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Inbound Marketing Bounce Rates – The Meaningless Metric

By Chad PollittMar 15, 2011

Inbound Marketing Bounce RateI can’t tell you how many people I hear grumbling about their website’s inbound marketing bounce rate.  It’s always too high.  It doesn’t matter if it’s 10% or 90% the bounce rate is never good enough.  The question I always get asked is “what should it be?” My answer is always the same, “Well, that depends.”

What is a bounce rate you ask?  According to Google it's a metric that measures visit quality - Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page.

A "high" bounce rate is different per industry. Some industries can experience an 80% bounce rate and have it considered low. However, others may have a 20% bounce rate and it will be considered high.  If your company offers a commodity (or perceived commodity) you should expect high bounce rates.  Especially if your value proposition isn't highly competitive.

Breaking Down the Bounce Rate

When examining your bounce rate in Google Analytics it is important to break down your website’s individual traffic sources.  Look at organic, referral and direct traffic.  For a website to be considered “mature” its traffic should closely resemble 33% organic, 33% referral and 33% direct.

Organic Traffic

Take a look at your organic website traffic.  Is the bounce rate much higher than your other traffic sources?  Is organic traffic a significant portion of your overall website traffic?  If the answer to these questions is “yes” than it is likely that your website is coming up in Google for keyword phrases that aren’t relevant enough for the visitor and/or your meta descriptions and page titles are misleading. 

If your bounce rate is on the low end for organic traffic that may not be good either.  If your website mostly comes up for branded or company name searches than your bounce rate will naturally be low.  However, this is a sign that you have little to no SEO and your inbound marketing efforts are failing.

Referrals

Inbound Marketing Bounce RatesIf your referral traffic is a significant portion of your traffic and has a high bounce rate the culprit may be anchor text and context.  You may have links on several websites that aren’t related to the content on the pages they are linked to.  The situation could be exacerbated by the context of the content surrounding that anchor text being misleading.  I’ve also ran into inflated numbers caused from bookmarking websites.  Someone could bookmark one of your posts or a page while providing a poor or misleading description that causes people to click, but leave soon after.

Direct

Your direct traffic should be from a visitor that types in your URL or accesses a browser’s bookmark list.  In reality, direct traffic is any visit where the source cannot be tracked.  This can be from email, Tweetdeck, QR codes, etc.  Additionally, I've encountered a few large companies that have every computer's browser set to pull up the company's website as the home page of a browser.  This can really inflate a website's bounce rate.

Anecdotally, I would say 90% or more of the traffic labeled as direct is not actually direct.  If your bounce rate is high for direct traffic it probably isn’t do to people typing in your URL and leaving right away, but rather from one of the two sources above.


Even if you identify the culprit of your high bounce rate there are additional things to consider.  Maybe your website is so illogically organized with a poor UX and/or UI it causes people to leave because they can't find what it is they're looking for.  It may be that your website uses so much jargon that your messaging is obscure and visitors have a hard time figuring out what you do.

Also, without knowing the bounce rates of your competitors you’ll never truly know if your website has a high bounce rate or not. What is important for you to track is your bounce rate over time. The trend of this metric can point out problems that you’ll want to investigate.

Additionally, if you launch a new website design it’s important to look at your previous bounce rate trends and compare them to the new. This will let you know if you’ve improved your messaging, UX, UI or CTAs. Ultimately, the most important bounce rate number you’ll want to pay attention to is your landing pages. Through A/B and multivariate testing, over time, you’ll be able to attain the lowest bounce rate possible for your landing pages.

Image Credit: Just Sof



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