The Bounce Rate: When It Matters, and When it Doesn't


Bounce rate (sometimes confused with exit rate) is an Internet marketing term used in web traffic analysis. It represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave ("bounce") rather than continuing on to view other pages within the same site.

Whether you are using ads or inbound marketing strategies, the bounce rate tells you a lot about whether you are doing things right or wrong on your website. In itself, however, it is pretty meaningless. Despite what various marketing websites report, there is no ideal or average bounce rate for a website. It depends on the industry, the competition, the age group you are addressing, the content itself, and what you are trying to do with the site. 

Consider the following scenarios: 

1) You are selling products on your website

If you get traffic from organic search to your website and the landing page has a high bounce rate, that may indicate one of two things. Either your website isn't really relevant to the search, or your product offering is not attractive to users. The first step then is to check your search terms and make sure they are aligned. If that is not the culprit, we need to find why your product offering isn't attractive.

Do you have the price listed on the landing page? Try moving it to the following page. If the bounce rate improves, that means visitors are actually interested but are put off by the price. There are multiple combinations, and A/B testing is the way to go here. If you get the traffic from ads, it's time to check your keywords and make sure the ad is shown to the right people. 

Note that the bounce rate also varies by product, age group, and even time of day or the weather. A product with lots of competition say sports shoes, will have a higher bounce rate than a fairly unique product. That ice-cream parlor may bounce more on cold days when people just come to a have a look and remember you for the summer.

2) A blog post

A high bounce rate on a blog post is natural. People found the link somewhere on social media or a referrer and then landed on your blog. The bounce rate doesn't tell you much about the success of the post - you need to look at the time spent on the page.

If you have a bounce rate of 99% but people spend several minutes on the page, that means, people are actually reading what you wrote, but aren't interested in your other opinions -- or you forgot to guide them to further reading. If you want people to stay on the site and read other articles, it makes sense to include links to other posts at the end of the post. However, those articles should be relevant and on a similar topic. 

Good navigation is key to lowering bounce rates, but it far from the only factor. In general, there are a few tricks to improve your bounce rate regardless of what you are doing on your website. 


You really need to understand your visitors. No, really!

Before even considering the importance of the bounce rate, you need to know why and how visitors come to your website. As shown above, this makes a huge difference.

Visitors who have followed a social media link are much less likely to continue reading other pages of your site because they want to get back to scrolling through Facebook, say, or keep reading other posts from their Twitter feed.

Visitors looking for a specific product or supplier will spend more time learning about your company or product offering.

Sounding "folksy" may cut it in Texas, but in Tokyo, you'd sound like an idiot.  

Knowing your visitors is especially important if you are trying to appeal to a global audience. Many American websites, for example, use over-hyped language, content and design formats that Europeans or Asians consider spammy and untrustworthy. Sounding "folksy" may cut it in Texas, but in Tokyo, you'd sound like an idiot. Likewise, many Asian companies use a verbose and impersonal English style (based on the original Chinese or Japanese content, for example) that sounds completely outdated or statist to American or European ears.

Another aspect is technology. Look at Google Analytics and see where bounce rates happen most. Because so many websites out there are still not very mobile friendly, a high bounce rate on mobile my just underline the fact that you'll have to invest in a new web design soon, rather than a general disinterest in your product. You can do the same analysis for countries, languages, and age groups, and thus tweak and improve your site. 


UX is essential. Gee, where have we heard that before?

One of the most common general reasons for a high bounce rate is bad, outdated, or unappealing design. Just like with humans, first impressions go a long way. When visitors go to your site and are immediately put off by terrible design, they will not bother to go on reading content.

Hiding important navigation choices in obscure menus is one of the biggest reason for a high bounce rate.

The user experience is key. If you are offering products in 12 very different categories, make sure the landing page clearly directs users to these. Hiding important navigation choices in obscure menus is one of the biggest reason for a high bounce rate.

So, incidentally, is not having a clear way to go back to the home page. When visitors land on your site through referral links, they often like to know more about the site on which they find themselves perhaps by accident. Not having a clear home button and other essential navigation can raise your bounce rate significantly. The top of the page is essential in this regard. 


Be original and stop being greedy

Another big reason for bouncing is derivative design, unoriginal content, or advertisement on the page. If your site looks like someone else's - and that is not uncommon at all; if you copied the style or content from a competitor, or simply use the exact same terminology, users quickly learn to see you as an unimaginative rip-off of another brand. They learn to distrust you, and will likely never come back.

Users of Wordpress and other systems with free templates are particularly prone to this problem. You may save a lot of money upfront by doing your own website with little original design, but you may end up paying dearly for that through the loss of users over the long run. 

As for ads, they simply make your site look spammy and untrustworthy. Did you right that article to teach me something, or to earn money through Google ads? Personally, I don't trust any advice from a site which clearly makes money from advertising and I immediately leave. There, up goes your bounce rate by being too greedy.


The importance of being mobile (and very, very fast)

1/2 the traffic worldwide, and over 85% of web traffic in certain countries (like Taiwan) is now on mobile. If your site doesn't work on mobile, it is already invisible to a big percentage of your users. Especially large organizations and government agencies, or sites that require data entry of any kind, are a victim of this trend, and a lot of visitors may bounce because they simply cannot use the site from their mobile devices.

Directly related to the mobile trend is speed. At a recent conference about SEO I attended, one of the Google engineers explained that the future of SEO could be summed up in one word: speed.

The same goes for your website. If 85% of your visitors come from mobile, too many large videos or images, or badly designed java scripts and heavy CSS will result in a slow speed. Mobile users tend to abandon connections that don't load within 3 seconds. Moving your site to a faster or geographically closer server or using CDN services may also help lower the bounce rate. If you are unsure about these terms, talk to your web developer, or a SEO professional. What's good for the SEO is good for the bounce rate.


Rethink collecting information 

Any kind of website requiring user data entry should be constantly monitored from the latest mobile devices. Badly designed data entry options doesn't just slow down your site, they may make it perfectly unusable, and thus raise your bounce rate.

Reduce the number of interactions necessary. Many small businesses or outdated online shopping websites still require the user to enter a lot of data (name, address, phone, payment details, shipping address etc.) for each transaction, instead of allowing a "use as a visitor" option and requiring only the bare minimal.

The more data entry you require from your customers, the higher your bounce rate will be, because users on mobile are often not willing, or not in a position to complete lengthy data entry processes. Just think of your own experience: you are on the MRT/subway/bus, found this awesome new headphone, but as soon as you click "Buy" you are presented with a two-page form to fill in data. No thank you Sir.

If data entry is part of a purchase action, you are leaving your paying customers with a horrible user experience, and they will likely never return. 


Original content and consistent identity

Last but not least, one of the simplest explanation for high bounce rate is bad content. "Bad" may mean too complicated or badly written, badly formatted, irrelevant, outdated, or even in the wrong language. If your blog only contains content that can be found everywhere else, lots of users will realize they already read this somewhere, which increases - rather logically - your bounce rate.

Good content and an easily identifiable design around that content will make users linger. Whether it is a certain style of imagery or a uniquely designed text inlay in each header image; consistency and originality leave a lasting impression and raise the authority of your website. The right design varies from country to country.

Content should be well written, not just from your perspective, but from the perspective of your visitors. Speak to the user directly, try to anticipate their though processes and intents, and keep the content clearly structured to maximize utility. Self-promotional content is a big turn-off; educational, useful pieces, on the other hand, will make users come back for more. 

As I hope you will to this blog.