Careful with that Bounce Rate, Eugene

Bounce rate is a useful metric but can be misleading if not used in context

We all know that bounce rate conveys vital information about site performance and can provide very useful clues about where to look for improvements. Especially since Avinash nominated it as ‘sexiest web metric ever‘ back in ’07. As is often the case with web metrics, though, the numbers shouldn’t just be taken at face value. It can be important to consider metrics definitions and their use by web analytics tools in order to make well-informed decisions.

Here’s a case in point that I encountered recently in a site’s Google Analytics ‘Top Content‘ report:

Bounce Rate in Content Report

Clearly there is a problem here that requires urgent attention: high traffic pages with huge bounce rates! It’s important to keep in mind, though, that bounce rate is calculated only for visits that start with the page in question.  Being the ‘Top Content’ report, the pageviews account for all views of that page, whether the first page in a visit or the 50th.

So the report is NOT saying that of the 2,215 views of the first page in the list,  2,076 (93.75%) of them resulted in bounces.  It IS saying that of all the visits that started with this page, 97.5% of them went no further.  This, then, begs the question: “well, how many visits started with this page?

For the answer to this question, we turn to the ‘Top Landing Pages‘ report in Google Analytics (or equivalent in your tool of choice). And here we see a story that puts things in perspective:

Bounce rate from Landing Pages report

Yeah, that first page in the list has a high bounce rate…but it is based on only 16 entrances compared to over 2,200 pageviews in total! (I know we’re mixing metrics here, but the story is valid.)

Depending on the purpose and value of that page, this still may be cause for concern. But chances are there are bigger fish to fry.

There are other ways that bounce rate – and indeed most web metrics –  can be twisted by context, so it is prudent to keep in mind the nuances behind the data being presented by our trusty tools.

(For those interested, there is further discussion of the ins-and-outs of bounce rates in Google Analytics here on the Google Analytics Help Forum – particularly relevant if you are wondering how to reconcile content and navigation reports.)