What Your Bounce Rate Doesn’t Tell You

Mar 31, 2019

There are certain numbers that online marketers often obsess over. One of those numbers is bounce rate. Between 2008 and 2015, if you read any blogs or eBooks on online marketing, you’ll find that the marketing world tended to obsess over bounce rate:

  • How can I improve my bounce rate?
  • What is a good bounce rate?
  • Why did my bounce rate increase (or decrease?)

If hits represents the number of people that visit the site (it doesn’t, but that’s a different article), then bounce rate represents whether or not they found what they were looking for.

It makes some sense to see bounce rate in this way. After all, if your website has multiple pages, and a person visited the site and then left the site without visiting any other pages, it’s easy to feel like this means that your site wasn’t what they wanted.

The problem is that bounce rate is a lie.

Bounce rate has almost no value to marketers. It doesn’t tell you valuable information, and it doesn’t give you any insight that can help you make decisions to improve business. Bounce rate is one of those numbers that seems like it is important, but in fact is almost a complete waste of time and energy.

Benefits of Bounce Rate

Notice that we said “Almost” a complete waste of time. That’s because it is possible to argue that there are some benefits to bounce rate that may be at least mildly interesting. It’s just that those benefits:

  • Aren’t what most people think bounce rate represents.
  • Aren’t useful in aggregate.

If you rethink the meaning of bounce rate, then there is a way to find at least some use out of it. It’s just not what most people that use programs like Google Analytics are expecting.

So what DOES bounce rate tell you?

  • Bounce rate **might** be able to tell you if your referring sources are referring relevant visits. For example, if you run an advertisement on Facebook and get 1000 clicks, but have a bounce rate of 97%, it’s possible that that ad is not targeting the right people. BUT: Small differences may not have any relevance. IE, a difference between 65% and 60% may have no meaning, and there are better analytics to use.
  • Bounce rate **might** be able to help you with A/B testing. If you are testing two different pages and one has a higher bounce rate, that number could theoretically be useful. BUT: There are other metrics that are often more useful, like conversions, and the same problems with bounce rate that we’ll discuss in a moment will still apply.
  • Bounce rate **might** be able to help you figure out which pages have a next step at all. It’s possible that a page on your site gets a lot of hits but isn’t clearly showing visitors what to do next, and so visitors are leaving. BUT: It’s hard to know if this is really that useful compared to other metrics.

Yes, it is possible that bounce rate hints at information that could be useful, but there are still many other metrics that are more valuable and bounce rate tells you almost nothing about the quality of your website itself. Its value is minimal.

Problems with Bounce Rate – What Bounce Rate Doesn’t Tell You

I want to start with a story.

This website I managed had well over a thousand pages of content with hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts compiled over a period of 10 years. Most of those blog posts were relevant to potential customers – people that would consider hiring this company for its services.

But every once in a while, a post was made on only a tangentially related topic. Like a how-to for people in the industry, or even a funny post here and there.

One such post, which was written about a topic that was especially interesting to those in the industry – people that would be competitors of this business, not customers – took off. It accounted for well over 25% of the hits on this website, with thousands upon thousands of hits a year from people looking for help and advice on the topic.

None of these people would ever be customers. In fact, it could be argued that this post was helping competitors hone their skills. It also had no next step. It was a resource post, thousands of words long, that delved deep into a topic of interest.

Its bounce rate was almost 95%.

Immediately, any aggregate bounce rate total becomes useless. It was always high, because it was always affected by the hits that this page received, and since the number of hits fluctuated month to month, so too did the bounce rate.

And therein lies the number one problem with bounce rate. As an aggregate rate, it is essentially useless on its own, and even when parsed out it is clear that bounce rate begins to lose value.

So let’s look at what bounce rate does NOT tell you, and why you may need to consider other metrics when evaluating your website analytics:

It Doesn’t Tell You The Relevancy of the Search/Hit

Picture this: You sell purses, and only purses. Which of these two scenarios matters more:

  • You receive 10,000 hits from Google for the search term “purses” and have a bounce rate of 97%.
  • You receive 10,000 hits from Google for the search term “gorillas” and have a bounce rate of 97%.

Bounce rate treats these both equally. But they’re not.

The first example would be extremely worrisome. It means you’re getting hits that are extremely relevant, but they’re leaving right after they visit the site. But the second example just means you’re getting hits from weird places. The quality of your website has nothing at all to do with it. There’s nothing for you to change on your site to convert those visitors because they’re not relevant in the first place.

Unless you want to become a gorilla site. That would be kind of cool.

There’s no way for you to know if your bounce rate is telling you that your website has a problem, or if it’s telling you that you’re just not getting relevant visits. How are you supposed to know what to change? How do you know if you should change anything at all?

It Doesn’t Tell You if Someone Read the Content (Usually)

Google Analytics calculates bounce rate by whether or not they visited one page and then left.

But what if they visited a page, consumed every single word on the page, and then left?

Wouldn’t that be good to know?

There are web analytics tools that compare favorably to Google Analytics that tell you if someone read the content on the site. But if you’re like most businesses that rely solely on Google Analytics and other freemium analytics software, the bounce rate you’re looking at doesn’t tell you if they visited and left or visited, read every word, and then left. Which brings us to the next point:

It Doesn’t Tell You WHY They Left

If you’ve worked at a company or with a company that paid a lot of attention to bounce rate, then you know what they usually say when the bounce rate increases:

“They didn’t find what they were looking for.”

Well, now what?

Even if that were true, and bounce rate was an accurate representation of whether or not the user found what they needed, you still don’t know what it is they need. So you’re left guessing:

  • Maybe we should rewrite the content!
  • Maybe you need to add a photo or video! (it’s never this one, by the way)
  • Maybe the text shows up too low on the page!
  • Maybe they didn’t like your website!

Now, we already showed you that bounce rate is usually a reflection of the way they found your site, and not what they saw on your site once they got there. But even if we assume it was something related to your site, you’re left wanting a lot more information. Wild guesses is not going to be as accurate as data.

And remember – what if they did find what they needed? What if they loved everything they read and then just didn’t need anything else from you? Google Analytics still doesn’t tell you that. Only a few types of analytics software do.

It Doesn’t Always Stand Up to Segments

“But wait!” You say. “I read your articles about segmentation! I never look at any data in aggregate and always separate into segments, or specific pages, or other more specific details!”

That’s great!

But many of the issues related to bounce rate remain. Again, consider the following:

  • Landing Page 1: 95% bounce rate.
  • Landing Page 2: 55% bounce rate.
  • Landing Page 3: 86% bounce rate.

If you’ve followed along so far, you probably aren’t going to compare landing pages 1 and 3 because the bounce rates are both high. But you can compare landing pages 1 and 2, correct?

Well, not necessarily, because once again it’s possible that – for example – you’re getting relevant hits from Google for page 2 and not for page 1, even if page 1 is a better page.

That doesn’t mean segmentation cannot help make bounce rate more relevant. For example, perhaps you look only at returning users, you use a web analytics software that measures TRUE bounce rate (eg, it incorporates data that tells you if the user read through your content), and you’re looking at performance of two separate newsletters sent out to a randomized group of prior users.

In that specific a case, bounce rate might be more meaningful. But you can see how specific one has to be to measure bounce rate effectively, and also how difficult this can be in something like Google Analytics, where segmentation is not always accurate or user friendly.

It Doesn’t Tell You if They Converted Later

A user can see your site, bookmark it, then leave. If they come back later and make a purchase, Google:

  • Records those as two separate hits.
  • Records the user as a “bounce” once for a 50% bounce rate.

Even though the user came back AND made a purchase, bounce rate still considers that a bounce. At least according to Google Analytics.

Okay I Get It – Bounce Rate is Bad – Now What?

Bounce rate has a lot of flaws. There are ways to make it useful, such as A/B testing different newsletter formats that point to the same page, or testing different ad groups in Adwords, but in general a website’s bounce rate as defined by Google Analytics is not that valuable.

Usually, when you look at bounce rate, you’re looking to find out if those visiting your site are finding what they need.

Luckily, there are other ways of using data that answer that question. Not all of these are possible with Google Analytics, however, but if you can get your hands on these metrics, you answer the question “are they finding what they want?” more accurately and in a way that can guide you towards an action.

Alternatives to Bounce Rate

Interaction Rate, AKA “Engaged User” Rate

A user can see only one page of your site and not necessarily be a “bounce.”

You want to know if a user scrolls down and reads all the content on the site or if they see the site and immediately leave. Thus you’re really looking for an interaction rate, sometimes referred to as the “Engaged User Rate.” Did the user interact with the site or did they visit, cringe, and jump out before wasting any time.

Time on Page (Accurate)

Google doesn’t give you an accurate time on page unless the user clicks to another page. But other analytics software starts timing the moment they visit the site and continues until the moment they leave, whether they viewed only one page or many.

That’s far more accurate a measurement, and you can learn a lot from it. For example:

  • If many users visited the site for fewer than 5 seconds, your site may be loading too slow.
  • If many users visited the site for only 30 seconds, your content may not be engaging.
  • If many users visited the site for 3 to 5 minutes, they may find the content valuable but not have a next step.

There are other analytics that you can use to determine more specifically what the issue was that occurred, but an accurate time on page can be far more valuable than bounce rate or the time on page provided by GA.


Does bounce rate really matter? If you have a 90% bounce rate and 10% conversion rate, are you better off or worse than a 50% bounce rate and 5% conversion rate?

Conversions is often going to be your measurement of choice. Conversions also can be easily segmented and defined in a way that is easier to analyze, and it can account for whether or not a user comes back in the future.

We all want to lower bounce rate if we believe it will lead to more conversions, but focusing on conversions is often the better choice between the two metrics.

Moving On From Bounce Rate

There is no such thing as the perfect metric. But it’s clear that bounce rate’s value on its own is minimal at best and misleading at worst. It’s so tempting to want to gauge the success of a site by whether or not the hits “stick,” but relying on bounce rate – indeed, even looking at it at all – has the potential to cause a lot of confusion and potentially lead you towards the wrong decisions.

Instead, focus on the metrics that affect revenue and/or accurately gauge the success of the pages on your site. Those are the numbers that will help guide growth and make it easier for you to figure out what to change on your website to improve conversions and revenue.

To find out more about Air360’s advanced analytics system, contact us today.