Misleading Bounce Rate: The Problem Of Small And New Websites

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In your wanderings you’ve probably heard someone mention the term “bounce rate.” Some people talk about it likes it’s a really big deal and others don’t give it a second thought. As usual, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle, because, well … you know me. I like to look at both sides of every issue. So, let’s talk about bounce rate and what it means to your website.

What is Bounce Rate?

Your website’s bounce rate is calculated by taking the total number of visitors who left your site after one page and dividing that number by the total number of visits you had in the same period of time. For example, if 80,000 visitors left your site after reading just one page and you had a total of 120,000 visitors for the month, then your bounce rate would be 0.66, or 66 percent. The lower your bounce rate, the better.

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You can easily view this metric if you have Google Analytics installed on your site. Taken at a glance, bounce rate is very misleading because it can be affected by a number of variables beyond your control. For example, someone could have copied your link wrong or sent their friend to the wrong post on your site.

Keywords also have a big effect on your bounce rate – sometimes negatively. For example, let’s say you have a blog about hairstyles and in the middle of a post about short hairstyles you mention that “this cut is similar to Justin Bieber’s new haircut.” If that post happens to rank high enough, someone conducting an organic search for “Justin Bieber’s new haircut” might end up on your blog, simply because you used that keyword phrase in your blog post. Naturally, they’re not going to find what they’re looking for and they’re going to click away after just one page, which will affect your bounce rate.

While there are a lot of reasons you shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about your bounce rate, there are some pretty good reasons you should.

It’s not always a bad thing, when people leave your site after reading just one page. Provided, of course, they found the answer they were looking for. But then you need to ask yourself: What can you do to keep that reader on your site long enough to get a conversion? Yes, they found their answer. But did you get a sale out of it? Or did you get them to subscribe to your list?

But the key thing to remember is that most of your bounce rate occurs because the reader wasn’t engaged with your content. It’s possible it didn’t answer his question, but it’s more likely you didn’t give him a reason to stay on your website. Did you refer him to related content deeper into your blog? Did you ask him a question that would encourage him to comment and engage? Did you issue a call to action that would send him to a squeeze page?

Most readers, if they find that first page engaging enough, are very happy to follow you wherever you want them to go on your site. That’s why the bounce rate for small or new websites is so misleading – you just don’t have that much content to lead them to. Don’t worry. That will change. As your blog grows and you work on building an internal linking structure your bounce rate will become more reliable and more meaningful.

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  1. Karl

    Great intro to bounce rate, Steven. Have you found that things like popups work for reducing the bounce rate on your sites? I’ve always been wary of them because I don’t want to seem spammy, but it seems that a popup to invite people to subscribe is getting more and more common.

    1. A popup doesn’t have technical consequences on bounce rate, however it might turn readers away. The best thing to do is try adding a popup to your site and compare the bounce rate on the week before and after adding it.

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