An Important Analytics Distinction: Bounce vs. Exit

Bounce rate can be an incredibly helpful metric, particularly when trying to not only drive more traffic to your website but trying to get more of that traffic to convert. However, it's vitally important to understand what bounce rate is, how it differs from percent exit, and where you can potentially misunderstand the data.

So let's start with a quick review. What is a bounced visit? In Google Analytics, a bounced visit is someone who views only one page on your site and leaves. In other words, whatever page he enters on is the only one he sees. Bounce rate is the number of bounced visits as a percentage of all visits. (It is important to note that some people/tools define a bounced visit differently – often in terms of a short amount of time spent on a page.) Additionally, in Google Analytics, when you're looking at a Content Report, you'll also see a metric called “% Exit.” What is % Exit? It represents the percent of visits that left your site from a particular page. How is Bounce Rate different than % Exit? To be considered in Bounce Rate, a person must view only one page and then leave but a person can view any number of pages (1 or 10 or 100) to be counted in % Exit.

Ok, here's a scenario. Suppose you are looking at the Top Content pages for your website (the report that shows you the most viewed pages for your site in Google Analytics) and you see a line that looks like this:

Bounce Rate

Perhaps that line in your report is a step in your checkout process. Look at the bounce rate for this page – 100%!

This is where the important distinction between Bounce Rate and % Exit comes into play. What does this bounce rate of 100% mean? Literally it means of all the people who LANDED on this page left this site immediately. Because we're looking at a Top Content Report, it does NOT mean 100% of the people who saw this page left. So how many people viewed this page & left without looking at anything else? Actually only 1 person. (You'd find this data by drilling into Entrance Sources or Keywords for this particular page.) If you want to know how many people come to your site, start the checkout process, get to this page and then decide to leave, you'd want to look at the % Exit (in this case 53.91%). While you might be worried that 54% of people who view this page decide not to complete the checkout process, at least you're not thinking 100% of people who view this page leave.

If Bounce Rate is not always an appropriate metric to look at when viewing a Top Content Report, when would you be concerned about high bounce rates? Here are some good reports for Bounce Rate:

- Traffic Sources: For example, if you're running a PPC campaign on Google and see that your Bounce Rate is much higher than your site average, you might be concerned that your landing pages are not resonating with your searchers.

- Keywords: Perhaps you find a keyword that you've been working to improve in organic rank but the Bounce Rate is high. Check for the landing pages for that term. Maybe your content is not quite relevant. Maybe you are lacking strong calls to action. Or maybe you should abandon trying to improve rankings for that term.

- Top Landing Pages: It may seem obvious but instead of looking at the Bounce Rate for a Top Content Report, I'd look at a Top Landing Pages report. The important distinction – with Top Landing Pages, by definition, you know a visit started on that page. Thus, if I saw a landing page with 100 entrances and a bounce rate of 100%, I would be concerned.

I hope this helps clarify the difference between Bounce Rate and % Exit. I'm a strong believer that your web analytics data is only as good as it is accurate. But more than that, your data is only as good as you can correctly understand and interpret it. Once you understand the data you're seeing, it can be very powerful. At SEER, we believe in working to drive more traffic for our clients, but it's important to know that this traffic is taking the actions you want on the site. Bounce Rate and % Exit are two of the metrics that can be extremely valuable in improving conversion rates.

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