Does Bounce Rate Actually Matter?

Obsessing over one metric is almost always the wrong way to go


If a digital publisher was, somehow, this late to taking a look at their engagement metrics, you could forgive them for being appalled at a 75% bounce rate. The notion that three out of every four people that visit your site look at no more than the page they land on could well cause some brands to panic, radically review their strategies, and lose faith in their content strategy altogether. In reality, this number is far from dreadful, and focusing too heavily on bounce rate can distract from metrics that actually suggest strong performance. It really depends on what your content is trying to achieve.

Speaking at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit this month in London, FourFourTwo’s Global Digital Editor, Gary Parkinson, raised a very interesting point on whether or not bounce rates are actually representative of the quality of your site. ’What’s important is to decide what your metrics are, and engagement can be one of those. When I first took over the digital side, there were a lot of people who [obsessed a lot] about bounce rate. Now, football fans will go onto a story quickly while the boss isn’t looking, and as soon as the boss comes past they’ll bounce out again. I don’t care if they bounce out of everything they read on my site, as long as they come back 10 times that week.’

One thing a lot of digital executives forget is that bounce rate isn’t a blanket representation of how interesting or valuable visitors find your website, and I recently came across an analogy that illustrates this point well. For example, If a company that sells fruit is told that 40% of its fruit is thrown away because it’s gone bad, it might be shocked and do everything it can to bring this number down. Now, the sensible approach would be to identify which fruits specifically are going bad and focus on those fruits in particular. If they were better packaged, or sold faster, they might not be so prone to becoming waste. Alternatively, and wrongly, a business leader could look at that statistic and infer that there is a problem with all fruit sold.

Far too many publishers and brands take the latter approach. They see a high bounce rate and assume their content strategy or website itself is fundamentally flawed and is in need of wholesale change. There are many reasons for a high bounce rate, though, and these should be considered to determine whether the bounce rate actually matters. There are some pages on your site, for example, that are simply more likely to be bounced away from than others, and that’s not necessarily a problem. If your site is about raising the profile of your brand or providing information, then a high bounce rate isn’t a disaster. In fact, the only time a high bounce rate is a significant issue is when your site exists solely to funnel visitors to an eventual checkout - an online store, for example.

A focus on bounce rate can distract from metrics that actually are significant. Alternatively, publishers should be far more concerned with time on page, shares, regular visitors, etc. - when all of these are combined you can build a fairly comprehensive picture of how engaging and meaningful your output is to your audience. The bounce rate can be assessed per post to determine which form of content performed better than others, but it should be far from your key concern as a publisher. There is even a debate over not just how important Google considers bounce rate to be as a determining factor for SEO, but whether it is interested in it at all. If your pages are getting hits, fulfilling their purpose, and bringing value to the visitor, it’s not necessarily a catastrophe that they haven’t clicked through to your other pages. 


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