In talking with clients and analyzing the performance of their websites, I find that there are common misconceptions about the definitions behind the numbers.
Bounce rate is defined as when a user has a single-page session on a website. That is to say, they entered on one URL and left the site from the same page (defined by the URL of the page) without interacting with that page or visiting any others on the site. Bounce Rate is calculated as a percentage, by dividing the aggregate number of single-page sessions by the total number of entries to that page. Bounce Rate can be a handy tool into whether users are engaged by content on a page or not. The assumption is that a high bounce rate is reflective of a poorly performing page that needs improved content to engage site visitors.
Bounce rate can easily be both misunderstood and misinterpreted.
Google Analytics records a bounce when a user views one page on a site and a single request is sent to the Analytics server. One request in the analytic code on the page equals a bounce. Two requests to the analytic code is not a bounce. This can be deceiving if hyperlinks or automatic actions are opened on the page without user permission.
On the other hand, a user may visit the page, find the exact information they wanted (a phone number or address, for example), and then carry out their next engagement with the brand offline. The site user could be interrupted by a phone call and have the session time out after 30 minutes.
Google Tag Manager and more sophisticated tracking methods can help to better clarify bounce rate (usually by assuming that if the user spends more than 30-45 seconds on a page they have found some content of value), but a high bounce rate not always a problem. Many users find and access the information that they want by viewing one page and this could be a sign of a high-performing page with great content. This can occur on SEO content pages that are designed to deliver very specific information, or when the user comes to the site to verify the name of the CEO, get the address for an upcoming visit, or read a blog post.
A low bounce rate does not necessarily mean a page is performing well. It may suggest that the web page content does not contain enough information, or that the site navigation is confusing, forcing users to access multiple pages to get the information they want.
It is a mistake to look at bounce rate as the only method of evaluating page performance. Time spent on the page, conversion ratio, and call tracking can all be further indicators of how well any page of your website is performing. In the end, I tend to look at conversion (as defined as the goal of the page content call to actions) as the primary definition of the quality of the page.
Eric Van Cleave is a Partner in TIV Branding, a Santa Rosa California based Creative and Branding Agency.