Following some discussions in the office around the data contained within the Google Analytics interface, bounce rates became a hot topic of discussion. This surrounded the real effect of bounce rates, what they represent and how they should be viewed.
In this case we were discussing the high bounce rates associated with a PPC campaign being run by a client. In recent discussions it became apparent that the bounce rates being experienced by many of the chosen keywords were very high (nearing 100%).
For most people they incorrectly assume this means a visitor has hit the landing page and immediately clicked away from the site by hitting the exit button. But is this really what happens?
Google Analytics Bounce Rates Explained
In order to understand this better we firstly need to get back to basics and understand what is occurring when a visitor lands upon a page on your website.
The first thing which will occur (we are talking about Google Analytics here other tracking applications may vary) is a user ‘session’ is created. This is classified as;
“A period of interaction between a visitor’s browser and a particular website”
The session is tracked for the next part of the user’s behaviour for example, navigating to another page on your website, but in order for the session to end certain criteria have to be met. These are;
- The visitor exits the browser through clicking the red ‘x’.
- The visitor navigates away from your web page and does not return before the session time has elapsed.
- The user visits a web page on your site and remains on that same page until after the session ends.
- The visitor clears the cookies from their browser.
- Time zone settings in the profile for that report fall into the next day (12pm is passed).
In respect of our question here the key component to bounce rates is the ‘session time’. A session time is set at a default in Google Analytics for 30 minutes. This can be changed in the settings and options area but for the most part, remains at the default setting of 30 minutes.
Taking the above into consideration therefore, when a visitor hits a landing page and creates a session, they can remain on that page for 30 minutes before the session ends without any activity on their part. This would show in the analytics data as a 100% bounce rate. In effect however, the visitor could well have been sitting reading your compelling and interesting content for 25 minutes and although has not navigated elsewhere is still retained on that same page.
But why does this not show up in the time spent on site?
The image at the top of the page explains this very well graphically with a 100% bounce rate and 0.00 minutes spent on the page. If this hypothesis was correct then we would expect to see the time spent on site reflected yes?
No. This is a result of the way in which Google Analytics calculates the average time spent on the site by a visitor. For the techies out there this is achieved through deducting the timestamps from the first and the last page view of a visitor’s session. Seeing that the visitor did not navigate elsewhere within the website and considering the way in which behavior is tracked, it is currently not possible to calculate an average time on site for visitors that bounced because they did not have a second page view.
In summary we have learned;
- A 100% bounce rate does not mean a user lands and immediately leaves the page.
- If a user does not navigate from the landing page they can remain there for up to 30 minutes (subject to a few exceptions) without effecting the time spent on site metric.
Finally, whichever way you look at it the chances are that high bounce rates are bad news for your website and pages and you should consider ways in which you can encourage users to navigate around your site thereby providing you with valuable user information and more importantly, conversions.