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Are your bounce rates accurate in Analytics?

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 by Steve Masters tagged , ,

Bouncing water balloonsGoogle Analytics is a powerful tool for any webmaster and marketer. You can dig down into the traffic data for your website and find out so much about how your website is performing.

One of the oft-discussed yet misunderstood statistics is the bounce rate. The bounce rate, as explained by Emily Mace in 2011, basically tells you how many people landed on the site and left from the same page they landed on. Analytics shows us bounce rates for individual pages, which means we can see which pages encourage further interaction and which ones get mainly single views.

Bounce rates versus exit rates

Bounce rates and exit rates are not the same thing. The bounce rate shows the number of visits to a site that include only one page. The exit rate records people leaving the site from a specific page. Looking at your website statistics you will see a site-wide bounce rate as well as bounce rates for individual pages.

Here are some example sessions to explain how these work.

  • Session 1: Visitor lands on the home page and then goes to the contact page (they did not bounce; but they exited from the contact page).
  • Session 2: Visitor lands on an article page, then navigates to the home page and leaves from there (there is no bounce, but they have exited from the home page).
  • Session 3: Visitor lands on the home page and then leaves (a bounce and an exit)

In the above series of sessions, here are the stats that would be reported by Analytics – you can get a nice overview if you go to the Content section and look up the All Pages report under Site Content.

  • The whole site will show a bounce rate of 33% – because only one of the sessions included only one page.
  • The home page will show a bounce rate of 50% – not 33% because in the middle session the home page was not the initial landing page of the session, so a bounce would be impossible to report on that page for that session. However, the home page will show an exit rate of 67%, because there were two exits from that page out of three views.
  • The contact page will show no bounce but a 100% exit rate.
  • The article in session 2 will show a 0% bounce rate and a 0% exit rate.
How can bounce rate statistics be artificially low?

When examining bounce rates for the site or for specific pages, look out for artificially low statistics. For example, if you look at your organic traffic and you see an overall bounce rate of 15% while the page views per session average less than two, something may be fooling Analytics and your traffic may not be as lively as you think.

A 15% bounce rate is uncommonly good, but some websites auto-serve secondary pages that contain Analytics code. Framed content is a good example of this. I recently worked on a client website where the most-visited page of the site contains a frame which serves secondary content inside the frame. This secondary content contains Analytics code, so Google Analytics thinks the session contains more than one page view, although in reality the visitor may be loading only one page and leaving.

You can confuse your bounce rates the other way, too. Some websites are constructed using subdomains – the blog, for example, may be on blog.sitedomain.com while the website is on www.sitedomain.com. If the website is built in such a way that users are constantly jumping from one domain to another, and depending on how the Analytics code has been implemented throughout all the domains (see Google Analytics: tracking more than one site), it’s possible that you could see a high bounce rate and a low number of page views per session, with lots of sessions coming from returning visitors. One other signal you will see, if this is the case, is that you will see a lot of referrals between your subdomains, in the Referrals report of the Traffic Sources section.

The main piece of advice to take away from this is to look at your Analytics stats carefully. Examine not only bounce rates but also page views per session, the volume of returning visitors versus new visitors. You may find that the implementation of Google Analytics on your site needs work or that your site structure needs to change to improve your ability to measure real instead of misleading data.

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About the author

Steve Masters

Steve Masters

Steve is Services Director for Vertical Leap and its sister brands. He started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997, then joining MSN to work purely in online publishing. Since 1999 he has worked for and consulted to a broad range of businesses about their digital marketing. Follow on Google Plus and Twitter