I’ve had several chats recently with clients about bounce rates on their site. Some have said to me that they think they should be aiming for 65%, 45% or even 10% rates according to what they have read on the web.
What all of these clients seem to have in common is that they don’t understand what “bounce rate” measures.
Technically, bounce rate measures the number of people that visit the site and leave without looking as another page on the site.
• If you have 100 people visiting the site and 70 of them leave the site having looked at a single page you have a bounce rate of 70%;
• if only 33 of them leave without looking at a second page your bounce rate is 33% and so on.
If you stop and think about that definition you will see that there can be many reasons why someone might only look at a single page on your site. These range from :
• The page design is so horrible that it puts people off ( for example the colours, text, effects etc);
• The content on the page doesn’t match what the visitor is looking for and the navigation is too difficult to use (for example they are looking for information on a service that you provide such as bookkeeping and you’ve got it on a page that’s called compliance);
• The language on the page is too complex which puts people off. There are studies on the web that suggest you should be writing for people with a reading age of 9. Surprising, and some might say shockingly, this is the average reading age of the population. Although you might want to increase this a little depending on your audience;
• There’s too many spelling or grammatical errors on your page (for example you use there instead of their, you’re in stead of your, too instead of to, and the list goes on…);
• The information that the visitor is looking for is on the page. Examples of this can be
• someone looking for your phone number or address (which is listed on your page) ;
• someone looking for a particular piece of information (for example we get many visitors to our “what is DMOZ” page which explains about the subject);
As you can see from the short list above there are some reasons why you should be concerned and other reasons why a high bounce rate is perfectly natural.
One thing that you can do is not to look at the overall bounce rate for your site, but instead look at the rate for each page if it’s available. You may find that your home page for example has a high bounce rate because it’s just an image, or the image takes up too much of the screen, if that’s the case maybe you need to look at adding some words to the page so that it doesn’t leave people guessing what you do. However just looking at the bounce rate doesn’t tell you much, to really work out what’s happening you need to know what people were searching for when they found the page and to an extent how long people spent on the page (the “dwell time”). Taking the what is DMOZ page I mentioned above we know that many people that land on that page are looking for information about DMOZ, looking at the dwell time it falls just under 30 seconds suggesting that people are reading the entire page. The only problem with dwell time is that it doesn’t prove that someone is actually reading the page, they may have landed on the page and then spent time drinking some coffee, having a chat or answering an email.
Hopefully you can see that there are many reasons why using bounce rates as a measurement as how well your website is doing isn’t as easy as you may have first thought.