What is bounce rate? The top 5 myths and facts

Why did the SEO manager jump off the trampoline? She was concerned about her bounce rate.

Okay, before you click out of this page (which could inflate our bounce rate), let’s get serious. Bounce rate, by Google’s own definition, is a metric within Google Analytics that constitutes “a single-page session on your site…calculated specifically as 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 Analytics server during that session.”

So what exactly does that…mean? And is Bounce rate actually a bad thing? Learn more with our top 5 facts and myths.

Why did the SEO manager jump off the trampoline? She was concerned about her bounce rate. #sorrynotsorry Click To Tweet

1. Fact: Bounce rate is a “how” indicator

Google Analytics data can be broken down by the who, what, when, where, and how of your site (they haven’t been able to quantify the why yet… unless you count Google Search Console keywords). Put into English, Google Analytics Evangelist Avinash Kaushik says:

“Thought about from a customer perspective rather than I came, I saw, I conquered, the action is I came, I saw, Yuck, I am out of here.

Google calculates bounce rate by the number of single-page sessions divided by all sessions for each website page (as well as an overall site Bounce Rate).

2. Myth: Bounce rate means your site sucks

Yes, Avinash’s description can hold true, but don’t let the metrics take the wheel just yet when it comes to bounce rate. Consider this: Say your website’s most popular front door is a 2,000-word essay. When users land on it, they may spend a significant amount of time reading each word, find the information they need, and then exit the site. Perhaps they’ll even link to it on social media. But because they don’t take any action on the page, Google Analytics counts it as a bounce.

So does your site suck? No! But, your Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager could probably use a refresh. Which brings us to…

Bounce Rate Myth: High bounce rate means your site sucks. Click To Tweet

3. Fact: You have control over your bounce rate

It may be true that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. What you can do, however, is lead a user to your website and make Google Analytics not count their 10 minutes on one page as a bounce.

For starters, you can configure a tag in Google Tag Manager tied to the time spent on site so that an event is fired after a user spends 15 seconds on your website. Depending on what type of content is on your site, 15 seconds is likely enough time to count as a meaningful engagement, and it also will bring down what may be (if we look at the example above) an inflated bounce rate. This isn’t a perfect means of testing how engaging your site is, but it’s a lot better than going by Google’s default.

There are many other events that you can configure in GTM to help with both your bounce rate and with tracking more granular actions on-site, check out our top events to track. We also have more ideas for improving your bounce rate outside of event configuration.

Bounce Rate Fact: You have control over your bounce rate. Click To Tweet

4. Myth: When it comes to bounce rate, the lower the better

Let’s face it: If you’re getting a decent amount of site traffic and your bounce rate is 2%, then something in your Google Analytics configuration is broken. Yes, if your site has more than one page, you may want users to visit multiple pages. It’s possible that you’re sending duplicate pageviews or firing off Google Tag Manager events as soon as the page loads. Use Google Tag Assistant to check your tags and verify that you’re not duping yourself with duplicates.

If you still have an incredibly low bounce rate and that doesn’t seem right, check your CMS plugins. It’s possible that they may not be communicating properly with Google Analytics. Or consider the user experience of your site: While most people will exit a site if they can’t find what they need, they may not realize from the first page that they aren’t getting what they need. Do your user journeys make sense? Or are you sending visitors around an MC Escher staircase to reach a donation page?

5. Fact: You should still care about your bounce rate

Once you’ve properly configured your bounce-related events in Google Tag Manager, you still will want to make sure that your bounce rate stays reasonably low if user engagement is a goal for your website, and especially if organic traffic is a goal for your digital strategy.

Google pays attention to user activity even after it sends users to the results on any given search engine results page (SERP). If the #1 result on a given SERP sees users spending an average of 10 seconds on the site, and then 75% of those users returning to Google’s search results, it may not hold onto that coveted #1 spot for very long. And that’s especially important as 33% of clicks on any given Google search result will go to that #1 spot.

Google wants to ensure that it’s delivering users fast, accessible, and relevant results. As you work on the technical aspects of your bounce rate, remember that one of the key north stars is also making sure you’re delivering content that sparks engagement and inspires commitment.

Swim up the Google Analytics learning curve!

Want to take a deeper dive on your Google Analytics strategy? Check out our 101- and 201-level courses on TechSoup.