Understanding Google Analytics: Taking the Pulse of Your Bounce Rate

There are good bounces and there are bad bounces. Read on to learn the difference.

Understanding Google Analytics can feel as if you’re a hypochondriac trying to interpret your own medical test results—everything looks bad because you have no knowledge or context to put the data in. I went to the doctor recently, and as a woman of a certain age, I admit it—I was nervous about my cholesterol.

The doctor pulled up my chart on his tablet, and showed me a bunch of intimidating-looking numbers he’d circled in red. “See this? Your HDL is high.”

I gasped. No more bacon. No more French fries. Visions of okra, Wheat Thins, and a lifetime prescription for Crestor swirled in my head. “That’s bad, right?”

He shook his head. “No, that’s good. And your LDL is low.”

I scratched my head, thoroughly confused. “Okay. That’s bad?”

“No, that’s good, too.”

You want a high HDL rate, just as you want a low LDL rate. And, luckily for me, I have both. And, my rude health and love of bacon aside, this type of logic applies to your website’s bounce rate as well. Chances are, when it comes to your website, you have the same kind of luck.

Good Bounces vs. Bad Bounces

Google Analytics defines “bounce rate” as the percentage of single page visits (or web sessions) in which a person leaves your website from the landing page without browsing any further. Most people think this means that to win the Web, they must lower their bounce rate.

But just like saying all cholesterol is bad, not all website bounces are bad, either.

Having a high bounce rate can mean one of three things:

  1. The quality of the page is low. There’s nothing inviting to engage with. BAD.
  2. Your audience doesn’t match the purpose of the page, so they won’t engage with your page. SORTA BAD.
  3. Visitors have found the information that they were looking for. GOOD!

How high your bounce rate is—and whether that’s a good or a bad thing—depends on the purpose of the page. If the page is to inform, such as a blog post or informational content page (like directions to your office, for example), then a high bounce rate isn’t a bad thing. After all, you want people to read more articles on your website, subscribe to your newsletter, and consider your brand to be a trusted source in your industry they can turn to. But when they’ve only visited a page to read a post or find an address, then they’ll probably close the tab after they’ve found what they’re looking for. However, in this case, there’s no trigger sent to the Google Analytics server, so it’s a bounce—but not a “bad” bounce in the context of what your visitor’s engagement was all about.

This makes well-crafted, SEO optimized informational content that drives these “one-and-done” visitors to your site a lot like “good” cholesterol. It diverts visitors away from competitors and boosts your unique page visit numbers.

3sixty Interactive's Bounce Rate Infographic
(Infographic property of 3Sixty Interactive)

Bouncing Back from Bad Google Analytics Bounce Rate

Now, if the purpose of a page is to actively engage with your site, a high bounce rate is a bad thing. Like bad cholesterol, you want those numbers to be low. Once you’ve played doctor and figured out what’s causing people to bounce, there are steps you can take to actively lower your rate and improve your website’s health.

  • Your website is visually unappealing. Take a good look at your site page by page. How long does your website take to load? Are you using boring stock photos? Dated fonts? Is it designed for desktop, and completely unusable on mobile? Never underestimate the power of a fast-loading, attractive website. Great design creates credibility.
  • Your website is difficult to use. Do users land on your home page, only to bounce off? Check your navigation. Is your site easy to move through and search? Is there too much copy to wade through? Too little? Confusing layout, malfunctioning buttons, and other technical problems are deterrents to users. Remember, once you’ve lost them, you won’t get them back. Matt Weber, the inventor of Smylelytics, is fond of saying, “You’ll never lose money overestimating how lazy people are on the Internet.” Navigation has to be simple, clear, and easy.
  • Your website doesn’t meet user expectations. What if someone visits your website based on a promise it doesn’t keep? Users lack the motivation or time to search a website’s every page, so be sure to remove the obstacles that cause them to give up and look elsewhere.
  • The people coming to your website aren’t the right people. If people are bouncing, it may be because they arrived looking for something your site doesn’t offer. To avoid this, be sure you’re using the right SEO keywords and that your ads accurately represent your product. Just imagine being a company that repairs mobile phone screens and getting a lot of traffic for “screen repair” that is really people with a tear in their window or porch screens.
  • There is no Call to Action (CTA). Do users arrive to your site and aren’t sure where to go next? Is the shopping cart easily found and used? Is there a clear CTA to subscribe to your blog? Have you made your payment structure simple and available? Whatever you’ve designated as conversion points, if users aren’t sure what they need to do, they’ll bounce from your site like a rubber ball.

Smylelytics Makes Your Bounce Rate Data Work For You!

We’ve made the call between “good” and “bad” bounces easier to make and understand with Smylelytics. Your Smylelytics displays the bounce rate for new visitors only. This makes measuring their ability to find what they want much easier to determine. Did your new visitor land on a brand-new blog, stay long enough to read it, and then bounce away? That’s a “good” bounce—but you can make it a better bounce by adding a CTA for the visitor to subscribe to your blog posts. Did the new visitor land on the home page and leave in a matter of seconds? Take a look at your load time, and how well your site works on mobile devices. Chances are, if you’ve got an older website, they may have abandoned because your site took too long to load, or didn’t look correct on their phone or tablet.

It’s up to you to maintain your website’s health, and it’s an ongoing process you can’t afford to ignore. Even if you’re happy with your bounce rate right now, be sure to continue to monitor its ups and downs with Smylelytics.