Is A “High” Bounce Rate Always Bad? Plus: How To Improve Bounce Rates

Concerned about your bounce rate? Columnist George Aspland explains when a high bounce rate is OK and outlines steps to help turn it around when it's not.

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When we ask prospective customers if they know how their website is performing, they often quote a Bounce Rate percentage or some other standard Google Analytics site metrics such as “pages per session” or “time on site” and so on, with the assumption that a bounce rate above some percentage is bad.

But is a “high” bounce rate always bad?
[blockquote]Bounce RateThe percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave (“bounce”) rather than continuing on to view other pages within the same site.[/blockquote]

Is A High Bounce Rate Always Bad?

Sometimes A High Bounce Rate Is Okay. Site metrics, like a bounce rate, should be looked at on a case-by-case basis to determine if, for example, a bounce rate is good or bad.

For example, the bounce rate for an entrance page (an entrance page is any page where people enter the site from some traffic source) may seem like a high percentage. Let’s say it’s over 70 percent, which many people would assume is bad because it means most people are viewing this page and going no further into the website.

However, a web page may do a good enough job of satisfying a searcher’s query without them needing to go further into the site. For example, if someone searches on “How many websites use Google Analytics” they may find this article on Marketing Land and read that “… estimates suggest as many as 30–50 million websites use Google Analytics” and be satisfied with that answer and go no further into the site.

The same is true for most of the other general site metrics like “time on site.” People often think that a higher time on site or large number of pages per visit is always good.

However, people may actually be struggling to find what they are looking for on your site. They can be clicking around the site, adding to the page per visit and time on site numbers when, in fact, a large percentage of these people may eventually get frustrated and leave the site without taking action.

Irrelevant Traffic. Most often, people quote the bounce rate they see in the Audience Overview in their Google Analytics. This is a sitewide bounce rate, the percentage of single-page visits across the site, for all pages and all traffic sources.

However, it’s not unusual for much of the traffic to a website or a specific web page to be irrelevant. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if those visitors leave the page without going further into the site.

For example, we have a client that mentions some of their of key customers on their home page, one of which is General Electric. Lots of people search on phrases including General Electric. Some of these folks see our customer’s home page in the search results and click through to check it out.

Presumably, when they see there’s just a mention of GM as a customer, they leave (or “bounce”) without going further into the site. Few, if any, of these people are potential customers for our client’s highly specialized products, so we shouldn’t expect them to go further into their website.

Focus On Traffic Segments. Instead of worrying about a sitewide bounce rate, it’s best to examine entrance pages for a specific traffic source, or even specific keywords, if you are running AdWords. (Unfortunately, a large percentage of organic keyword traffic is no longer available in Google Analytics.)

You can do this by looking at Traffic Segments in Google Analytics. See About Segments on Google to learn how to use them. Below is a screen shot of a custom Traffic Segment that focuses on one specific keyword.

screen shot of a custom Traffic Segment that focuses on one specific keyword.

In the screen shot below, the bounce rate for visitors who searched on a specific relevant keyword and then clicked through to a website is compared with the bounce rate of all of the traffic to that same website. Notice that the bounce rate for this keyword is less than half of the bounce rate for all traffic to the site.

Bounce rate comparison

Improving Bounce Rates

After you’ve taken some of the previous steps to zoom in on traffic sources and entrance pages, you should indeed try to improve bounce rates for relevant traffic. The issues that affect bounce rates are mostly user experience or tracking issues. Here are some suggestions.

Measure And Improve The Conversion Rates Of Meaningful Actions On The Site. Set up tracking for meaningful actions that are related to the organization’s goals for the website, and work to increase the conversion rates for those goals. This often reduces bounce rates at the same time.

I’m not going to try to cover the huge topic of improving conversions in this article. I’ll give a few general suggestions that often help improve bounce rates.

[blockquote]Conversion rate: The percentage of your website traffic that takes the action you desire — whatever that action is. For some, it’s an immediate sale; for others, it’s an inquiry or a newsletter subscription; and for some, it’s a phone call or future visit to their facility.[/blockquote]

Let’s look at the typical lead generation site. If one of the site goals is to increase the number of leads generated on the website from referral sites such as search engines, then you could set up tracking for one or more desirable actions (Goal Tracking in Google Analytics).

For example, you might set up tracking for a “request for information” form or tracking of people who sign up for a newsletter or download a white paper (assuming that the newsletters or white papers help generate future business).

With goal tracking in place, you can analyze traffic segments (See the section above about using segments), starting from the top entrance pages for these segments, and test changes designed to improve the conversion rates for one or more the goals. Here are some examples.

Test More Prominent Links To Important Pages And More Calls To Action. You could test adding more calls to action or prominent links to pages in the typical paths people take along the way to a conversion.

In the screen shot below, for example, we suggested a client add this “call to action” to get people who read a software application overview page (a typical entrance page for referral traffic) to click over to a page that includes a narrated demonstration. This narrated demonstration was doing a great job of persuading people to contact them for more info or to set up a demo.

When you persuade more people to click to other pages in a website, the bounce rate goes down.

A call to action

You could test adding more prominent calls to action on site pages (including entrance pages) that can be measured in Google Analytics, such as adding an inquiry form. If you use a separate, unique page (URL) for the form’s confirmation (the thank-you page) then when someone fills out the form and views the confirmation page, this session will not count as a bounce, since they viewed another page after the entrance page.

Set Up Site Phone Call Tracking. I mentioned before that if a significant percentage of visitors to an entrance page take some action that isn’t measured by the analytics system, such as calling a phone number that appears on the page, then their visit will trigger a bounce if their session ends without their going further into the website.

However, you could set up a dynamic phone call tracking system that rewrites phone numbers on web pages with tracking numbers. When CallRail’s phone call tracking is integrated with Google Universal Analytics, for example, phone calls that are tracked will not be reported as a bounce.

Set Up Event Tracking For Email Addresses. You can set up Google Analytics Event Tracking for email addresses that appear on web pages, including key entrance pages. When someone clicks on an email address that is being tracked as an Event, the visit will not be counted as a bounce. See Google’s About Events page for more.

Be Careful Of Offsite Links. Putting links to other websites on your entrance pages may very well entice people to click off your site without going further, which adds to your bounce rate and will almost certainly hurt your conversion rate.

If a key goal of a website is to generate leads, for example, then you’ll want to think twice about giving people options to click away from your website on important pages in the paths people take from an entrance page to a conversion point (a point in the site where a significant number of people take action).

Check Page Load Speeds. Slow-loading pages can be frustrating and cause a percentage of people to give up and leave your site (triggering a bounce if they go no further than the entrance page). Check the load speed of at least your top Entrance Pages.

There’s a Site Speed tool in the Behavior section in Google Analytics that shows page load times for a sample of site pages. Google also has a PageSpeed Insights tool that examines page load speed for one page at a time and generates suggestions to speed up the page.

Check The User Experience From Mobile Devices. Examine the user experience of your entrance pages from as many mobile devices as you can. Make believe you are a site visitor who did a search for a product or service you offer (a visitor who doesn’t know anything about your company and thus will be much less tolerant than people who already are predisposed to your organization).

Is it difficult to accomplish tasks? Is the site mobile-friendly? If not, you should work to fix these issues, as people are likely bouncing off your website from mobile devices.

Warning: Don’t take the word of mobile device simulators, as they are often not correct. Try to examine the site from as many actual mobile devices as you can (Ask others to help out).


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

George Aspland
George Aspland is founder and President of eVision, providing digital marketing services to companies and organizations for over 14 years. eVision helps its clients grow their business by increasing targeted traffic to their web sites while improving the ability of the web site to convert those visitors into inquiries, leads, and new business

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