Why Bounce Rate Might Not Tell You How Engaged Your Site’s Traffic Actually Is

Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

If your Google Analytics account is set up improperly, your bounce rate data may not tell you how engaged your site's traffic actually is.

Savvy marketers constantly evaluate and re-evaluate their website’s performance, optimizing for a strong user experience and high conversion rate.

This is especially true for SEOs who understand that quality signals like a high organic click-through-rate and high levels of user engagement can have an impact on where their website ranks in Google’s search results.

If you’re using Google Analytics to identify web pages and blog posts which aren’t delivering a high-quality user experience, one of the metrics you’re likely looking at is Bounce Rate.

Google defines Bounce Rate as “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).”

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Assumptions About Bounce Rate

Most marketers assume that a high bounce rate means that users don’t like what they find when they land on a web page. This assumption may be accurate, but the truth is that how you set up your analytics account (or how you haven't set it up) might be contributing to an inflated bounce rate figure which doesn’t accurately represent user satisfaction or engagement.

It’s important for SEOs and digital marketers to be aware that the key phrase in Google’s definition of bounce rate is “without interacting with the page.” If your analytics account isn’t set up to record on-page events and interactions, a user may interact with your landing page in the exact way you hoped, but their session may be labeled as a bounce because Google Analytics did not record the interaction you were hoping to achieve.

Here’s an example:

Say you have an opt-in form on your page, which, upon completion displays a message on the same page saying “Thank you for joining our mailing list.” 

Your primary goal with this landing page is to get users to opt-in to your mailing list using this form, but since your form displays a completion message on the same page, unless you take the time to add event tracking or to set up a goal, analytics won’t record this interaction, and any user who lands on this page, opt-in, and leaves your site will be considered a bounced session. Understanding how bounce rate works and how your website functions will enable you to customize your Google Analytics account so that your bounce rate data is both accurate and actionable.

How to Make Sure Bounce Rate Is an Accurate Measure of User Engagement

I recommend taking three steps to ensure that the bounce rate in your Google Analytics account is an accurate reflection of how engaged your site’s traffic is.

1. Define Your Goals for Each Web Page or Blog Post Clearly

Keep in mind that your goal for each page might be different. On some pages, your goal may be for visitors to make a purchase. On other pages, you may want visitors to complete a form. On some pages, on your website, your goal may be met if users actively engage with your page’s content (either by scrolling to a certain point on your page, clicking a link, or moving their mouse on the screen for a certain amount of time to show that they’re at the keyboard and are actively exploring your content).

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2. Set Up Event Tracking & Goals in Analytics to Accurately Measure Desired Engagement

Once you have a clear understanding of your desired goal for traffic entering your website on a certain page or blog post, set up event tracking and create Google Analytics goals so that your analytics account will record when your visitors interact with your page in a meaningful way. This will provide you with more actionable information about how many users are interacting in the way you want, and going forward those interactions will make bounce rate an accurate metric for you to use when evaluating the performance of your website’s content.

3. Analyze This Accurate Data & Split Test to Improve Performance

Finally, analyze your new data and make informed decisions to improve your website’s performance based on accurate bounce rate and goal completion data.

Case Study: Reducing Bounce Rate by Adding Event Tracking

Here’s an example of how setting up event tracking can immediately provide you with more accurate bounce rate information. One of the pages on a website I manage  which averages around 200 organic sessions per day is a list-style blog post which provides links to a number of useful resources for my visitors.

Historically I didn’t have any event tracking set up on the page, so in spite of the fact that most visitors were spending over a minute and a half on the page, and clicking on several of the external links from the provided list of resources, more than 90 percent of the sessions were being recorded as bounced sessions in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Bounce Rate
Bounce Rate Drops over 40% After Implementing Event Tracking on a List-Style Blog Post

After setting up event tracking with Google Tag Manager, these external link clicks (one of the desired interactions for users on the page) were recorded in Google Analytics as an interaction, instantly dropping the page’s bounce rate by over 40 percent. The way visitors interacted with the page didn’t change at all, but bounce rate suddenly became a more meaningful data point and a more accurate reflection of what percentage of my organic visitors were engaged with the page's content.

Not only did adding event tracking improve my understanding of user experience and engagement, it also provided useful information about which external links were clicked most frequently (allowing me to move those to the top of the list to improve the page’s value for my visitors).

Related Article: 4 Small Steps in Digital Marketing That Will Impact Your Business Growth

Final Thoughts

Bounce rate can certainly be a useful metric for understanding how engaged your website's traffic is, but unless you take the time to properly set up goals and event tracking, your bounce rate data may not accurately reflect user engagement. Improper or incomplete Google Analytics setup or a failure to understand how bounce rate is measured can result in businesses making bad decisions when evaluating the performance of their website's content.

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