Why does Google care so much about bounce rate?

Google significantly promotes this statistic – the bounce rate – making it available in most of its reports and even on the accounts overview page (the only other statistic shown is the number of sessions). Google focusing on bounce rate makes a bit of sense: Google sells recommendations for a living through its advertising platforms, and a high bounce rate means that it is doing a rotten job of matching consumer intent with the advertiser content.

So what is bounce rate?

Bounce rate measures the percentage of visitors who visit one and only one page of your website.

Single Page Visitors            Total Visitors – Multiple Page Visitors

————————-   =   ———————————————— = Bounce Rate

Total Visitors                                   Total Visitors

 

Why provide two very similar equations for bounce rate? I wanted to highlight the easiest way to improve your bounce rate: increase the number of multiple page visitors. Preventing visitors from bouncing is hard…you are trying to accomplish a negative. Getting visitors to visit a 2nd page is a lot more actionable. To improve your bounce rate, all you need to do is get more people to click on a second page. Read that one twice. Go find the pages that are causing most of your bounce problems and see whether you have made it appealing to visit a second page. Are there too many navigational elements? Are you providing your entire website on the page? Once you start thinking about how to get people to visit a 2nd page, you will find some easy ways to improve your bounce rate.

Are there better metrics?

You bet. Having a low bounce rate as a goal is like looking to purchase a car that does not explode: it is a good minimum standard, but you should aim higher. Ideally, your metrics will include a visitor purchase where money changes hands. But starting with measuring purchase activity may not provide enough insight in what is happening between that first visit and the eventual purchase. According to Google Analytics, 98% of visitors NEVER make a purchase, so figuring out where along the path customers are dropping off can help you identify were you should focus your efforts.

Why does Google obsess with bounce rate?

The genius of bounce rate is that it is the easiest “quality” metric to measure on the planet. There is no need to ask what a consumer actually wanted, or to ask an advertiser about its campaign goals. Bounce rate allows you to abstract away all of the complexity of a real-world business relationship and ask a simple question: did the visitor click on a link after following our recommendation to visit the site?

Businesses should take time to define more meaningful goals, and revisit their goals from time to time. Typical goals will include activation (e.g., visiting a certain number of pages, reading a white paper, revisiting the site), signup (e.g., for a newsletter, a trial, or a demo), and purchase.

Matt

Note: I published this article for Payboard a while back, and I am republishing it here since the Payboard blog is no more.

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