What is Bounce Rate
(and how can I improve it)?

If you’ve got a website, you want people to visit it. You also want them to do something specific when they get there: maybe buy something, read something, get in touch, or just browse around a bit and enjoy it. Bounce rate can help you find out whether they’re doing that or not.

Put simply, bounce rate is the percentage of people who ‘bounce’ off your site after only visiting one page.

If your bounce rate is 25%, it means that a quarter of people visiting your website only look at a single page.

Boy leaping

Why is bounce rate important?

Bounce rate gives you a big clue about how people react to your website. It’s a fairly crude measure, but if lots of people are leaving your website quickly, then it’s worth asking why. It can also highlight specific pages of your website which aren’t working so well.

The bounce rate for an average website is around 40% but it can vary hugely depending on the type of website and the type of page.

Sales websites tend to have a very obvious route for users to take, so these will generally have a fairly low bounce rate. Content-based websites, particularly blogs, will often have a higher bounce rate, because people are more likely to visit just to read a single article or page.

Landing pages, which are built to fulfil a single function, such as subscribe to a newsletter, will have a very high bounce rate, sometimes even 90-100%. This is because they’re designed specially so that people only need to visit that one page to achieve their goal.

To find out the bounce rate for your website – or for individual pages on your website – you’ll need to have some kind of statistics package connected to your website. Google Analytics is probably the most widely known, and is also free to use.

How can I reduce my bounce rate?

Here are some common reasons for high bounce rate and ways to address them:

The page took too long to load.

Check your website’s loading time using a tool like WebPageTest. As well as telling you how long it takes your website to load, it’ll show you what’s slowing it down.

A common reason for this is overly large images. Before you upload images, always reduce them to the maximum dimensions that they will shown on screen, and compress them to reduce the file size. If you don’t have any software that will do this, there are many online tools which you can use, such as Pixlr. As a benchmark, aim for a file size of 20-40kB per image for full page-width images.

Another way to speed up your website is to use caching. This saves copies of certain files, like images, in the user’s internet browser. This means that the next time they visit your website, they don’t need to wait for these to be downloaded. Many web building tools and CMS will have this kind of feature built in, or readily added via a plugin.

The page was off-putting

There are many things which can deter visitors, sometimes before they’ve even read a single word!

Unless it’s absolutely necessary, avoid flickering images and adverts, and don’t have music or video that plays automatically.

Also, take a critical look at your design and layout to check that it’s helpful rather than off-putting. For example, is it clear and uncluttered? Does it have easy-to-read fonts? Is the language simple to understand? Are the menus straightforward? Are the links obvious?

Sometimes these factors can be hard to judge for yourself, as you may be too familiar with your website to see problems. If you can, get someone impartial to take a look and tell you how your pages could be more inviting. (If you want an expert view, I’d be happy to help).

The page wasn’t what they expected.

Check that your headline describes your content well, and that you deliver what you promise. If you’ve implied that you’ve got the answer to a question, make sure that you’ve actually answered that question. If you’ve offered ‘an idiot’s guide’, make sure it’s genuinely simple to understand.

Also make it obvious that you’ve delivered on your claims. If your title promises ‘ten tips’, don’t bury those tips in long paragraphs. Instead, separate them out and give each a numbered title, so that it’s clear at a glance where and what the ten tips are.

They got distracted…

Ever answered the phone half way through doing something online? Or opened a web page then nipped off for a quick coffee before settling down to read it? If a visitor stays on the same page for long enough, bounce rate tools will assume that they’ve lost interest and count it as bounce.

There’s not a lot you can do about this as it’s due to external factors. In many cases, the visitor will come back and finish what they were doing later, but note that this will count as a ‘new’ visit.

They followed a link to another website.

It’s the nature of the internet that people will bounce from website to website. There’s not much you can do about this, other than making your own website more appealing.

Many experts will tell you to open all external links in a new browser window to stop this kind of bounce. I generally advise against this. In most cases, it is very unhelpful to users to open a new browser window. It’s also counter-productive, as it probably won’t improve your bounce rate. If that other page is really more interesting than yours, they’re going to leave anyway. If they were going to come straight back, then you’ve just made that harder by disabling the ‘back’ button.

Focus on the other factors affecting your bounce rate and that should reduce this type too.

Note that if someone leaves your website and then returns, that will register as a ‘new’ visit (so that kind of bounce is ok).

It wasn’t obvious where else to go.

Go to a page on your website and imagine you’re visiting it for the first time. Is it obvious where to go next? If not, many visitors will inevitably bounce.

Add a ‘call to action’ to each page to make it clear what they should do next. If there’s no single destination, try a selection of links to other relevant pages or articles.

They got the answer they wanted – or did what they came for – immediately.

Hooray! Well done! Your website is doing exactly what it should: making it easy for people to find and do what they want. This is the best kind of bounce (apart from trampolining, obviously…)

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