A client recently asked me to explain why their blog site bounce rate is so high – in this case over 80%.

Now, if you’re not familiar with “bounce” then I should explain. This is the measure that Google gives to visitors who come to your website and leave without visiting any other pages on your site. Say, for example, they arrive at your home page, spot your phone number at the top of the page, call your number and close their browser then that would be regarded as a “bounce”. The visitor remained on one page and did nothing else on the site.

Website owners who are monitoring their Google Analytics (or whatever other statistics you’re monitoring) will look at the bounce rate as a problem. On the surface, it seems to indicate that users aren’t interacting with the site and it’s somehow not providing the information they’re looking for. A high bounce rate is seen as an indicator that the site landing pages aren’t relevant to the audience and thus they leave immediately. However, the truth could be somewhat different.

The truth about Bounce Rate

I asked my client to check another statistic before I answered – the “average session duration”. In this case it was 1 minute 40 seconds.

Why is that important? Because the time a user spends on the page is a good indicator of the value they’re getting from your website. If the site provided no discernable value the time people spend on the site would be very low – seconds probably. So, because their session duration was over a minute the conclusion is that most visitors to the site are getting some value.

In the client’s case, they run a blog site – a news site for a particular industry niche. Therefore, the likelihood is users are not going to spend a lot of time looking around the website. They’re more likely to visit the site to read a particular article and then leave so the bounce rate will be high.

My recommendation to the client was to add a line of code to the Google Analytics code to filter out bounces from users who spend more than 1 minute 40 seconds in length. These would be “genuine” bounces – i.e. visitors that come to the site and leave immediately without reading an article.

Of course, a user could arrive at the site, read the article and leave in under 1 minute 40 seconds so it’s not perfect but it’s a much better view on the activity on the site than before.

Another useful statistic from Google Analytics is within the Audience>Behaviour section called New vs Returning. This is a set of data that explores the behavior of your returning visitors to new arrivals and it’s interesting to see how the bounce rate differs here. Ideally, your returning visitors should be bouncing much less than your first-time visitors.

For more detail on how to adjust your Google Analytics code to take account of the session time, this excellent article by Himanshu Sharma all the details.

What is a good bounce rate? For more details on this subject check out this excellent article