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Google Analytics: What’s the “bounce rate”?

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street soccer

Photo: “street soccer” by phlubdr on Flickr

If you’re using Google Analytics, you probably already know that it’s an incredibly powerful tool – and not all the metrics it offers are instantly comprehensible. In this post I’m going to talk about “Bounce Rate” and how it can help you find and fix problems with your site.

Google’s help page describes the bounce rate as:

The Bounce Rate is the percentage of bounced visits to your site.

A bounce is calculated as a single-page view or single-event trigger in a session or visit.

Yuh. OK… In English, this means that someone came to your site and went away again without clicking through to anything else on your site – it’s a one-page visit. There are only two real explanations for a bounce:

  1. They found exactly what they were looking for and felt no need to look further
  2. They found nothing of interest or were put off by some aspect of the content approach, design or implementation (anything from garish colours, slow-loading pages to poor content could do this)

Obviously, the first scenario is a pretty good one and the second scenario indicates a problem you need to fix.

You can see the Bounce Rate on your Content > Overview page – this is the rate for the whole site you’re tracking so it’ll give a vague idea of how your site’s going, but where the Bounce Rate becomes useful is when you look at individual pages. Hop over to Content > Site Content > Pages and you’ll be able to see the Bounce Rate for each page – this will show you what content is encouraging users to move on to other pages in the site, and which ones aren’t.

You can also use the Bounce Rate data under Traffic Sources > Sources > All Traffic to identify whether visitors from a particular source might not be having their expectations met.

Once you’ve identified a page that you think should have a lower bounce rate, what can you do to improve it? There are three main areas to look at:

  1. Is the content clear, succinct and easily scannable (our free Writing for the Web Quick-Start Guide can help you tailor your content to be web-friendly)
  2. Have you actually got any links to other parts of the site on the page? Usually there’ll be navigation links, but relevant links in the content itself are more likely to encourage users to explore.
  3. If you’re seeing a high bounce rate for visits from Google, what are the keywords that are being used? If they’re not relevant, you should be able to fix your content so your page only shows up for relevant searches (yes, in this case, fewer hits is a good thing!)
  4. Is your design getting in the way of your message? If the page is cluttered, hard on the eyes, there are prominent animated images, auto-play audio, your fonts are too small… any of these may scare away visitors who may never even see your carefully crafted and incredibly helpful content. Simplify your design, remove things that aren’t necessary and put your content centre-stage.

Once you’ve considered these, you probably have some idea of what to change. Now for the hard part: Just change ONE thing. Just one. Add calls to action in the text OR declutter the design OR improve the search engine optimisation, but only do one – if you change the entire page, you won’t be able to tell what was causing the problem – slow changes will pinpoint where the real issue is and help you understand your audience better.

Don’t know where to start? Get our Writing for the Web ebook for free when you join our email list – or contact us for a free site review and quote!