The Curse of Bounce Rate and ‘Easy’ Metrics (And Why We Can Do Better)
One of the benefits of having a number of friends in the analytics industry is the spirited (read: nerdy) debates we get in to. In one such recent discussion, we went back and forth over the merits of “bounce rate.”
I am (often vehemently) against the use of “bounce rate.” However, when I stepped back, I realised you could summarise my argument against bounce rate quite simply:
Using metrics like ‘bounce rate’ is taking the easy way out, and we can do better
Bounce rate (at its simplest) is the percentage of visits that land on your site that don’t take a second action. (Don’t see a second page, don’t click the video on your home page, etc.)
My frustration: bounce rate is heavily dependent upon the way your site is built, and your analytics implementation (do you have events tracking that video? how are the events configured? is your next page a true page load?) Thus, bounce rate varies as to what exactly it represents. (Coupled with the fact that most business users don’t, of course, understand the nuances, so may misuse a metric they don’t understand.)
So let’s take a step back. What are we trying to answer with “bounce rate”?
Acquisition analysis (where bounce rate is commonly used) compares different traffic sources or landing pages by which do the best job of “hooking” the user and getting them to take some next action. You are ultimately trying to decide what does the best job of driving the next step towards business success.
Let’s use that!
Instead of bounce rate, what are the conversion goals for your website? What do you want users to do? Did they do it? Instead of stopping at “bounce rate”, compare your channels or landing pages on how they drive to actual business conversions. These can be early-stage (micro) conversions like viewing pricing, or more information, or final conversions like a lead or a purchase.
So, what is better than bounce rate?
- Did they view more information or pricing? Download a brochure?
- Did they navigate to the form? Submit the form?
- Did they view product details? Add to cart? Add the item to a wish list?
- Did they click related content? Share the article?
Using any of these will give you better insight into the quality of traffic or the landing pages you’re using, but in a way that truly considers your business goals.
But let’s not stop there…. what other “easy metrics” do we analysts fall back on?
What about impressions?
I frequently see impressions used as a measure of “awareness.” My partner, Tim Wilson, has already detailed a pretty persuasive rant on awareness and impressions that is well worth reading! I’m not going to rehash it here. However the crux of this is:
Impressions aren’t necessarily ‘bad’ – we can just do a better job of measuring awareness.
So what’s better than impressions?
At least narrow down to viewable impressions. If we are honest with ourselves, an impression below the fold that the user doesn’t even see does not affect their awareness of your brand!
Even measuring clicks or click-through is a step up, since the user at least took some action that tells you they truly “saw” your ad – enough to engage with it.
A number of vendors provide measures of true awareness lift based on exposure to ad impressions, by withholding and measuring against a control group. This is what you truly want to understand!
What about about page views per visit or time on site?
Page views per visit or time on site is commonly used in content sites as a measure of “engagement.” However (as I have ranted before) page views or time can be high if a user is highly engaged – but they can also be high if they’re lost on the site!
So what’s better than just measuring time or page views?
So why do we do this?
In short: Because it’s easy. Metrics like bounce rate, page views, time on site and impressions are basic, readily available data points provided in standard reports. They’re right there when you load a report! They are not inherently ‘bad’. They do have some appropriate use cases, and are certainly better than nothing, in the absence of richer data.
However, analysis is most valuable when it addresses how your actions affect your business goals. To do that, you want to focus on those business goals – not some generic data point that vendors include by default.
Thoughts? Leave them in the comments!