For years now I’ve had to explain the meaning of different metrics found in marketing analytics reports. Bounce rate was one such term. But it looks as if my days of explaining bounce rates may be coming to a close. After well over a decade of including bounce rates in its reports, Google eliminated the metric from its Google Analytics reporting.
The latest version of Google Analytics places a stronger emphasis on events. This raises the question for analytics reporting: is monitoring bounce and bounce rate no longer valuable? To answer, let’s cover what bounce and bounce rate is, the history of bounce in web design, and what you should consider as you move forward in your marketing strategy.
What Is Bounce and Bounce Rate?
A bounce is a type of website visit in which a browser loads a webpage for a brief moment, then leaves the page and effectively the site. A bounce registers in analytics reports as a visit or session that triggers only a single request to the Analytics server — the loading of a webpage in a browser, such as when a user opens a single page on your site and then exits without triggering any other requests to the Analytics server during that session.
The bounce rate is the percentage of visits in which a bounce occurs. Marketers have typically monitored this metric in their website analytics, reporting bounce rate for a website or individual page.
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How Is Bounce Rate Measured?
Each analytics solution measures bounce rate slightly differently, based on how the tags measure a visit on a website page. Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics share a similar definition of bounce. But each calculates bounce rate in a slightly different fashion.
Google measures bounce rate in the Universal Analytics version of Google Analytics as a percentage of all site sessions (site sessions are visits). In a single page session, a bounce is a single page visit triggering only a single request to the Analytics server and creating a session duration of zero seconds, with no subsequent hits follow that single page request. Analytics calculates the length of the session as zero because there is only button request.
Adobe Analytics considers a bounce rate as a single visit to a domain over the number visits. The main difference with Adobe is how it refers to visits as entries. Entries are the number of times a given dimension is recorded in Adobe Analytics. Similar to Google’s treatment of a visit, a single record of a dimension with no other interactions in a website or app is treated as a bounce.
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Has Measuring Bounce Rate Ever Been Important?
Marketers have traditionally treated bounces as a bad occurrence. But the severity depended on the site and the cause of the bounce.
Common causes of bounces and bounce rates were poor content or technical problems loading a page. Determining the actual cause required investigating the content or running page load tests to see if a specific page element was the culprit.
Given these dual causes for bounces, the need to monitor bounce rate in reporting depended on the type of site in question. If a site is encouraging people to view more than one page, a high bounce rate is bad. For example, a home page of an ecommerce website. If it is a gateway to other site pages such as product pages, a low bounce rate is desirable. A high bounce rate in this case means a high percentage of people view only your home page before leaving, which suggests the content isn’t encouraging visitors to view product pages and potentially make a purchase. These visitors are reaching your store, changing their mind and turning right around again.
A single-page website is a difference scenario. Because single-page sessions are naturally expected, a high bounce rate is not necessarily an indicator of poor content. For example, blogs often have pages with high bounce rates because people share articles using the direct URL, rather than sharing the homepage and mentioning the title of the article.
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It’s Hard to Attribute the Cause of Bounce Rates
The cause of an increased bounce rate can cause some confusion, which is part of the reason why Google elected to remove bounce rate as a metric. Over the years Google has integrated its other platforms with Google Analytics, introducing other ways to better determine page speed issues without a focus on bounces and bounce rate.
The other reason behind the elimination is that reporting bounce rate can at times be a distraction. Marketing analytics is about measuring trends that show people’s engagement with your content. Bounce rates can help identify an engagement problem, but it only offers part of the answer. The emphasis on site activity through page events can guide more productive discussions on what site activity can potentially benefit a marketing or business objective. Focusing on event triggered behavior can better refine strategic choices with digital ads, social media and marketing content rather than the diagnostic nature that bounce rates introduce.
Does Google’s elimination spell the end of bounce rate analysis? In some ways, yes, but changes in technology will point the way forward. For example, recent previews of the metaverse indicate a major shift in analytics will be needed: Reporting will have to reimagine diagnostics and metrics since users will be interacting with elements other than pages in a browser.
But for the immediate future, bounce rate remains a helpful diagnostic metric — with limitations. Its role is diminishing. Your focus for analytic reporting will always center on metrics that show how your app or website is performing with visitors, be it customers, prospective clients, or engaging donors. The source of those metrics will evolve.
Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business digital analytics consultancy. He reviews data from web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides recommendations and web development action that improves marketing strategy and business profitability.