Does a high bounce rate have to be bad ?

When looking for this on the net, you’ll see many people defining what a bad or good bounce looks like:

  • Less than 25% is considered green (good), 25-50% is amber (average) and above 50% is red (not good).
  • Any bounce rate above 70% is bad.
  • A good bounce rate is between 40% and 60%.
  • An acceptable site bounce rate is about 50-55%.
  • A bounce rate of 20% is a sign of quality and a bounce rate of 50% means you have a low quality site.

What I’ve learnt in past few weeks/months is that people who actually try to define a good bounce rate this way and give advice on what needs to be improved, do not know what they are talking about…

A few months, Google Analytics was showing me a bounce rate of less than a percent. Never really looked at it until someone who had a higher bounce rate asked what my bounce rate was. Then I looked at the historical evolution of the bounce rate on my site and saw that I had a bounce rate of almost 80% and at some point in time, it just became less than a percent and didn’t change much. It looked like a plugin might be responsible for this. So even though a bounce rate of 0% does sound great, I started deactivating and deleting all plugins I didn’t really need to finally get a realistic bounce rate from Google Analytics. And there it was, the bounce rate jumped to almost 90% and has been that high since then. I still do not know which plugin was responsible for that, but it’s fixed now. Actually I’m suspecting that the Google Analytics code might have been added twice because of some plugin and Google thought that each visitor was visiting twice as man pages per visit…

After that, I started actually worrying about the high bounce rate. 90% doesn’t sound good. The number of visitors kept increasing (actually a lot) but this high bounce rate didn’t look that great. So I installed some plugins to show popular posts, more plugins showing related posts… It didn’t help. The plugins with related posts are actually not bad since someone might actually find an interesting article like this. I removed the popular posts plugin after some time as I frankly do not thing it makes sense on my blog.

It’s only a few days ago that I looked at the bounce rate again and saw it was still that high and starting thinking the other way around: why is it so high and is it really bad.

The bounce rate is basically the percentage of visitors who only look at the landing page before leaving. So of course the rate depends on the industry, but it also depends on the site itself. In order to understand how high the bounce should ideally be, you need to understand who the audience is.

So who’s the tipical visitor of my site. There are probably two types of visitors:

  1. most of them are people having a technical problem, searching Google for a solution and finding my site.
  2. people who know my site and check it once in a while

Considering the high number of new visitors, it looks like the first group is much larger. And considering this first group, if all the content on the landing page is spot on and all they need (i.e. it basically provides the solution to their technical issue), then why would they navigate further through my site?

A nice way to further look into this is to check what Google Analytics says about the pages on my site. Here for my site in January 2013:

Page Pageviews Avg. Time on Page Bounce Rate % Exit
1. /mac-os-x-svn-subversion-missing-in-mountain-lion-10-8/ 3,106 00:04:45 83.80% 82.32%
2. /debian-change-the-keyboard-layout-from-the-console/ 984 00:06:27 93.52% 92.28%
3. /check-username-availability-using-jquery-and-php/ 552 00:12:31 72.97% 74.82%
4. / 295 00:01:24 80.41% 62.03%
5. /linux-c-lookup-error-undefined-symbol/ 281 00:11:11 93.21% 91.81%
6. /wordpress-qtranslate-clicking-on-the-home-link-resets-to-the-default-language/ 239 00:04:50 90.14% 88.70%
7. /sybase-using-identity_insert-to-insert-data-in-tables-with-an-identity-column/ 217 00:05:45 96.63% 95.39%
8. /xampp-vs-mamp/ 210 00:39:48 90.21% 87.14%
9. /sybase-find-and-delete-duplicates-records/ 209 00:08:10 91.88% 91.39%
10. /mysql-compare-two-similar-tables-to-find-unmatched-records/ 196 00:10:21 89.41% 86.73%

The bounce rate is much lower on the homepage of my blog i.e. half of the visitors of homepage move on to additional posts or pages. Since I doubt that anybody would look at the homepage (with the excerpts of all posts), be satisfied and leave, this means that half of the visitors either do not find the posts which would actually interest them or immediately see that this blog is not what they are looking for.

It can also be seen that even though the bounce rates are high, the average time on page (i.e. how long visitors stay on a page before browsing to other pages or leaving the site) is not bad. This is actually a better indication of whether the quality and relevance of the content is good than the bounce rate. The average time on page shows that visitors are reading the content (and probably finding it useful).

The low average time on the homepage is caused by the fact that you actually have to go to another page to get some content (which half of the visitors do).

So the lesson here is probably that I should look into ways to improve my homepage so that people feel more like giving a chance to the referenced posts/pages. And the other lesson is that even though I have a quite high bounce rate I shouldn’t worry to much about it.

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