How to Think About High Bounce Rates in Google Analytics

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How to Think About High Bounce Rates in Google Analytics

Donna asked in Analytics for Marketers: “if a page has a high bounce or exit rate, how do you determine the cause of that and fix it?

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, let’s talk about page intent.

Page Intent and Bounce Rate

What’s the intent of the page in question? If it’s an informational blog post, a high bounce rate isn’t necessarily something I’m concerned with. Why? When we get to blog posts, we read them, get what we wanted, and then go about our business.

You’re probably going to do exactly that. Once you’ve read this post, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you close this tab or navigate away or switch apps. And that’s fine, that’s what I do too. That creates a fairly high bounce rate, but it doesn’t mean this post didn’t do its job of helping you and hopefully nurturing an affinity for my site with you.

Now, if a page is something like a landing page, with a clear call to action? That’s more of a problem. A high bounce rate there means that the page is NOT doing its job of convincing someone to take action – and that action is not leaving.

If a page is one you’re running a paid promotion to? That’s a serious problem. Be it boosted posts, display ads, search ads, whatever – if you’re spending money to get people to a page to do something and they’re not doing it (assuming you’re not just buying eyeballs to read your content once), then you’re burning money as well as attention.

So, first determine what your intent is for the page to assess whether a high bounce rate is a problem.

What’s The Root Cause of High Bounce Rate?

Fundamentally, there are three broad causes of a high bounce rate on a page. Let’s refer to Bob Stone’s 1968 direct marketing framework. Stone’s framework is elegantly simple: list, offer, creative – in that order.

  • List: did the right people get the offer?
  • Offer: was the offer compelling?
  • Creative: was the creative clear and pleasing?

When we translate this to our websites, it becomes the 3As of content marketing:

  • Audience: did we attract the right people to our content?
  • Action: did we have a compelling call to action?
  • Architecture: was our UX good enough to drive the intended action?

Here’s where marketers go wrong: they start from the bottom up, from the thing that’s easiest to test instead of the thing that’s most important. Countless dollars and hours have been incinerated by marketers messing around with creative while attracting the wrong audience.

Is Audience The Cause of High Bounce Rate?

We start by examining where we’re getting our people from, and the associated bounce rates. Let’s look at the top 25 source/medium combinations to see where bouncing/non-bouncing traffic is going. Remember, in this case, we want to focus on critical pages, on the pages that are conversion pages like my book sales and my newsletter signup. We’ll exclude blog posts for now.

Bounce rate by source medium

What we see are some sources delivery very good performance in terms of low bounce rate to key pages; other sources, not so much. The vertical red line is the median bounce rate; anything to the left of that is better, anything to the right of it is worse.

What could I conclude from this? Some sources, like YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn are sending me good audiences, people who find my key pages and take the intended action. Other sources – like Baidu topping the list – are sending traffic that immediately goes away almost 100% of the time.

So the first question to ask myself – on the platforms where I’m getting traffic but it’s bouncing off the key pages – why? Am I targeting the wrong people? If so, who should I be targeting?

Is the Action The Cause of High Bounce Rate?

When I look at the chart above, Google/Organic – aka Google search – has a higher than median bounce rate. That’s concerning, since organic search is one of my key drivers of conversion. So the question to next dig into is, what’s attracting people to my site, and how are they bouncing off it?

Bounce rates by query and page

If I dig into the pages that show up most in search – impressions – and either get above or below the median number of clicks, then I get a sense for how good the “offer” is.

How is a search listing an offer? Here’s an example of three search results:

Search results

If these were headlines in articles or subject lines in emails, they would be offers, wouldn’t they? You’d click the one that was most compelling. So the question is, then, is my “offer” more compelling than the other “offers” shown here?

I’d test that by changing up the page a little bit, especially the title and summary snippet, to see if that influences the number of clicks relative to impressions.

Suppose it was a social media channel that was delivering most of my traffic? I’d follow the exact same process, but using that social media channel’s data instead. The same is true for email – I’d be looking at all my subject lines for what works and what doesn’t.

Is Architecture the Cause of High Bounce Rate?

If I’ve ruled out audience – meaning I’ve got the right people in general – and I’ve ruled out the call to action, what’s left is the architecture, the creative. This is where things like the quality of the content and the user experience come into play. For this, we’ll take a look at our most bouncing, most-visited pages.

We’ll take just the top 10% most visited pages, and then sort by bounce rate to find the pages that are busy but have the highest bounce rate:

Pages by bounce rate

Once we’ve got this, we turn to UX analysis software. I use Microsoft Clarity; others in this category would be software like Lucky Orange, Hotjar, etc. Clarity is enterprise-grade and free of charge by a reputable company, so I’d start there.

Using the built-in filters (and at least 30 days of data, if not more), start analyzing one of the top most-bounced pages. Look at the summary-level data. Is there an immediately obvious problem?

Clarity summary

I don’t see anything that stands out as too alarming. Let’s move onto heatmaps:

Clarity heatmaps

That’s interesting. One of the elements clicked on most in user sessions on this page is the sharing toolbar – to make it go away. Let’s see if that’s actually the case. We’ll examine a few of the session recordings to see what people are actually doing on the page.

Clarity recording

Well… yes. People are trying to make the share bar go away. It’s not a good user experience – and of all the different interactions this records, it’s one of the consistent problems – something the user is trying to solve.

Will removing it solve my bounce rate problem? Probably not – but it’s worth testing.

Follow the Order!

There are three key takeaways from this process.

  1. Follow the order above: figure out if you’ve got the right people first. Then figure out if your call to action is a mismatch to your audience. Finally, mess around with your creative. If you do it in the wrong order, you risk wasting a ton of time and effort.
  2. Use data to help you focus. Attempting to do any of this without data would result in you either guessing which content was problematic and why, or just doing things randomly. Again, that’s a huge waste of time.
  3. DO SOMETHING. It’s fine to do this analysis. It’s important to do this analysis. But it’s ultimately meaningless unless you do something about it. For me? I’m turning off that share bar for a week to see if my bounce rates, especially on popular pages, go down because it was making for a less good experience.

Go dig into your data, and see if you can improve your bounce rates on the pages you care about most.

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