Back to basics – Why a high bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing
As a digital agency, we’re the main contact of our clients whenever they have any digital related question. And as an agency, we note that lots of clients remain confused by the very same elements. One of them is their website bounce rate. A while ago, we received an email from one of our clients worrying about the fact that the bounce rate of its paid search account was “very” high. We did a small analysis for them that we wanted to share as we believe it could be useful for other marketers as well.
“A bounce is a single-page session on your site. In Analytics, a bounce is calculated specifically as a session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session. Bounce rate is single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server.”
Long story short, a bounce is simply when a person arrives on a page of your website, does not perform any interaction/click, and leaves your website. The bounce rate can then be obtained by dividing the number of sessions where no interaction was made by the total amount of sessions.
Thanks to this definition, we were able to highlight two important points to our client why his bounce rate was higher than the average.
Firstly, we noticed that their brand campaigns were bringing a smaller proportion of their total paid traffic than for our other clients. Why does it matter? Simply because brand campaigns typically show lower bounce rate than generic ones. So in the case of this client, the fact their brand campaigns represent a lower proportion of their paid traffic than the average tends to have an upwards effect on the overall bounce rate of their account.
Now you may ask yourself: “Why do branded campaigns show lower bounce rates than generic ones?” There are two elements which can explain that fact. On the one hand, people looking directly for you are already engaged with your brand, which is not necessarily the case for people typing some general queries in order to find a solution to their question. It is therefore very logical that the former do not bounce as much as the latter. On the other hand, we usually do not send people typing pure branding queries on the same page than for the generic ones. As a matter of fact, when someone is searching “Nike” in his browser, for instance, you may want to send this person to the homepage rather than directly to the socks page. You have indeed no idea whether the person is looking for shoes, socks or whatever else you are selling. Arriving on the homepage, the person has then to do another click on the website to get to the page he wants, which automatically leads to a lower bounce rate as an interaction was done. Talking about generic queries instead, if someone types “sports socks” in its favorite browser, you can directly send this person to the sock page as you know it is the product he is looking for. In this case, the person does not necessarily have to click to access the content he is looking for and there is thus more chance he will leave the website without any interaction.
Let’s get back to our case now. There is a second element which is even more important to look at to understand why our client has a high bounce rate. Our client’s website contains lots of information. They are organised in different pages, with each page tackling a specific topic. Therefore, it very often happens that no other click on the website is required in order to get all the relevant information the person needs. This latter can thus perfectly take his time to go through all the content of the page, and then leave the website as he does not need any additional information. That’s the reason why we also observe extremely high bounce rates on blogs; a single-page session is enough to see everything you want.
So at the end of the day, is a high bounce rate a necessarily bad thing? The answer is: it depends. If you are selling low-value goods (which do not need a lot of consideration before buying), it is probably not a good sign that most of the people leave your website without clicking and thus, without buying anything. However, if you’re selling complex services (or if you are even not selling anything at all on your website - think about a retailer website such as Colruyt for instance) where people need to inform themselves before taking any decision, it could simply mean that your pages are so complete and well organized and that people did not need to click on another one to get the information they needed. Bounce rate is therefore an important indicator to look at but, as a stand-alone, it could give you a wrong picture of the situation. That’s the reason why it is important to also have a look at other metrics such as the average session duration, the average time on page, the conversion rate and the cost per conversion to evaluate whether your website or your search campaigns truly have an issue or not.