A comprehensive guide on everything Bounce Rate, from how it is defined, to what an average bounce rate is.

What is Bounce Rate?

A ‘bounce’ is a single-page session on your website. This means the user visits one page on your site and then exits. The formula for bounce rate is Bounces / Entrances. If 100 people visit your website and of those, 65 view just one page on your website and leave, then your Bounce Rate is 65%.

bounce rate focus

The image above shows a screenshot of the metrics from one of our clients. This overview from Google Analytics shows us that the Bounce Rate for the past 30 days is 32.19%, so roughly 32 of every 100 visitors to the website only view one page before leaving.

How is Bounce Rate Measured?

Bounce Rate is measured through your website analytics program. By far the most popular is Google Analytics, but there are good alternatives like Piwik, too. Both are free to use and easy to set up. Every time a webpage is loaded, the analytics code (which is embedded on every page of your website) will fire. If this code only fires once, then that session is recorded as a bounce.

Bounce Rate vs Exit Rate

A bounce is always also an exit. However, an exit is not always a bounce. Confused? Let me explain.

If you visit one page on a website and then leave, then you are a bounce. The first page you viewed was also the last page, so that page also chalks up an exit.

If you visit two pages on a website, you cannot bounce. However, when you leave the website, the last page you clicked on gets recorded as the page you exited from and therefore that page scores an exit but in this instance no bounce.

What is an Average Bounce Rate?

Bounce rate by industry is an impossible question to answer accurately. There are lots of articles out there that claim to know what each industry sector’s Bounce Rate should be, but the fact is, it’s different for everyone.

If you run multiple sites all in a similar niche (be they e-commerce, editorial, affiliate), you can calculate your own average Bounce Rate and work on improving the sites that are bouncing more than the rest. When we audit websites, we get a good feeling for the Bounce Rate of a certain industry, aiming at a certain demographic and using a set platform, like WordPress, Shopify, Magento but even so, Bounce Rates vary immensely.

However, there is no reliable industry average.

If your Bounce Rate is lower than 10%: You’ve got tech issues (See The ‘Below 1%’ Bounce Rate Fallacy below)

If your Bounce Rate is between 10 and 30%: That sounds good but I’d say you’re not trying hard enough. You are probably appealing to a small core of relatively loyal users but if you reach out more and generate more traffic, you’ll see your Bounce Rate increase but you have more visitors, more eyeballs, more opportunity to shape their relationship with your business.

If your Bounce Rate is between 30% and 80%: Well done, you’ve got a happy and relatively healthy site. Go work on those higher-bouncing pages (see Step 5 of our How to reduce Bounce Rate below), and tempt those one-user-one-page viewers into making another click. Grab the opportunity.

If your Bounce Rate is 80% or above: You need to sweat your content a bit more. You might have lots of pages just doing their thing and then one or two pages bringing in a whole heap of new visitors but they’re not hanging around. This is a missed opportunity.

Is High Bounce Rate Bad?

This completely depends on what type of website you’re running.

E-commerce / Transactional

If you’re running an e-commerce store then a high Bounce Rate is bad, because your users will need to visit more than one page on your website in order to purchase a product. You cannot bounce from a website if you view more than one page, so we can safely assume that high-bouncing pages are missed opportunities.

Of course, if you are getting bounces this also means you are getting page views, which means your website is getting traffic. This is a good thing. Those visitors may not want to purchase on the first visit and so to an extent, a bounce is acceptable. However, you’re going to have to convert those window-shoppers to customers eventually and that will involve reducing your Bounce Rate.

News / Blog

If you’re running a website that’s powered by editorial content, then a bounce may be acceptable and a higher bounce rate may not always be a bad thing. If you’re posting a news story and a user finds that story through Google News or via a social channel like Facebook, then visiting your website to read that story and then leaving after viewing that page will be counted as a bounce. That’s not always a negative as that user now:

  • Knows about your website and may directly visit again or be more likely to click another link
  • Adds to your overall user metrics, increasing your unique users, sessions and page views
  • May share your content on their social channels, helping you further increase your monthly visitors

When a High Bounce Rate is OK

Bounce Rate on its own is a two-dimensional metric. To really get some clarity on whether your bounce is a ‘positive’ bounce or a ‘negative’ bounce, you need to look at the user’s dwell time.

Dwell time, also known as ‘Average Time on Page’ or ‘Average Session Duration’ is the amount of time a user spends on your website.

In Google Analytics, if you go to: Audience > Overview you’ll see your Average Session Duration (dwell time) and Bounce Rate for every page on your site. The image below shows you a screengrab from one of our client’s Google Analytics profiles. This audience Overview screen, shows the Session Duration and Bounce Rate.

You’ll see to the top left of the image we have highlighted in green where you can select from the dropdown menu to map Bounce Rate against Sessions. You can then see fluctuations in Bounce Rate and compare this to Sessions. As a broad overview, this is a good report to look at, to get a feeling for how your visitors use your site.

bounce rate dwell time

To get more detail, head to Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages

bounce rate entrances - What is Bounce Rate?

The cropped-in screenshot above, this time from a different client, shows that their average Bounce Rate for the site is 30.38%. The image shows the top pages, sorted by Pageviews.

I’ve highlighted two different sets of results, one in green and two in yellow.

Looking at the green result, we can see that page has had 2739 page views of which 1850 are unique (i.e 1850 devices have viewed that page 2739 times, meaning some people have returned and viewed that page multiple times on the same device). Move across a column and you see that the Average Time on Page is 1-minute 12 seconds. This is fairly healthy as it means the user has been browsing that page. The Entrances are 1265, which means that for 1265 of the 1850 unique visitors, this was the first page of the site they landed on. This is good as it shows a deeper page on your site is being surfaced, either through Organic Search or perhaps Social channels or indeed your newsletter.

The point is, they didn’t come here from another page on your site and this means they are ‘at risk’ of becoming a bounce and affecting your Bounce Rate. The good news is, only 51.54% of these users bounced. That’s no bad thing – you’ve retained half of your visitors. However, there is a definitely an opportunity here to reduce your Bounce Rate by encouraging your users to make an extra click.

Looking at the yellow results, let’s go straight to the Bounce Rate: 92%. This is way higher than the site’s average of 30%. Now look back a column to the Entrances and compare this to the Unique Pageviews; for over 99% of people who visited these pages, these are the first pages they have viewed on this website. The high Entrance-to-Unique ratio is usually caused by a topic having a long-standing number-one position in Google or from a link from a high-traffic social site or referrer.

So the 93%, it *looks* bad but now take a look at the Average Time on Page, it’s huge! Over 7 minutes and over 4 minutes respectively. This tells us that the pages are valuable – users are sticking around to read the content. With this long dwell time, if a user hits the back-button and returns to Google, that’s not going to send a negative signal that the content wasn’t what they were looking for. A dwell time of just a few seconds might well do that, but a few minutes? No chance.

However, there is a missed opportunity. I know that those two pages are instructional pages, they’re very detailed and the user is getting what they are looking for. But the site is missing a trick as they could be saying to the user: “Hey, if you thought that was useful, you ought to check these links out” or “Fill in your email address and we’ll send you this guide”. You’re almost over-serving the user on this one page, you’re getting a hell of a lot of ‘one-user-one-pageview’ visitors but you’re not showcasing them more of what your site has to offer.

So in summary, a High Bounce Rate isn’t always bad but I always think of any bounce as a missed opportunity.

Bounce Rate by Source

Head to: Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels the report will look something like this:

bounce rate by source

This is an ecommerce client of ours and this report is gold dust when it comes to optimising Bounce Rate.

It shows you the Bounce Rate of your site, defined by where the visitor came from, also known as the Source. If your Organic Search Bounce Rate is higher than the rest of your sources, you have a golden opportunity.

If your site’s Bounce Rate is high, you need to work on your whole site. If one source is high, you need to put yourself into the mindset of the person visiting from that source.

If your Organic Search Bounce Rate is high, it means you’re getting traffic from search engines but that traffic isn’t sticking around. For an ecommerce site, a high Bounce Rate from Organic means people are most likely seeing your products they’re just not buying. Go and check the Bounce Rate for individual pages at Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages and if it’s a content page that’s bouncing, that content isn’t helping you sell as well as it could.

If it’s a product page that’s bouncing, think about why that may be. Are users landing on one colour with no clear path to other colours. Is the product marked as ‘out of stock’ or are important details like images or dimensions not shown.

Does Bounce Rate Affect SEO?

It stands to reason that bounce rate would directly affect a website’s rank. User-engagement is a vital indication to search engines that a website is providing a good user-experience.

The confusion regarding Google’s assessment of bounce rate stems from comments one-time company spokesman, Matt Cutts made at a SMX conference in 2012. Danny Sullivan among others tweeted that Cutts says Google does not use bounce rate.

That may well have been the case in 2012. At that time Google’s algorithms were not as powerful as they are today and keyword matches were not as accurate. It was therefore harder for people to find websites that satisfied their search query.

However, now search engines have matured, evidence suggests Google and other search engines do rely on bounce rate as a ranking factor. Google Analytics data certainly indicate a significant correlation between search engine rankings and bounce rate. However it’s more likely that search engines such as Google and Bing look at whether a user returns to the search result page after clicking a search result and if they return, how much time they spent on the site before returning to the results page. Lots of users returning to the search result page after clicking on the same search result? Then expect that result to move down the rankings, negatively affecting your SEO efforts.

How does Google rank websites?

Google uses a wide range of metrics to assess the quality and effectiveness of a website. Other than the odd tit-bit, the search engine giant has never revealed exactly which metrics it uses, but logic suggests user-engagement is a key measurement of quality.

The mission of Google and other search engines is to provide end-users with a choice of websites that satisfy their needs. The list of results produced by a search engine must be relevant to the search query and resolve the intent of the end-user.

Asking a computer to understand the mind of a human is a tall order. We know search engine use keywords to match search terms, but search engines also want to partner sites that provide a good user-experience (UX). Which means delivering websites the end-user finds useful.

Bounce Rate and SEO

UX branches off into its own category of requirements, but essentially search engines reward companies that publish content that offers value to the reader, has a website that is easy to navigate on multiple devices and is a reputable business people can trust.

Google, therefore, uses bounce rate and other user-engagement site metrics to determine the effectiveness of a website and a business. If you have a high number of visitors leaving within a minute and going back to the search engine results pages, it is a strong indication to search engines that you are not providing end-users with a good UX for the search query they used.

This is why it is important to publish keyword specific content and deliver in-depth information visitors are most likely to want answers to, for a specific search term. It is also important that your content is well written and enjoyable to read.

Your website should have an aesthetically pleasing design that is easy to use. The site architecture should be logical and call to actions clearly signposted so visitors know where to go next. If end-users have to search for information they will give up and leave.

Evidence indicates Google does use bounce rate as a ranking factor against specific search terms. Ensuring the content on any given page is likely to satisfy a specific search query will reduce your bounce rate and increase your search engine rank. But more importantly, it will increase your conversion rate.

How to Reduce Bounce Rate

These five simple steps will have a noticeable effect on your site’s overall Bounce Rate.

1. Page Load Speed
Head over to gtmetrix.net and put your website in there. Hit go and wait for the report. You can always change the variables to run the test from a country that your server is in, to get the ‘best’ possible scenario. Take a look at two elements: the page size and page load speed. If the load speed is over 3-seconds on a desktop, you need to work on this. In Google’s mobile-first world, websites with slow load times won’t rank as well as those with fast page speeds.

If your page size is over 3MB, you need to look at where you can improve. All web pages are different and their sizes vary too but common culprits are images which aren’t optimised or, even worse, they are physically huge and then rescaled in your browser.

Of course, every web page on your website will have a different size and load speed but all of your pages will have common code, which, when optimised will improve the load speed of every page on your site. Our website speed optimisation page shows you an overview of the different elements you can work on to improve page load times.

2. Write Quality Content
We’ve all heard this a thousand times but it is still true. If you have the time or budget to write one 500-word article a week, then try writing one 1,000-word article every fortnight, or even better, one 2,000-word article every month. Length is not the be-all-and-end-all but if you’re going to cover a topic, cover it better than anyone else. Some people talk about 10x content or diamond content. Whatever you want to call it, remember to create content that’s far better than anything else out there, the sort of diamond in the rough.

If you write great content you’ll start to get noticed, either by ranking in search engines or being shared. This exposes you to the risk of higher Bounce Rates but if your content nails the topic and present the user will lots of options for other great content or a sales page with solutions to their problem, then bounces won’t be an issue.

3. Clear Navigation and linking
This is really simple. A user that is a possible bouncer will be leaving your site on the very first page they came in on. Is it clear to that user who you are and what you do?

If you’re an ecommerce store, do you have a clear breadcrumb structure that lets the user know that if the product page they landed on doesn’t quite tick all the boxes, they can take a chance on one more click taking them to a category that shows them what they need?

If you’re a service provider, are you displaying the services related to the content that the user has come to your site to view? Don’t put your blog in a silo – make it central to everything your business exists to do.

4. Responsive pages
It’s 2017 and if your website isn’t responsive, i.e. it fits perfectly to the viewport of the user’s device then sorry buddy old pal, you’re going to slide down the rankings like you’re riding a waterslide on a huge bar of soap. Plus your visitors will be bouncing faster than LeBron James. If you’re in any doubt, head over to Google’s Mobile Test page.

5. Attack Your High Bounce Pages

I’ve gone for a big title on this one because it’s the most important.

Head to Google Analytics and then Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages

Now click on the Advanced link and you’ll see a page like the screenshot below:

google analytics advanced filter

I’ve set it up to exclude all Entrances fewer than 5 for our time period (mine is set to a month but for a low-traffic site you can set this to a longer time period or reduce the Entrance figure from 5 to 3 and so on). The reason I’ve set 5 is that if you include 1 entrant who views one page that means your Bounce Rate is 100% and so it’s not that accurate as the next user might view two pages, meaning your BR is now 50%.

Hit save and it’ll take you back to the report.

Now click on the Bounce Rate column and this will sort your pages by the ones with the highest Bounce Rate and all with a minimum of 5 Entrances and it’ll look like the screenshot below:

reduce bounce rate

This is another client’s website. It’s a relatively low-traffic website, with around 1,000 unique users a month.

We can work down all of those pages and question why they are bouncing. Should we:

  • Add to or improve the existing content
  • Totally rewrite the existing content (was it relevant when you published it in 2015 but needs renewing?)
  • Add more internal links to other relevant content
  • Delete or amalgamate the content

I’ve highlighted one of the results in green as it has a high number of entrances and an encouraging Average Time on Page. This looks like a great opportunity as the content is obviously good but we can encourage the user to make another click and therefore reduce the Bounce Rate.

Deleting content may seem far-fetched but we’ve worked on client’s websites where around 20,000 of their 80,000 pages has a Bounce Rate of over 90%. These were thin, low-quality pages, which were ranking for ultra-low volume searches. The trouble is, users were giving out negative vibes, with high Bounce Rates, low session durations and a low rate of return.

Killing-off these pages was a bold move but it had a huge effect on the site’s overall Bounce Rate. Sure, we lost a chunk of visitors but they were useless, merely ego-inflating for our overall stats. The best result of killing off these thin pages was that our crawl efficiency improved. Google seemed to like the fact that a higher percentage of our content was quality and in turn, our rankings improved across the whole site and our traffic recovered (I’m cautious not to say ‘bounced back’) to a higher level than before.

Lots of SEO gurus disagree on this but when it comes to organic ranking (i.e. traffic from search engines) I’ve always seen a correlation between a lower bounce rate and higher overall traffic.

There’s very little point in going to the effort of publishing great content, promoting it and letting it sit there, bouncing away. Every month you should check out your top-bouncing content and do what you can to improve your highest bouncing pages.

The ‘Below 1%’ Bounce Rate Fallacy

I wince whenever a prospective client tells me they have a Bounce Rate lower than 1%. Beaming with confidence that ‘it’s proof people love their site’. It’s always hard to break it to them that they probably have two instances of Google Analytics code, clashing away.

The images below are a bit of a ‘Rogues’ Gallery’ of suspiciously low Bounce Rates of websites we have audited.

low bounce rate example 1 percent - What is Bounce Rate?
A 0.09% Bounce Rate due to two instance of GA code and the accompanying high pages per session

 

low bounce rate example 3 percent - What is Bounce Rate?
A 2.85% Bounce Rate slightly higher due to a rogue iframe that wasn’t on every page on the site

 

low bounce rate example 4 percent - What is Bounce Rate?
A 3.71% Bounce Rate, again slightly higher as only the blog pages had two instances of tracking code

 

This is so common on WordPress; I would guess 1 in 10 of the sites we audit have this issue.

WordPress is a great platform but due to the fact it’s easy to bolt-on plugins, sometimes two instances of Google Analytics code are loaded. Often the code is loaded into the header.php file and then the second instance is loaded via a plugin. Or sometimes you do only have one instance of GA tracking code but there’s a widget running in the sidebar (say, a subscription box) that’s actually an iframe loading another URL on your site, so the one-page load is actually loading two pages according to GA.

The result is the same; GA fires twice, bang-bang and it’s now impossible for you to bounce.

Your gloriously low Bounce Rate is, I’m afraid, a mirage.

Thanks for reading.

We’re The Content Works, a London SEO consultancy specialising in website audits. You can audit your own website using our simple guide (complete with PDF checklist) or we can carry out an in-depth audit for you. Our 120-point check uses cutting-edge tools and good old-fashioned manual testing – we prioritise your issues and discuss the best way to fix them.

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