Google Analytics Bounce Rate vs Exit Rate: The Death Knell of User Engagement
Let’s compare two valuable metrics in Google Analytics, the bounce rate vs the exit rate. We’ve all had that hopefully non-recurring nightmare where our bounce rate looks like an Olympic ping pong champion and our exit rate implies that someone yelled ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. If I’m losing you already, it might be good to familiarize yourself with the importance of using Google Analytics data to create comprehensive reports on bounce rate, exit rate, and just about every other stitch of information about your customer’s engagement with your website. Maybe check out this article that describes the importance of data reporting. When you get back, we’re going to take a hard and focussed look at just these two important metrics and dive into their meanings as well as the pitfalls and opportunities they each present.
A bounce rate refers to visitors who leave a website from the first page they land on whereas an exit rate is page-specific and refers to a visitor who has visited more than one page and applies to the last page they visited before exiting.
Are Bounce Rate and Exit Rate the Same Thing?
I’ll keep this simple. Bounce rate and exit rate are not identical metrics, however, they both seem to dance to the same tune (Hit the Road Jack by Ray Charles comes to mind). Both of these data sets refer to that miserable moment that one of your visitors decides to up and leave your website without even saying goodbye. In this sense, they are equally disturbing and worth digging into to find out what happened.
Bounce Rate: The Mysterious Dis.
Bounce rate is by far the most confounding dismissal. Bounce rate specifically relates to a visitor who makes it to your website (either the home page or a blog post, etc) and leaves without exploring any other page of your site or without interacting with your site in any way.
For fun, let’s think of a website like a party that needs guests to be successful. Imagine you are back in college and you pass a house party on your walk home. Some late-night revelers on the porch invite you in and you decide to give it a try. Once you walk inside the door, however, you immediately realize that this is not your type of scene and decide to, well, bounce without greeting anyone else in the room. You just leave. Maybe you go to a different house party or maybe you just decide you’re gonna go do something else entirely. Either way, you bounce out of there as if the front door were made of rubber bands. Of course, Google describes it this way “A bounce is a single-page session on your site… 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.”
Let’s take a look at some sample bounce rate data.
As you can see above rows 8, 9, 11, and 12 all have very high bounce rates. They are wildly underperforming in this metric whereas hardly anybody bounces from the welcome page and the profile page. You can also note the correlation of how much time people spend on each of these pages and how they relate to the bounce rate. This can sometimes be an indicator of customer engagement and is worth considering where applicable. In the case of row 12, for example, users spend an average of only 9 seconds exploring the consultative approach page.
Bounce rates are problematic because there is so little data on why a visitor left. You are not completely in the dark, however, and a little further down we’ll discuss what to look for when your bounce rate is high.
Exit Rate: Just When Everything Was Going so Well!
Exit rate, as I mentioned earlier, also involves a visitor leaving your website but in this case, you almost convinced them to stay. Let’s rewind the tape of the house party a bit. So, you’ve been invited into the party and you make it through the front door. When you walk into the foyer, you like the music that they’re playing and you even want to talk to some of the people in there. So you stay awhile, you check out the basement scene, maybe even make it to the kitchen to try the appetizers and pizza. All in all, you may be having a great time. At some point though, you encounter a conversation that you are not interested in and decide that you have had enough of the scene and you exit the party.
Again, Google likes to get a bit more technical about it. “For all pageviews to the page, Exit Rate is the percentage that were the last in the session.” It is important to note that bounce pages are also exit pages in Google’s metric. Since the last page of a user’s session is the exit rate, a bounce may also count as an exit.
Let’s rundown this example of an exit rate data set for 10 pages of a website.
As you can see above, if we are analyzing the exit rate for pages other than the landing page, number 3 on the list is far outperforming the rest whereas the 2nd, 5th, and 6th pages are places that visitors decide to leave. We will discuss why that might be a bit later. In this example, the exit rate is a percentage of all the exits divided by all the pageviews for each specific page.
As you may have guessed, the exit rate is an extremely useful data set. Since the visitor came to a page on your website and then continued exploring the site, the exit rate of any given page tells you, in a very tangible way, which pages are prompting people to stop exploring your site.
Are Exits and Bounces always a Bad Thing?
In some cases, bounces are really just a case of mistaken identity. Maybe someone was in the market to buy a futon and they land on a website that sells only sofas. They realize it is not what they were looking for and so they leave immediately. This would be recorded as a bounce and doesn’t really reflect on the page they landed on in any negative way.
In other instances, a bounce could be the result of a benign activity. The person goes to the website, realizes they aren’t ready to take action, and they leave. This is also not the fault of any page that they landed on.
When it comes to exits, some of the same examples apply. Additionally, with an exit at least the visitor stuck around the website for a period of time and engaged with it in some meaningful way. It’s possible that they found the information they were looking for on the page that they eventually exit from. In that situation, the visitor was well served by the site and left at a logical point in their journey.
A checkout page, for example, is a common exit page. Once the visitor purchases goods or services and checks out, it is natural for them to leave the site at that time.
When we set those outliers aside, however, we can begin to see the usefulness of these data sets as they pertain to the performance of individual pages and the overall level of engagement with the content of the website.
What is a reasonable bounce rate for my site?
Let’s face it, because of the reasons I mentioned a moment ago, you are going to have people bounce from your site. There will never be a 0% bounce rate and if there is, you would be the most successful webmaster that has ever lived. According to RocketFuel, “a bounce rate in the range of 26 to 40 percent is excellent. 41 to 55 percent is roughly average. 56 to 70 percent is higher than average”.
As you can see, bouncing is common behavior for web visitors. So don’t despair if half the people who find you leave immediately. The internet is fairly impersonal that way.
How to Solve a High Bounce Rate
The reason the bounce rate data is compelling, however, lies in the fact that webmasters can use analytics to discover which pages people are landing on that they bounce away from. If people are bouncing from your landing page, for example, you should take a good hard look at how you’ve structured your content there.
Ask yourself hard questions.
- Is the content relevant to what people are searching for when they find me?
- Have I presented the information in a visually compelling and aesthetically pleasing way?
- Are there pertinent links to more information?
- If it’s a sales page, is there a call to action?
- Are you distracting the visitor with unnecessary pop-ups?
Unless it’s directly relevant to what you are selling or saying, don’t weigh the reader down with your company history on the landing page. Answer their queries simply and beautifully. They found you because they were looking for something. Make sure that your content is giving them what they want in the best way that you can.
If they are bouncing from a blog post or a product page, apply the same rule there as well. Spruce the page up, focus on the answer they are seeking, lead them to other areas of your site, keep calm and carry on.
What is a reasonable Exit Rate for a Page?
This is a trickier question to answer. The reason for that is because it completely depends on the purpose of that particular page. As we discussed earlier, some pages are natural exits. In this case, it is better to consider the purpose of each page.
Pages with similar functions (i.e. blog post pages all serve the function of providing information to the visitor whereas sales pages all provide a call to action for the visitor) should be examined side by side. From that standpoint, the page in the group with the highest exit rate should be compared to the pages with the lowest exit rate to glean insights into what may be pushing the visitor away.
Again, don’t be discouraged. This process is one of experimentation and flexibility. Don’t be overly possessive of your content if it is underperforming. Be agile and able to meet the needs of your visitor on each and every page of your website.
Using Analytics to Solve Exit Rate Problem Pages
Pages with higher exit rates than others can be very revealing. In many cases, the visitor has gone through at least one other page on your site. In Google Analytics, you have access to every page’s exit rate. Take a moment to reflect deeply on the pages that are performing the worst in this metric
The basic questions that you asked yourself about bounce rates apply equally to these pages. Consume the content on these pages from the point of view of someone who has found some of what they were looking for on your site, but then came to a certain page and decided they’d had enough.
Is the content something that they should naturally walk away from or can you improve the look, the style, and the message on this page? Is there enough visual stimulation to create an effective message without boring them to leave. In many cases, when you examine these problem pages, you will see something that puts you off for one reason or another.
Here are a few things to consider about a page with higher exit rates:
- Does the page answer a question that the visitor searched for (keyword research is vital here)
- Are there graphics, videos, or images to help explain the message?
- Is the information organized with headings, subheadings, and bullet points? (Make sure you are using the proper H1 and H2 tags)
- Is there a call to action for the visitor to answer?
- Is the writing grammatically accurate and written in an accessible format?
Bounce Past the Exits
The most important thing to remember is that bounce rates and exit rates are not roadblocks. They are opportunities to better understand what your visitors are looking for and how to best serve their needs. This is the direction the internet (and search engines) have been going for the past several years. Content is not just decoration around your product line, it is the road map to higher sales and profound customer engagement.
Take a look at your analytics and examine the performance of every page on your website until you understand the bottlenecks and free-flows. Then adapt, experiment, and grow. I look forward to visiting your party and sticking around for the lively conversation I find. See you on the first page of Google!