What is bounce rate? Answer is not always call to actions

Posted by on August 19, 2009 in Analytics

Most people may very well be aware of what bounce rate is exactly, while there are still some that may misunderstand this metric, however it’s crucial to understand this metric correctly, otherwise actions that may need to occur to improve a site based on this misunderstanding may not deliver the results you may expect.

Avinash Kaushik, in a interview on WebProNews regarding bounce rate, mentioned “I came, I saw, puked and left” as the quick lamens explanation, while the technical explanation for bounce rate according to Avinash is “Single Pageview Session” for the bounce rate metric. In essence, you will notice when going through your analytics stats that visitor bounces are in line with a visit without navigating further (no clicky clicky), unless an event is triggered during the visit. In contrast, Blogs tend to have a higher bounce rate as visitors are usually there to read an article they found in a search or link, and will leave when complete (as said, in most cases).

Overall site bounce rate metric (from the dashboard in Google Analytics for example) on occasion can be deceiving, as a quick site overview it will help to give a quick overview average figure for the site as a whole. However there are a few key areas that will help you evaluate bounce rate for the site more effectively such as Traffic sources report, Content Drilldown and Keyword Drilldown for the site. Before analyzing these reports, you may want to take a few seconds to get an idea for which area you may be looking to improve your visitor retention for the site, for example: are you looking to improve visitor retention from your individual traffic sources? Or are you looking to improve this on a keyword/content level? They may sound exactly the same; however approaches to solving bounce rate issues may differ slightly.

Before I go further, let me just explain why the post title mentions that it is not always call to actions as the answer to improving bounce rate. If you receive visits to a page from a phrase such as “red widgets”, however your site/content is dedicated to “building widgets” you are going to have a high bounce rate, call to actions will not solve this issue. Chew on that, let it swirl around, sleep on it :)

On the other side of the coin, if you have visits to a page for “green widgets” with the keyword “red widgets” which are not necessarily related to that page, however you have another page of content within the site that would provide a better landing page for those keyword referrals such as the “red widgets” page, then call to actions may be a step in the right direction, as well as reviewing the preferred landing page’s optimization (I’d suggest this as your first step).

Content Level

content drilldown bounce rate

Using the content report (Landing Pages in Google Analytics Content Section) and well as the keyword report will display the associated bounce rate within these reports. I would however suggest using the content drilldown as a starting point, arrange according to bounce rate in a descending order, and then drill down into the high bounce rate content sections/pages of the site you wish to address.

Choose a page to work with, and cross reference this content page against the Keyword Entrances. This will give you an idea of content page specific keywords that are resulting in the high bounce rate, helping to give you an idea of whether or not you should be re-optimising the copy or providing alternative navigational paths for visitors landing on the page, in other words, do your “call to actions” need to be improved or if the actual content needs to be updated or changed.

Side note: In some cases there will be keywords with a high bounce rate that you may not be able to solve that easily. Other elements within a page may result in keyword referrals that may be unrelated to the content on the page, therefore resulting in a bounce. Page segmentation anyone? Example: Currently a top referring phrase to this blog is “Pringles market share” on occasion, I have no content optimized for this, however the text appears in the page for “Pringle”, resulting in the phrase referrals. Not something I can easily solve to reduce overall bounce rate.

Traffic Sources

traffic sources bounce rate

Comparing the traffic sources against the bounce rate metric may be helpful in analyzing the effect of work done off site. Referrals from Facebook.com have a high bounce rate? Perhaps the content submitted does not grab the attention of the Facebook users, are you spending too much time on a traffic source VS the quality of traffic is may provide? Analysing the traffic sources against the associated bounce rate is a quick win to evaluate your offsite promotional work in certain areas. Again, does not necessarily mean your calls to actions need to be improved as the first action to improve your bounce rate, it may be your marketing within the related traffic sources may not be targeting the right audience correctly.

Round up

Remember improving or adding calls to actions is not necessarily the first step to improving your bounce rate within a site. Analytics tools are not always accurate therefore the necessity to cross reference data and use more than one metric in your analysis of you analytics data, simply evaluating keywords with a high bounce rate is not going to give you the data you need to make an accurate decision on how to address bounce rate within the site.

Cross referencing high bounce rate keywords/phrases against content will allow you to make a more empowered decision on how to address the issue. I.e. should I be optimizing other pages on the site that are far more relevant? Am I addressing visitor queries within the content? Is your content easily scanable? (Remember you only have a few seconds to grab a visitor’s attention on a landing page, can they find the information they need quickly/easily?)

Bounce rate can be a positive metric in some cases as it may help you improve the quality of the content within the site, ultimately improving visitor retention and increase overall traffic. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to spend time simply adding/improving calls to actions without getting the full picture from your analytics package as well as understanding what your visitors are looking for when landing on your site.

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