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Metrics that matter #1 - the bounce rate

Gareth Cartman

Do you remember that shoe shop in the high street? Or at least, the one that looked like a shoe shop. It had shoes in the window, which is what attracted you to the shop in the first place. But when you went inside, there were just a few pairs of shoes on a rack, and nothing else.

Well, you thought, I’m not hanging around here. So you left. As did everyone else who walked in, believing it had plenty of shoes.

Now, if that shop measured the percentage of people who left the shop without even picking up a single shoe, they’d have a metric that was more or less the equivalent of what we call the “bounce rate”. In web terms, the number of people who leave your website after just one page. Somehow, people were attracted into the shoe store believing that it was the place to go for shoes. Disappointed, they left quickly. 

Then there was the shoe shop down the road. You only went there once, because the minute you walked through the door, you were greeted by an over-enthusiastic, pushy salesperson demanding your shoe size. Some people brushed the sales person aside, but a good percentage took that as a cue to leave.

Now visit one of those websites that automatically starts a talking head video when you visit their home page, welcoming you to the site. The percentage of people who stop the video will be far exceeded by the percentage of people who hit the “back” button and bounce off the site.

One final example - and this relates in particular to the men of the world. Especially those born before the 1980s, anyway. You need to buy a tube of toothpaste, just a simple tube of toothpaste - a generic one - and you are faced with the image above.

How easy is it to make a choice? If you’re me: not very easy. Do this on a website, and you are practically guaranteeing that at least 70% of your visitors will take one look at it, and hit the back button. That’s seven in ten people saying “nup, not sticking around here”.

Understanding your bounce rate and its implications

When you look at your analytics reports, you’ll see an overall bounce rate for your website, which can be misleading for several reasons.

You may, for instance, have a lot of factual information on the site that attracts a lot of “long-tail” traffic. People are not necessarily in a buying cycle, and not necessarily looking for your services or products at that moment, so they are more likely to ‘bounce’ off your site.

You may also have received a lot of referral traffic - in other words, traffic from other websites that have referenced you. Again, if they have referenced you as a resource, for some information you hold, the bounce rate is likely to be high - and there’s not much you can do about that.

To truly understand your bounce rate - why visitors leave your website after just one page - you have to delve a little deeper into your data.

Keywords and their bounce rates

To find a bounce rate that really matters, look at the bounce rates from your organic keywords. Google Analytics will give you granular data on each keyword - how many visits, how long they spent on the page, and what percentage of people who found you using that keyword subsequently left.

Now we begin to understand where the problems lie. If you have a relevant keyword, designed to convert visitors into customers, and your bounce rate is above 50%, something is wrong.

Finding the problem

People are impatient. If they can’t see what they’re looking for within a couple of seconds, you’ve lost them. Just like me when the toothpaste manufacturers bombard my eyes with hundreds of different varieties of what is essentially the same thing - toothpaste - I give up and default to the usual brand. When you go into a shoe shop, having seen shoes in the window, and discover there are no shoes - you leave.

There are so many potential complaints about websites, but here are some of the most common:

  • this page is taking forever to load
  • I don’t want to watch a video
  • I don’t want to listen to an advert
  • I don’t see what I’m looking for on this page
  • There’s too much going on here, too much “noise”

Unfortunately, you can’t ask people why they’ve left your site, but you can ask people you know to give an honest appraisal of what their first reaction is. You can try online tools such as Crazy Egg to understand your “heat map”, but sometimes the most honest opinions come from your friends. I asked my wife what she thought of a website last week and she said “the font is juvenile, I can’t trust it”.

Now that’s an opinion you can act upon, and one that no analytics package can tell you.

Solving the problem

Visitors want clarity - so give them clarity in your website design. Don’t distract them from the reason they’re visiting your site, and don’t push them too hard in one direction or another. Provide them with a clutter-free solution to their problem, and a clear call-to-action or navigation path so that they know where to go next. Always think in terms of what the visitor is looking for - and not “what do I want to sell”. Indeed, the main reason for bounce rates being so high is that website owners are pushing their own internal message ahead of their visitors’ needs.

That’s the simple bit. Seriously, it is.

Whenever you make changes, make one at a time and measure the impact on the bounce rate. Don’t confuse yourself with too many variables - understand exactly how your changes have an impact on user engagement. If you have a blog, then why not install a ‘related posts’ plugin, which automatically pulls in blog posts that might be of interest, at the end of your article.

The longer you keep people on your site, the more you expose them to your brand. Get that bounce rate down, and you’ll eventually start to see more repeat visitors, more brand searches being made, and more conversions.