Last updated Jul 08 2020

Bounces and bounce rate in Google Analytics

What are bounces and bounce rate in Google Analytics?

A ‘bounce’ (often called a single-page session) happens when a user lands on a website page and exits without triggering another request to the Google Analytics server. ‘Another request’ could include navigating to other pages on the same site or clicking on a call to action (CTA) to enter or continue through a sales funnel.

For example, if a user lands on your homepage from a search, browses and scrolls around, but fails to click on any internal links or interact in any other meaningful way and then leaves, they have ‘bounced’ from your homepage:

GA bounce scenario

The definition of bounce rate is the percentage of sessions that result in a bounce—that is, sessions that begin and end on the same page. Each individual page’s bounce rate affects a website’s overall bounce rate. Here’s how:

How is bounce rate calculated for a website and its pages?

A website’s bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of single-page sessions by the number of total sessions on the site.

For example, if 100 users land on your website (total sessions) and 5 of them exit without triggering another request (single-page sessions), your website’s bounce rate is 5%.

website bounce rate = single-page sessions / total sessions

An individual page’s bounce rate is calculated the same way, but the metrics are page-specific: divide the number of single-page sessions that begin and end on a particular page by the number of total sessions that begin and continue from that same page.

Following the example above: if 50 of those users land on your homepage and 2 of them exit without triggering another request, your homepage has a bounce rate of 4%.

page bounce rate = single-page sessions on the page / total sessions starting from the page

Where can you see bounce rates in Google Analytics?

In GA, you can see the bounce rate metric in reports that include a data table, such as reports found in the Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversion tabs (located in the left menu bar).

For example, you can see a data table displaying bounce rates in the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report:

GA bounce rate
Bounce rates on the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report in Google Analytics

To see bounce rates for individual web pages in Google Analytics, you can easily search by page name—for example, /cart/ or /pricing/—or you can use the advanced search feature to narrow down the search results even further by adding inclusions, exclusions, or dimensions and metrics to the search.

GA bounce rate advanced search
The Advanced Search feature in a Google Analytics data table

🔥 Pro tip: if there is a page or set of pages on your site that you know will have higher bounce rates and you don’t want them to skew your overall percentages, you can exclude them from your reports.

For example, let’s say you want to know how your ecommerce site pages are performing. You see a lot of traffic to your blog, but you’re more interested in how your visitors are responding to the rest of your site. To prevent your blog pages from affecting your data, you can exclude /blog/ from your report in Google Analytics.

GA-advanced-search.png

What’s the difference between bounce rate and exit rate in GA?

As metrics, both bounce rate and exit rate report on when and where visitors leave your site. The difference is that bounces are only reported in the event of single-page sessions.

For example, if a visitor lands on your ecommerce site’s homepage, they navigate to a category page, then a product page, and then leave the site, an ‘exit’ is attributed to the product page and affects its exit rate:

GA exit scenario

However, if a visitor lands on your ecommerce site’s homepage, takes a look around, and doesn’t click through or interact with the page in any meaningful way before exiting, a ‘bounce’ is attributed to the homepage and affects its bounce rate:

GA bounce scenario

One more thing to consider: every bounce is an exit, but not every exit is a bounce.

Why is it important to track Google Analytics bounces?

Tracking bounces can help you understand how visitors are using individual pages on your site so you can make optimization and marketing decisions based on whether they interact with the page or not.

For example, tracking bounces can be particularly relevant to landing pages. If you invest a lot of resources to drive people to a landing page, only to have them leave without interacting or progressing through to the rest of your site, consider:

  • Optimizing your landing page so your visitors have a clear understanding of their next steps, or
  • Investing your resources in a different (or new) page or campaign
GA landing page bounce rate
The Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report in Google Analytics

Are high bounce rates a bad thing?

Not necessarily.

Yes, if: the success of your website depends on users visiting more than one page—for example having them go through a sales funnel, like homepage → product page → shopping cart → checkout. If visitors land on your homepage but fail to interact, and therefore bounce without converting, you might have an issue that needs investigating, possibly with page design or user experience (UX).

No, if: you have a single-page site (e.g. a landing page for a brick-and-mortar shop), or if you have content on your site meant for single-page sessions—for example a directory that invites visitors to exit via outbound links, or a contact page that directs visitors to call you on the phone.

4 ways 'bounce rate' leaves you guessing (and how complementary tools can fill in the blanks)

Tracking bounces might help you understand how people use your website pages. But in reality, bounce rate tells you very little about what’s actually happening on your site.

There are some caveats when it comes to what you can really learn from bounce rate and how you can use the metric—in short, it shouldn’t be the only factor you consider in your optimization efforts.

Here are four reasons bounces could be considered a ‘controversial’ metric:

1. Bounce rates can be tricked

Bounces can be easily tricked: all you have to do is trigger ‘another request’, which can be done by modifying your GA tracking code to account for specific events.

For example, you can set up event tracking so GA measures outbound clicks (i.e. clicks on external links, which take the visitor to a different website) as ‘events’. Then, if a user lands on your page and leaves by clicking on an external link, it won’t be counted as a bounce—even though the only action taken on the page was to click away from it to another site.

2. Bounces don’t account for the amount of time spent on a page

If another request isn’t triggered before a user exits a page, GA doesn’t know how long the user was there. A visitor could spend an hour on a page and consume it from top to bottom, but if they bounce, GA counts the session’s time period—aka the session duration—as ‘zero’.

This means you don’t know what happens leading up to a bounce, so you have no idea whether a user landed on your page and immediately left out of frustration, or if they simply found what they needed from the page and bounced when they were done.

Real-life example: online window shopping 💻

Let’s say you’re in the market for a plant stand and want to shop at a popular ecommerce store. You might do a very specific search using what we call a ‘long-tail keyword’, like “plant stand made.com”. When you do this, the search engine presents you with the exact category page you hoped it would, and you start browsing plant stands.

On sites like MADE.com, you can hover over a product to see more images without clicking; so you might spend 30 minutes hovering between a few different styles of plant stands, trying to visualize them in your home—without clicking on a single thing (that is, without triggering another request).

website recording of user session
Window-shopping at MADE.com without clicking

When you exit the page—even if your visit was a success: you found a plant stand you liked and made a mental note to buy it later—your entire 30-minute visit will still count as a zero-second session, and a bounce.

In this case, the ‘bounce’ metric isn’t helpful at all because MADE.com doesn’t know that you spent 30 minutes hovering and decorating in your head; they don’t know that you’ve made a mental note to buy a plant stand later. All MADE.com knows is that you landed on the category page for Plant Pots & Planters, and then bounced.

3. Bounces don’t tell you how a page is performing

Again, bounce rate can give you an idea of how your website pages are being used, but you shouldn’t rely on the metric to measure your pages’ performance. Without knowing what happens before a user bounces, you can’t tell whether the page actually needs improvement or not.

For example, let’s say your ecommerce site’s homepage has a bounce rate of 45%. What does that tell you? Nothing, really—it could mean a lot of things. For example:

  • You might have your phone number and address on your homepage, and that’s all some visitors are looking for
  • Your site might be slow and people are giving up and leaving before the page loads
  • Maybe the next step isn’t clear and visitors don’t know where to find what they’re looking for
GA home bounce rate
Bounce rate of the /home page of the Google merchandise store

4. ‘Bounce rate’ is a metric out of context

Considering the point above, bounce rate as a metric is out of context: it doesn’t factor in the events or behaviors that occurred before each bounce. Knowing the bounce rate of a page isn’t enough—it still leaves questions unanswered.

Bounce rates don’t tell you why users bounce—in fact they only lead to more questions:

  • What happened leading up to each bounce?
  • How are users who bounce behaving differently from those who stay on the site?
  • Is there really a problem with the page?, or
  • Are visitors leaving because they’re satisfied with what they’ve found, and don’t have a reason to stay on the site?

There’s no way to really attribute a bounce to anything specific without understanding how users are behaving on your site. But knowing what happens leading up to a bounce can help you identify if and where something actually goes wrong.

To learn what happens before a user bounces—so you can determine what needs to be optimized on your site—you have to go beyond the metric, and consider each bounce in context.

This is where user behavior analysis (UBA) comes in, which can fill in the blanks to help you see and understand the user experience from their perspective. Keep reading to find out how.

2 tools to investigate bounces and high bounce rates on your site

As a traditional web analytics tool, Google Analytics can tell you what’s happening on your website—things like bounces, for instance—but it won’t be able to answer questions like:

  • Why are people leaving that page without [taking the next step]?
  • How do I fix this?

To find the answers, you need to dig deeper into what’s happening on your site and view the data and information about your visitors’ behavior in context.

Two behavior analytics and feedback tools you can use when you begin investigating why bounces are happening and how to fix them are session recordings and on-site surveys:

1. Recordings: see how real visitors interact with your high-bounce pages

What: to further investigate bounce rates, you can use session recordings to see how users are interacting (or not interacting) with pages across your site. Recordings help you go beyond GA to give you a clearer understanding of how people click, interact, and move around on your pages before they bounce so you can identify pain points or blockers they experience—and optimize accordingly.

How: session recordings let you see how real, anonymized users move around and click on your high-bounce pages so you can get a sense of if/where they:

  • Encountered website bugs or issues that caused them to exit
  • Exhibited behaviors like frequent u-turns or rage clicks—which occur when someone repeatedly clicks on the same element
  • Got distracted by pop-ups or other elements
Example of a Hotjar recording
An example of a Hotjar Session Recording

If you’re using Hotjar: after setting up a session recording from the dashboard, the tool will begin recording sessions from your website visitors. You can filter your recordings by first adding the URL of your high-bounce page into the ‘Exit URL’ field, then adding the Page Count filter set to ‘Exactly 1’.

recordings-url
The ‘Exit URL’ field in the Hotjar Session Recordings dashboard
hotjar recordings filter page count
The ‘Page Count’ filter in the Hotjar Session Recordings dashboard

2. On-site surveys: ask visitors how you can improve the user experience

What: using recordings will give you a better idea of what’s happening on your site (and why), but you can take it a step further and use on-site surveys to hear directly from your users—in their own words—how to improve your site.

How: place an on-site survey on your high-bounce page(s) and ask your visitors a specific, open-ended question, like:

  • What’s stopping you from continuing today?
  • What’s missing from this page?
  • What are you looking for that you can’t find on this page?
short-form-answer
An example of an on-site survey with an open-ended question

If you’re using Hotjar: create an on-site survey and enter the URL of your high-bounce page during the ‘Targeting’ step. Your survey will start to appear on your page as soon as you finish the set-up process.

poll url hotjar
The ‘Targeting’ step when creating a new on-site survey in Hotjar

After you’ve collected some feedback from your visitors, analyze their responses—try to identify patterns that will point you in the direction of a solution to reducing bounces in the future.

Beyond bounce rate

Bounce rate is one metric related to people leaving your website, but what about the visitors who view more than one page and still don’t convert? How do you go about studying your sales funnel and fixing the broken links in that chain?

  1. Once you discover that your visitors are bouncing from a specific page, do some investigating with heatmaps to find out if there are problematic areas causing frustration—which might be leading people to give up and leave your site
  2. Gather feedback on the problem page(s): Hotjar’s Incoming Feedback widget gives users the opportunity to let you know what’s missing or broken, and how the page can be improved
  3. Survey your existing customers: use on-page surveys to ask them what almost prevented them from converting. This will give you some insight into how you can convert visitors who are still on the fence.

📚Read more → find out why people are leaving your website (and what you can do about it)

FAQs about bounce rate in Google Analytics

Google Analytics defines a ‘bounce’ as a single-page session: a session that begins and ends on the same page of a website, without triggering another request to the GA server. ‘Another request‘ includes events like navigating to another page on the same site or clicking on a call to action (CTA) to enter a sales funnel.

For example, if a user lands on your homepage from organic search but exits without interacting in a meaningful way, they have ‘bounced’ from your homepage:

ENTER > homepage > EXIT

A website’s bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of single-page sessions by the number of total sessions on the site.

An individual page’s bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of single-page sessions that begin and end on a particular page by the number of total sessions that begin and continue from that same page.

For example, if 100 users land on your website (total sessions) and 5 of them exit without triggering another request (single-page sessions), your website’s bounce rate is 5%.

website bounce rate = single-page sessions / total sessions

And if 50 of those users land on your homepage and 2 of them exit without triggering another request, your homepage has a bounce rate of 4%.

page bounce rate = single-page sessions on the page / total sessions starting from the page

High and low bounce rates are relative to your website and its specific pages. Rather than trying to define what a high, low, good, or bad bounce rate means, it’s important to view bounces in context to get an understanding of why users are making single-page visits to your site.

For example, if you want visitors to go through a sales funnel that starts on your homepage, a high bounce rate on your homepage could indicate an issue—like a slow loading time, confusing design or element, or website bug—which is causing visitors to bounce without continuing through the funnel, and affecting conversion rates.

However, if you have a single-page site like a blog, or if you have content meant for single-page sessions—for example a directory that invites visitors to click away via external links—high bounce rates should be expected.

To lower bounce rates, you have to think beyond the metric, and consider each bounce in context. This is where behavior analytics comes in, helping to fill in the blanks so you can see and better understand the user experience—from their perspective—and optimize accordingly.

Bounces can’t be attributed to anything specific without understanding how users are behaving on your website. Using complementary behavior analytics tools can show you what happens before the bounce, so you can pinpoint what went wrong (if anything) during the users’ journey on a page.

Both bounce rate and exit rate report on when and where visitors leave your site. The difference is that bounces only occur in the event of single-page sessions whereas exits occur at the end of every session.

For example, if a visitor lands on your ecommerce site’s homepage, browses and scrolls around, but doesn’t click or interact with the page in any meaningful way before exiting, a ‘bounce’ is attributed to the homepage and affects its bounce rate.

However, if they land on your homepage, and click through to a category page, then a product page, then the visitor leaves your site, an ‘exit’ is attributed to the product page and affects its exit rate.

🔍 Investigate your bounce rate today

Grab a free Hotjar trial: set up Recordings and On-site Surveys on your high-bounce pages, and get the insight you need to optimize your site.

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