How can you tell if your website is truly effective? There are a number of different metrics that might be considered, and as a rule of thumb, you’re better off not obsessing over one metric in particular. The truth is that these metrics are interrelated, and they all matter to different degrees; focusing on just a single aspect of your website performance gives you a picture that could be misleading, to say the least.
Let’s consider one such aspect in particular: Bounce rate. Some website owners see an unwelcome bounce rate in their Google Analytics, and it causes them to fret. Actually, bounce rate is just one of several ways to evaluate website performance, and it’s not necessarily as useful as you might think.
Defining Bounce Rate
Part of the reason why bounce rate is limited in its usefulness is that it’s difficult to define.
Colloquially, many marketers and SEO professionals think of bounce rate in simple terms: A “bounce” is when someone visits your website and leaves pretty quickly. The implication is that either your website content failed to engage them, or its structure seemed daunting and impenetrable. Either way, it would seem to be a poor reflection on your website.
Considering bounce rate from a slightly more technical standpoint, we might view a “bounce” as any time a person visits your website and then either hits the Back button, closes the browser window, or navigates to a different website without taking any further actions on your site. What’s crucial to this understanding of bounce rate is that it doesn’t take into account the amount of time a user stays on your site; for example, what if someone spends 20 minutes reading your website content before navigating to another page, perhaps to compare your website with a competitive product or service? This is a very different scenario than the user who visits your website and immediately leaves and doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on your website.
The real question, of course, is what does Google say about bounce rate? Here’s how the world’s biggest search engine defines the term: “A bounce is a single-page session on your site…specifically, a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the server during that session.”
There are a couple of comments that could be made about Google’s definition of a bounce. For one, it’s important to note that there are many actions a user could take on your website that don’t trigger any action to the Analytics server. For example, this definition of “bounce rate” doesn’t account for the time users spend scrolling through your page and reading its contents. By Google’s logic, most bloggers would probably see very high bounce rates, even if their readers spend a great deal of time processing their content.
The even bigger point is that, when marketers talk about bounce rate, they often impose motivation. For example, it’s implied that a high bounce rate means that users find the site to be unhelpful or unengaging. But Google’s definition of the term allows for some alternate possibilities. For example, if someone visits only one page on your site and leaves 10 minutes later, Google might register that as a “bounce”... but it might actually reflect that the user found exactly the information they were looking for. In other words, a bounce does not denote an unsatisfactory user experience. It might just as easily mean the opposite.
The important takeaway here is that bounce rate is highly contextual, and if it’s the only website metric you have on your radar, it can be a little misleading. Again, think of your blog. If you write a 3,000-word blog post that takes half an hour to read, and then hundreds of people scroll through the post to read it in full, that surely qualifies as success. And yet, Google Analytics might register it as a bounce!
And here’s another important point to consider about bounce rate: A single-page session will always be recorded as zero seconds spent on the site. Naturally, it looks bad when you’re reviewing your analytics and see that someone came to your site for zero seconds, but again, this doesn’t necessarily mean your content was found wanting more. Sometimes, it might mean that the content answered the user’s query in full. By the same token, if your site has a really low bounce rate, that doesn’t necessarily mean your site is doing its job; it may be that people have to click around from page to page looking for the information they need, which can be frustrating. Low bounce rate can often reflect a poor user experience or misleading site navigation.
Beyond Bounce Rate
None of this is meant to suggest that an analysis of bounce rate is bad or unproductive; rather, we would contend that bounce rate can be helpful when it’s considered in light of context and other core metrics, where it can contribute to a fuller, big-picture understanding of a website’s success.
At enCOMPASS, we help our clients set up metrics that more accurately assess the efficacy of their website; for example, click-to-call numbers, form completions, and chat engagements can all provide a sense of whether website users are truly engaging with the brand. These and similar metrics allow for a more tailored approach to website analytics, allowing you to more carefully and thoughtfully discern whether the site’s getting the job done.
If you have any additional questions about sizing up the performance of your website, don’t hesitate to reach out to the enCOMPASS team directly.
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