Is Bounce Rate Dead?

The term “bounce rate” has already made me chuckle as “I gotta bounce” is 80s slang at its finest. Bounce rate, put simply, is the percentage of people who come to your website and don’t take any action. That action can be clicking on your CTAs (calls to action, like “sign up for this FREE webinar” or Key Medium’s “Let’s Talk” button), clicking on another page on the site (often via dropdowns or hamburger menus), or clicking a link that’s embedded in a blog post or article (as evinced here on this common website design mistakes blog link). The only debate goes that if your user doesn’t click on other pages or do something, then your website is “bad.” They get in and want to get out (bounce) stat! But is it really that simple? What if they found the page in the Google SERP (or whatever search engine) that they were looking for, found the information they wanted, and exited? That’s, presumably, a good user experience. You’re providing the user with the information they want without having to make them search for it and really dig into your website.

So, in the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing and website analytics, is bounce rate dead? Let’s find out.

Understanding bounce rate

Bounce rate became a metric way back in 2007 and it was considered a key metric for engagement. But recently, it’s come under fire, especially as the way we “internet” has changed.

Historically, a high bounce rate has been interpreted as an indication of a lack of engagement or relevancy on a webpage. Conversely, a low bounce rate is often associated with positive user interactions, implying that visitors are exploring multiple pages.

The criticism of bounce rate

The critique against bounce rate stems from its perceived limitations and potential misinterpretation. Critics argue that bounce rate does not provide a nuanced understanding of user behavior. For instance, a visitor might find all the information they need on a single page, leading to a bounce but not necessarily indicating dissatisfaction. Similarly, single-page websites or landing pages might have inherently high bounce rates, but this doesn’t necessarily imply a negative user experience.

And, studies show that Millennial users love to “page park” which means they search for something, open multiple tabs, scan the tabs for the info they want, and close the tab. For that type of search pattern, each closed page would count as a “bounce” but that doesn’t mean that the user hasn’t found what they are looking for. In these cases, bounce rate won’t tell the organization anything useful.

Moreover, the rise of single-page applications and dynamic content loading has altered user interactions. In scenarios where users can access all necessary information without navigating to multiple pages, a traditional interpretation of bounce rate might be misleading.

Evolving metrics: time on page and scroll depth

To address the limitations of bounce rate, digital marketers and analysts have turned to alternative metrics. Time on page and scroll depth have emerged as complementary indicators of user engagement. Time on page measures the duration a visitor spends on a specific page, offering insights into whether users are actively engaging with the content. Scroll depth, meanwhile, gauges how far down a user scrolls on a page, providing a visual representation of their level of interest.

While these metrics provide additional context, they too have their limitations. Time on page may not accurately reflect user engagement if a visitor leaves a page open without actively interacting. (I’m guilty of leaving pages pinned when I plan to return to them later.) Scroll depth might not account for users who quickly scroll to the bottom without engaging with the content. As such, a holistic analysis often requires the consideration of multiple metrics in tandem.

Contextualizing bounce rate: the importance of intent

The debate surrounding bounce rate’s relevance highlights the significance of understanding user intent. A high bounce rate might be entirely appropriate for certain types of content or landing pages where users can quickly find the information they seek. On the other hand, a high bounce rate on a critical page, such as a product page or an informative article, could signify a potential issue with content quality or user experience.

Contextualizing bounce rate requires an appreciation of the specific objectives of each webpage and the corresponding user expectations. For instance, a blog post might have a higher bounce rate, but if users spend significant time reading the article, share it, or engage with the content in other ways, the bounce rate becomes less indicative of user dissatisfaction.

It’s best to build and measure brand loyalty since sites that become preoccupied with certain metrics (like bounce rate) may make nonsensical UX decisions just for the sake of clicks (please click any link, anyone?), which will hurt the overall user experience. 

Equally, other sites try and tackle it with “learn more” buttons and adding extra steps (and clicks) to the user experience, which is also detrimental (and often annoying to users). Don’t simply optimize pages for more clicks; optimize for more returns. It’s better to check the percentage of users who return to your site than bounce rate alone. Hone in on users who don’t return, and analyze why, to give a clear picture of poorly performing pages.

Bounce rate in eCommerce: a different perspective

eCommerce is an exception to the rule of ignoring bounce rate. In this arena, bounce rate can be a significant metric and indicator of something wrong. For online retailers, a high bounce rate on product pages could signal potential issues such as unclear product information, unattractive visuals, or a complicated checkout process. Understanding the context of the bounce rate becomes crucial for optimizing the eCommerce user experience. 

Additionally, the eCommerce landscape often involves a multi-step process, including product browsing, adding items to the cart, and completing the purchase. Each step contributes to the overall user journey, and a high bounce rate at any stage may warrant further investigation into potential barriers or friction points.

The future of bounce rate: integration and interpretation

Rather than declaring bounce rate completely buried and dead, a more accurate perspective is to view it as one piece of a larger puzzle. As websites become more complex, incorporating multimedia, dynamic content, and interactive features, the interpretation of bounce rate requires a nuanced approach.

The future of bounce rate lies in its integration with other metrics and the adoption of advanced analytics tools. Machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence can provide deeper insights by analyzing patterns of user behavior, helping marketers and website owners understand the context of bounces more comprehensively.

The takeaways

Bounce rate can identify red flags and issues that may need addressing on your website; however, your web design choices should not be based on chasing a second or third click. Optimize for long-term engagement, inviting return visitors, and tracking deeper micro- and macro-conversion goals. 

Bounce rate remains a valuable metric when considered in the context of user intent and specific website objectives. When used alongside other metrics such as time on page and scroll depth, it contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of user engagement.

In short: bounce rate isn’t entirely dead but it’s on its last legs.

If you need a fully optimized, seamless website, get in touch with Key Medium today. 

Elaine, an SEO Specialist and Content Writer

Elaine Frieman holds a Master’s Degree and is a UK-based professional editor, educational writer, and former marketing agency content writer where she wrote articles for disparate clients using SEO best practice. She enjoys reading, writing, walking in the countryside, traveling, spending time with other people’s cats, and going for afternoon tea.