Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bounce Rate Demystified

Time and again my clients ask me about Bounce Rate. This made me think that there is still confusion about what is bounce rate and exit ratio. The three main questions that have come up are
  1. What is bounce rate?
  2. What is the industry standard for bounce rate?
  3. What causes high or low bounce rates?

I am going to answer these questions in this post.

What is bounce rate?

Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who enter a site (or a page) and then leave immediately. Think of a ball (visitor) that is thrown (visits) towards a table (site). It hits the table and bounces back without rolling (visiting any other pages).
Generally, “leave immediately” in the above definition means without going to any other page. However it could also be expressed in terms of time spent on site, say users who spend 5 seconds or less on the site irrespective of the number of pages they view.

Bounce rates are calculated both at the individual page level and at the site level. For an individual page, bounce rate is the ratio of visitors who enter the site from that page and leave without going any deeper, to the total number of visitors who enter the site through that page. In other words it is single page visits/ total entries to the site through that page.
At the site level, bounce rate is simply single page visits/total site visits.



Note: If a visitor enters though a page, refreshes it (manually or via auto refresh such as ESPN score page or MSN money page) but never goes beyond the first page the visit is not counted in the bounce rate.








  • Bounce rate is often confused with Exit Ratio. Exit ratio is usually expressed as the percentage of exits from a page to the total number of visits to that page. As a side note: A lot of times exit ratio expressed as % of visits can be misleading. In most cases, page views are actually more appropriate than visits for this ratio. Why page views and not visits? If I view the same page twice during the same visit, and after one of those page views I exit, shouldn’t my exit ratio be 50% rather than 100%? The first view of this page was compelling enough for me to further engage. A 100% exit ratio would indicate a problem that may not be there.








  • Bounce rate is confused with Single Page Visit Ratio: Single page visit ratio is calculated as a percentage of single page visits over total visits to a page.







    1. Here are two examples that will help you clarify
      1. A visitor who enters site at home page and then goes to contact us page and leaves from contact us will be counted in the exit ratio from the contact us page but won’t be counted in the bounce rate of contact us page.
      2. A visitor who enter the site from contact us page and then leaves without going any further counts in all three, exit ratio, single page visit ratio and bounce rate.

      So to Recap:

      Single Page Visit Ratio= Single Page Visits to the page/ Total Visits to the page
      Exit Ratio= Total Exists from the page/Total Visits on the page or Total Exits from the page/Total Page Views of the page (see explanation above)
      Bounce Rate= Single Page Visits to the page/Total Entries to the site through that page.
      Note: All of the above three are generally expressed as percentages.

      What is the industry standard for bounce rate?

      The simple and short answer is that there is no industry standard. I know you don’t want to hear that, but it is true. There is no industry standard. There are some ranges that I will share shortly but we can’t call them industry standards. There are a lot of factors that influence the bounce rate, so you really can’t compare bounce rates of one site (or page) to another. I have listed those in the next section.

      The goal of the site should generally be to reduce the bounce rate to as low as possible. The lower the bounce rate the better job the site is doing to keep users engaged. One exception may be a site that is intended to accomplish all relevant user engagement on it’s landing page. This is more common on say, a campaign landing page intended to sign up users for direct marketing emails.

      Bounce rate is very unique to your site and page. The best way to know if you are doing better or worse is to set your own baseline and compare your performance over time.

      I have seen most bounce rates fall between 18 – 30% on home page and the site overall. Any page with a bounce rate higher than 30% should be looked at closely. I am not saying that you should not analyze the pages below 30% bounce rate. Remember there is always room for incremental improvement.

      There are several factors that determine the actual bounce rate of any page.
      Here are some of the numbers that were listed by Steve Jackson based on his experience with various sites.

      Source: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/webanalytics/message/6116

      Retail sites driving well targeted traffic 20-40% bounce.

      Simple landing pages (with one call to action such as add to cart) I've seen
      bounce at a much higher rate, anywhere from 70-90%.

      Content websites with high search visibility (often for irrelevant terms)
      can bounce at 40-60%.

      Portals (MSN, Yahoo groups etc) have much lower bounce rates in our
      experience 10-30%.

      Service sites (self service or FAQ sites) again usually lower 10-30%.

      Lead generation (services for sale) 30-50%.

      Per Steve,
      “I must stress that all the above figures are based purely on our own
      experience after working with clients. I wouldn't advise you base an
      optimization model around these numbers. We advise that when forming a
      benchmark, that you do it internally. Take the average bounce rate over a
      given period on your current site. You need to have at least 1000 entries
      coming from normal sources to get reasonably actionable data.
      Measure what the average bounce rate is and then work to get that down.”

      What are the factors that affect the bounce rate?

      Below are some of the factors that determine the bounce rates. You can use this as a checklist to diagnose a high bounce rate issue.
      1. Source of your traffic – Each source results in a different bounce rate. When setting your baseline create overall baseline and baselines for each traffic source e.g. display advertising, organic traffic. With one client I found out that the traffic driven by searches (paid and organic) and sources other than campaigns had a much lower bounce rate than traffic that was driven via display ads. Their display ad had 90% bounce rate while other traffic only had 35% bounce rate. Their overall bounce rate was around 55%, way lower than 90% and giving them a misleading picture.
      2. Search engine ranking of the page – A page which ranks higher on irrelevant keyword will get a higher bounce rate. I have seen this to be an issue a lot of times. I wrote an article on how to follow the search and reduce your bounce rate.
      3. Type of Audience – If you are advertising and reaching the wrong audience you will see higher bounce rate. Bounce rate will tell you if you need to better target your ads.
      4. Landing Page Design – Landing page design affects the bounce rate. I suggest A/B testing to improve after you have set your baseline. No matter how low you go there is always an opportunity for improvement unless you somehow achieved 0% bounce rate.
      5. Ad and Landing Page Messages – If the messages on your banner or search ads are not aligned with the messages on the landing page then the chances are you will have one of those 50% + bounce rates. Make sure messages are aligned and give visitors a clear call to action. Many a times I have seen marketers sending users to a generic page instead of an appropriate landing page. This can (and will) result in higher bounce rates. Again A/B or multivariate testing should be used to reduce the bounce rate.
      6. Emails and Newsletters – Subject lines, to and from, links, banners, the layout of email and the landing pages all work in tandem. They can either result in a great user experience and hence lower bounce rate or can result in a disaster. Do testing (More on this later in another post) to reduce bounce rate.
      7. Load time of your page(s) – A longer load time can result in visitor bailing out of the site causing higher bounce rates. Conversely, users can hit the refresh button, thinking there was a problem with the page load. This will incorrectly reduce bounce rate.
      8. Links to external sites – A page that has links to external sites (or sub domains/ pages that are not tracked in the same data warehouse) will show higher bounce rates.
      9. Purpose of the page – Some pages’ purpose is to drive users inside the site while other pages provide the information that user is looking for. A page that provides the end result can show higher bounce rate. One example is the support page on my bank’s web site, I have this page bookmarked. Whenever I need my bank’s phone number, I go to my favorites, pull this page, get the number and leave.
      10. Other factors - Pop-up ads, pop-up survey requests, music, streaming video, all can have an adverse effect on bounce rates if users become annoyed.


      Hope this clarifies the confusion around Bounce Rate. I would like to thanks Brad Gagne, who challenged my thinking on this subject, provided his valuable insight and proof read this article.

      As I was writing this post I came across another article on the same subject by Avinash Kaushik, you can read his article at http://www.mpdailyfix.com/2007/06/bounce_rate_sexiest_web_metric.html.

      Here are the other articles in the Demystified Series

      Question? Comments?

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