One of the first things I do with a new client, after dealing with the technical aspects of their site, is take a look at their audience overview report in Google Analytics. This is the start of a much larger content task, but is a good place to get the general rub of how a site is performing and look at initial metrics like page views, returning vs. new and bounce rate.
A question I’m asked, always without fail and often on a regular basis (especially if there have been changes made to their site) by clients is: Is my bounce rate good? For the purposes of this article I’m going to use the Google Analytics definition of bounce rate:
Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page sessions (i.e. sessions in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page).
But this is of course subjective: what defines the second interaction? Typically, a pageview (navigation to another page) is the second interaction, but this could also be an event, or someone clicking on a mailto: or tel: link. A lot of events are set to ‘non-interaction’ so they don’t skew data – so in reality a bounce could contain a set of interactions.
Bounce rate for me is also subjective to the content, and what/how it satisfies user intent. If a user lands on your blog post about Mount Everest and is met pretty early on with a ‘table of awesome facts’ and they see the information they need, and they close the tab or click the back button – has this content failed? What if they read every word of your review of a new piece of industry software then clicked back? In GA you’ll see a high bounce rate, but does this mean your content had low engagement?
Many SEOs and content marketers don’t look past the numbers. I’ve certainly worked in agencies in which this has been the case and some good, valuable content might have been noindexed or culled from the site altogether just because the numbers weren’t ‘good enough.’
How Should Your Bounce Rate Affect Your Content Strategy
Firstly, I want to say that as long as your content is good and contains good relevant and external links and information that creates great all-round user value, you shouldn’t worry about your bounce rate. Even if it’s just a strong piece of associative content, as long as you pick the right topic for your content you’re off to a winning start.
Secondly, I think it’s important to ditch the benchmarks. As much as I know some businesses like to compare themselves to others and ‘the industry average’ – who really cares? You need to set your own baseline, your own KPI and work on improving relevant areas of your site. It’s also important to remember that when you start reviewing your site’s content, there is life beyond the blog section.
To set an appropriate baseline for your site, you need to consider the intent of your site visitors and the purpose of your landing pages, which if you’re struggling for content ideas you can use a tool like SEO Ideas for landing page content suggestions.
Understanding your content also relies on understanding your site’s purpose. If your site lists events, chances are users are going to land on an events page, find the information they need and then go. You’d expect your bounce rate on sites like these to be higher than a long form content site. But that’s okay because your users are having their needs met – and are more than likely going to return.
On the other end of the scale, if you’re an online store, you’d expect users to browse a few products, open a few tabs – so you’d expect to see a lower bounce rate with any upward trends causing concern.
On a personal level, I’m more than likely going to bounce from a site if it auto plays video. I’m a serial ‘tabber’ and can easily have 10+ tabs open to read as and when I want, the minute one starts playing video or audio I haven’t asked it to – it’s closed.
Mobile vs. Desktop vs. Tablet
Another factor to take into account is what device your site visitors are using. From what I’ve seen, I’d expect mobile bounce rates to be 5% to 15% higher than your desktop. Any higher than this I’d start looking at your mobile site for usability issues.
Tablets can be funny – I’ve seen data go both ways. Generally however the tolerance in difference between your tablet bounce rate and desktop bounce rate shouldn’t be as great as your mobile tolerance.
So What Is A Bad Bounce Rate?
For me, a bounce rate is anything below 25% or above 85%. The lower threshold would indicate an issue with your analytics setup (either at a page level or on a site level) and the higher would indicate an issue with your site (either your content or your usability). For example, the below stats worry me:
At first glance, I would instantly think there is either an issue with the site’s design, the tracking code or the sites content. In this site’s case, it’s the content (it’s very thin).
Anything under 25% indicates an issue with your analytics setup – in my experience, this has most commonly been a duplicate analytics code installed on the site. Your event tracking could also be setup wrong, and even some third party installations (such as live chat) also have an impact. I’ve even seen splash screens have an impact, with clicking to remove them acting as the second interaction.
While 25% and below is definitely achievable, it’s important not to sound the trumpets to soon.
Making Your Bounce Rate Mean Something For Your Content
Let’s make an assumption, when you land on a piece of content, you take a few seconds to familiarize yourself with ‘your surroundings,’ maybe read the first section, have a scroll to see how long it is (if there isn’t an estimated reading time at the top) – all before you even decide if you’re going to read the content. Let’s say this process takes 15 to 20 seconds. Now if a user has gone to all those lengths to ascertain whether your content is worthy of their time, you don’t want them to count as a bounce.
There is a piece of code that you can add to your analytics tracking code that triggers an event when a user has stayed on the page for a certain length of time (you can read the guide on how to do this here).
- Comparing yourself against an industry benchmark should not impact your strategy.
- It’s important to set your own realistic baseline targets.
- There is more content on your site than what just sits on your blog.
Given this information, how do you feel about your blog's current bounce rate? What changes will you make? Let us know in the comments.