Google defines bounce rate as:
“The percentage of visits in which users view only a single page of your site”
Actually this definition isn’t 100% accurate as you can read at the excellent Analytics Ninja blog – but for the vast majority of us it’s an easy to understand definition of the metric.
But what is a high bounce rate? “High” is a relative metric. Is 40% a high bounce rate? 60%? 70%? At what rate do you start to be concerned and at what rate do you really panic? Does bounce rate vary by sector or type of website?
Even though Google Analytics provides an incredible breadth and depth of data, your site’s bounce rate is displayed on the main overview page. It’s one of the top 7 metrics on your standard dashboard (sessions, users, page views, pages/session, average session duration, bounce rate, % new sessions) and you are left in no doubt that Google considers this an important metric.
7 Steps to Analyse a High Bounce Rate using Google Analytics
First drill-down a level to analyse the high bounce rate. Has something changed? Is the high bounce rate linked to a recent event, limited to a specific acquisition channel, to a particular page or to a particular type of device. Also, look at the bounce rate in the context of other website engagement metrics.
1) Has the bounce rate increased recently?
Look back at previous periods in Google Analytics or use the Google Analytics graph. Has the bounce rate increased or has it stayed at a consistent level?
A sudden increase in bounce rate could be linked to changes you’ve made to the website in that time period. Drill-down to the exact date when bounce rate increased and review website changes made at that time – have you modified content? Have you enabled a new plugin slowing down the site? Have you added a redirection incorrectly taking people to an incorrect page?
Also, run a website security check – have you been hacked? Check in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools for messages/warnings.
2) Is the high bounce rate linked to a specific acquisition channel?
Use the Google Analytics Acquisition Overview report to identify whether the high bounce rate is limited to specific channels.
Has a new paid search campaign increased your overall site bounce rate?
Do you have a much higher bounce rate from referrals or direct channels? You could possibly be affected by Google Analytics spam – fake referrals or fake direct traffic. Drill-down on the specific channel to investigate and look for spikes on particular days that look suspicious.
Follow this guide for removing referrer spam and fake traffic in Google Analytics.
3) Is the high bounce rate linked to a specific landing page?
A landing page is the page on your site where a visitor first arrives. If you see a significant difference between bounce rates on different landing pages this could highlight an issue specific to that page. Although bear in mind that visitors who land on your home page will normally have a lower bounce rate than those who arrive directly on a specific sub-page (through organic search, referral or paid channels).
Tip: To view landing pages in Google Analytics, go to Behaviour -> Site Content -> Landing Pages
4) Is the high bounce rate linked to a specific device category?
Does your site work effectively on mobile devices? Check the bounce rate by device category in Google Analytics. Tip: Audience-> Mobile -> Overview.
If your site is not mobile friendly – check on the Google Mobile Test Tool – then you will certainly want to address this urgently. With the ever-increasing volume of mobile traffic this could easily have increased your overall site bounce rate.
If your site is mobile friendly but still has a higher bounce rate than other channels, then don’t panic. 2017 statistics from 584 Billion Page Views analysed by Eric Enge at Stone Temple , show that site engagement is still higher on desktop than mobile and bounce rate from mobile has a 40% higher bounce rate.
5) Is the high bounce rate linked to specific countries?
If your business is focused on a specific country then track your bounce rate for that specific country. Compare bounce rates by geographical location of the visitor in Google Analytics (Audience -> Geo -> Location).
Evidence of Google Analytics spam might be found by unusually high traffic from a particular country that has affected your overall bounce rate.
If your business is focused on a specific town, city, county or state then your key interest is the bounce rate from visitors in that region. Change the primary dimension to ‘City’ in the Google Analytics Location report to analyse.
6) Is internal traffic affecting the bounce rate?
You should exclude traffic from your own company from your main Google Analytics view. If you don’t exclude internal traffic and employees set your site as their default web page this can quickly skew your data and present a high bounce rate and low engagement metrics.
If your company has a fixed IP address then add a new filter in Google Analytics, to exclude traffic from the IP address. Tip: Always keep an unfiltered view of your Google Analytics data as well as your filtered view.
7) Bounce rate in the context of other website engagement metrics
Bounce rate should always be considered in the content of the overall engagement the site has with visitors. Check the average number of page views per session and check the average session duration. Personally, I like to filter out the bounce sessions and analyse the average engagement metrics of those sessions that didn’t bounce. If you have decent page views and time on site for the non-bounce sessions then you know that some people are finding your content interesting/useful.
Google Analytics has a built-in segment called ‘Non-Bounce Sessions’ to make this analysis easy.
5 potential reasons for a high bounce rate
Once you’ve analysed whether the high bounce rate affects the website as a whole or is limited to specific areas you can consider potential reasons and explanations. To do this your need to step into the shoes of the website visitor and consider their experience.
1) The Not Relevant Visitor
According to Internet World Stats there are 3.9 billion internet users around the globe (June 2017). However wonderful you believe your website is you need to accept that your website is not going to be interesting or relevant to everyone! Think of your own web experience – how many times have you clicked the back button to return to the search results after finding yourself at a non-relevant site? Your back button click has just increased another site owner’s bounce rate.
Does your homepage explain what you do? You’d be surprised how many sites omit basic information that will help confirm relevancy to the visitor.
High bounce rate from Organic Search?
Google Analytics marks almost all of your organic search traffic as (not provided) so it is not easy to analyse your bounce rate based on different search terms. However, if you have access to your Google Search Console account (either directly or if you’ve linked your Google Search Console account to Google Analytics in Acquisition -> Search Console -> Queries) you can get information about the terms people entered to find your site. Are these relevant to you?
High bounce rate from Paid Search?
This is more common and easier to diagnose as Google currently provides full details of the searches that led to a click on your advert. Look in Acquisition -> AdWords -> Keywords -> Search Queries. Do these searches look relevant to your site? Are you happy paying for visitors who typed in these searches to visit your site? Check the bounce rates by search query. Lots of non-relevant search queries? Check out our 5 ways to stop wasting money on Google AdWords post.
2) The Frustrated Visitor
The visitor is interested in your site but they are immediately frustrated with layout, navigation or selection issues that make it hard for them to work out what to do. Is your site navigation easy to understand? Do you offer a search facility? Does your page have a clear call to action?
Unless you have a very compelling proposition a frustrated visitor will seldom invest time and effort in struggling their way around your site to find the information they are seeking.
High bounce rate from Paid Search?
Check you are sending your visitors to the correct landing page. If someone has clicked on ad they expect to arrive at the relevant page on your site. Send them to the home page, the wrong page, a 404 not found page and you can expect to see a high bounce rate.
High bounce rate from Mobile devices?
Check your site on various mobile devices. Does it render correctly? Is it possible to use the navigation on a small screen? Consider using a responsive design for your website.
3) The Annoyed Visitor
Technical issues are a bounce rate killer. Slow loading times, browser rendering issues, Flash content, pop-ups, page errors and warnings are all obvious reasons for people to be annoyed with your site and reach for the back button.
Check your site performance at Google Page Speed Insights and well known speed test sites such as Pingdom and GT-Metrix. I’m a big fan of GT-Metrix and run regular speed tests using the service – there are paid versions but you can get started for free. If your site is built with WordPress and the GT-Metrix results indicate a need to fix issues then check out this detailed guide.
4) The Uncomfortable Visitor
First impressions count. Visitors make quick decisions about trustworthiness. Poor website design, pop-up ads, surveys, auto-play videos and other low-quality signals, will all lead to high bounce rates.
Branding, messaging and pricing can also make people feel uncomfortable – the “I don’t belong here” feeling.
5) The Informed Visitor
Not every bounce is a negative. Not every bounce can be analysed as a site failure.
Many visitors arrive at the page on your site that holds exactly the information they were seeking. What is it you expect them to do next? For online retailers, I call this the “buy or bounce” decision. This can be particularly noticeable for Paid Search campaigns which take the visitor directly to your product detail page. If you’ve got the page content right – pricing, proposition, delivery, availability, trust – there really is nowhere else for the visitor to go – they either “buy or bounce”.
Remember – Contact Us pages often have high bounce rates. If the visitor was simply seeking contact detail, arrives at your contact page then they are an informed visitor and will commonly bounce.
Do investigate but don’t take it personally
No one likes to feel rejected. Many hours of time, effort and investment is poured in to creating a website and updating website content – all with the aim of being viewed and read by website visitors. A bounce can feel like a personal rejection of the efforts of those updating and managing the website. A high bounce rate can lead to a feeling of frustration and thoughts of “why do I bother?”. I encourage you to stick with it, follow the guidance above and review whether the 5 reasons for a high bounce rate could be impacting your site.
A final thought…for online retailers
Are you an online retailer with high bounce rates? Remember there is little or no concept of “window shopping” on the web. A visitor to your site who bounces is akin to someone peering in the window of your shop. If you were running a traditional high street store what percentage of your window shoppers will open the door and come in? Naturally you would be delighted to see everyone looking in from outside to open the door and come in but this is unlikely to be the case. Make your shop window as attractive and relevant as possible, ensure you avoid the pitfalls described above, but don’t panic about high bounce rates!