messages and landing pages.
Or perhaps paid search as a channel has an acceptable bounce rate, but on closer inspection, your Bing Ads campaign is disproportionately affecting the bounce rate.
Don’t forget that in the UK smartphone adoption is at 90% now! Mobile optimisation is key.
Landing page experience
A high bounce rate can often be down to what the visitor finds (or can’t find) when they arrive on your website. You cannot expect them to hang around for long if they can’t find what they came for. They will simply find a competitor’s site instead. Ask yourself, does your landing page really give visitors what they were looking for?
Source/Landing Page match
Look back at the source and, if possible, the key phrase that brought them to your page. Are the two closely related?
Make it easy
Your customer searched for ‘girl’s ballet shoes’. Does the landing page make it easy for the customer to add a pair of girl’s ballet shoes to their basket and checkout? Or are they difficult to find in amongst tutu dresses, tap dancing shoes and promotional messages?
Clear calls to action
The call to action on your ad says: ‘Sign up today for your free ebook’. Does your landing page make it patently obvious how to sign up, and how to claim the free ebook? Make sure your landing pages tell the user what to do next without diluting or confusing the message with multiple calls to action.
Make navigation intuitive
Is your website easy to view and navigate? If you know your own products and services very well, it may be easy to overlook the fact that a newcomer may not know which category to find an item in. Make sure the menus are easy to read and follow, and that there is a site search facility if it is a large website.
Device type is important
Something we already touched on is that there can be a strong correlation between bounce rate and device type. Ask yourself why visitors may be bouncing more frequently when using a smartphone. Get your smartphone out and take an objective look at your website. Ask someone of 50+ who has never used your site before to complete a task using a smartphone.
Are your landing pages simple to navigate on smaller screen sizes? Is it easy for the visitor to complete goals? Ask your developer to use Google’s documentation to build the website.
Minimise page error bounce
What happens when a user clicks on a broken link or mistypes a URL on your website? This is called a 404 error and can be a great way to lose leads!
Firstly, try to avoid 404s altogether by using permanent redirects for pages that have moved, and by checking for broken links (a) within your website, and (b) from other websites.
There are many free tools available that can help; Screaming Frog SEO Spider is one that we use. Amongst other things, it will list all of your site’s internal links and the related status codes. You can also use Google’s own Webmaster Tools to find the sites that are linking to yours.
Make sure that you have a custom 404 page in place. If someone does type a URL or click a link to a page which no longer exists, you can then encourage them to use a search tool or provide links to the main pages – keeping them on the site.
Ignore slow page load speeds at your peril!
Who hasn’t lost their patience waiting for a page to load? It’s probably the biggest single factor in a high bounce rate, and is easy to spot in Analytics. Because Google knows that slow page loads can ruin a user’s experience, and because user experience is king, it follows that page load speeds are now a factor in page rank. Investigate your load speeds and get them fixed asap!
When it comes to bounce rate, as with pretty much all things to do with optimising websites, there is no single quick-fix strategy or approach. However, if you apply the golden rule of segmenting your data before making changes, you will have a good chance of nudging the bounce rate statistics that really matter in the right direction.
And, of course, it should go without saying by now: assuming the majority of visits to your site will be made using a tablet or smartphone and optimise accordingly!