Google Analytics: Understanding and Lowering Bounce Rates

Understanding and Lowering Bounce and Exit Rates

Google Analytics provides valuable intelligence into how visitors find, interact with and leave your website. This intelligence is central to improving both user experience and the profitability of your website. Google Analytics provides many useful metrics that help you do this and two of the most useful are bounce rate and exit rate.

The difference between a bounce and an exit can be confusing, especially if you are new to analytics. The goal of this article, then, is to demystify the two and explain why they are important. It also acts as a guide to interpreting bounce and exit data and how to lower them in order to improve the performance of your website.

Making An Entrance That Counts

Before you can understand and calculate bounce rate you need to know a little about entrance pages, also referred to as landing pages and entry pages. Google defines an entrance page as:

  • Entrances: This metric identifies the number of entrances to your site. It will always be equal to the number of visits when applied over your entire website. Thus, this metric is most useful when combined with particular content pages, at which point, it will indicate the number of times a particular page served as an entrance to your site. Source

In short an entrance page is the first page a visitor lands on when visiting a website. Entrances are, as we will see, a key factor in calculating bounce rate.

What Is A Bounce?

A bounce is a single page visit. A bounce occurs when a visitor enters and exits a website viewing no other pages other than the entrance page.

What Is Bounce Rate?

If, for example, if 100 visitors enter your site via Page “A” and 20 of them leave without clicking through to any other page, page “A” would have a bounce rate of 20%.

Fig 1: Site Wide Averages
Fig 1: Site Wide Averages

Some of the reports Google Analytics generates will give site wide averages. The screen grab above has been taken from the Top Content report which can be found by clicking the Content tab in your Google Analytics dashboard.

The first thing you might notice is that when you add the average bounce rate and the average exit rate together the result is greater than 100%. If bounce rate and exit rate are measures of how many people leave your site, how can the total be greater than 100%. The answer is that it can’t.

You might be fooled into thinking that bounce rate is calculated as a percentage of Pageviews. A logical thought since it is figured in the report. However, when added together, bounces and exits would again be greater than the total Pageviews.

Bounce rate is not based on the number of visitors or the number of page views it’s based on entrances.

Will The Real Bounce Rate Please Step Forward

Fig 2: Sitewide Entrances And Bounces
Fig 2: Sitewide Entrances And Bounces

To get at the real numbers that contribute to bounce rate you need to dig a little deeper. The screen grab above has been taken from the Top Landing Pages report which can also be found by clicking the Content tab in your Google Analytics dashboard.

As you work your way down the report you can also view bounce rates for individual pages.

Fig 3: Bounce Rate At Page Level
Fig 3: Bounce Rate At Page Level

The Top Landing Pages report helps to identify pages with high bounce rates that might require further investigation.

You can clearly see from Figure 3 how bounce rate is calculated at for a single page: (283 bounces / 303 entrances) * 100 = 93.39939939934% which analytics has rounded up 93.40%. As interesting as this is, it tells us nothing about what is driving the bounce rate and what steps if any are required to lower it.

Bounce Rate Through The Looking Glass

Pages that fail to meet visitor expectations, don’t provide clear navigation, talk about features rather than benefits and content that’s not actionable all increase bounce rate. Not all visitors to your site are using desktop machines with ultra-fast connections and will abandon your site if page takes too long to download. If you have been over-zealously linking to your site, links from pages that are not closely related can also increase bounce rate. These are all things you can test for and fix to a degree.

Missing Timestamps And The Pages Time Forgot

Google Analytics reports the time visitors spend on pages by comparing timestamps. When a visitor lands on a page a timestamp is created which records the precise time they arrived.
If a visitor arrives at page “A” at 13.45 and clicks through and lands on page “B” at 13.47 two timestamps will be created. By subtracting the time the visitor lands on page “A” from the time they land on page “B” you arrive at time spent on page “A”:

13.47 – 13.45 = 2 minutes spent on page “A”.

If at 13.50 the visitor leaves your site completely no timestamp is created and there is no way to tell how long the visitor spent on page “B”.

Why was no timestamp created? If the page was outside the scope of your analytics account, on another domain for example, the timestamp can’t be accessed by your analytics account. Therefor and the time spent on that page can't be determined for that page view.

Similarly, the time spent on a page by visitor who enters a site and bounces without visiting any other page cannot be measured either.

Cookies, Sessions And Timeouts

Google Analytics uses cookies to track the activity of visitors to your pages and report those activities back to their server. Cookies enable Google to distinguish the activities of each visitor individually and track sequential page visits made by the same user during their time (session) on your website. This information is then reported back to you when you log into you Google Analytics account.

Every bounce or exit is the result of a session timeout. In Google analytics, a session will timeout after 30 minutes of browser inactivity. If a visitor navigates to another website, the session will still continue for a maximum of 30 minutes before registering a bounce or exit. As long as the visitor returns before the session times out and clicks through to another page of your website, it will not be considered as either a bounce or an exit.

  • Each and every visit to your site culminates in a session timeout.
  • A session that times out after a single page view is classed as a bounce.
  • A session that times out after multiple page views is classed as an exit.

Have a look at the tabs open in your browser right now - how many have been open for more than 29 minutes without any activity? Even though the page is still open in your browser, some of the sessions associated with individual pages might have already timed out causing a bounce or exit. Similarly closing your browser, hitting the back button or disconnecting from the internet will all cause a session timeout that will likely be recorded as an exit or a bounce in someone’s Analytics.

In the next article in this series, Bounce Rate, Dwell Time And Panda, delves deeper into bounce rate and how dwell time influences post panda search rankings.

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Comments 21 comments

viking305 profile image

viking305 4 years ago from Ireland

Finally someone who explains bounce rates! Thanks I have been looking for the reasons my bounce rates are as high as 80% sometimes. Now that I know maybe I can reduce that figure.


Peter Hoggan profile image

Peter Hoggan 4 years ago from Scotland Author

Thanks for commenting viking305, I am writing a follow-up hub to this that looks at ways to further analyze and lower bounce rate.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

Yep. I read all the way through. You held my attention and you explained things very well with a complete description. I learned something new from you that I didn't realize... that time on a page isn't recorded when a visitor exits or bounces. Voted up and useful. Looking forward to the next in your series.


Peter Hoggan profile image

Peter Hoggan 4 years ago from Scotland Author

Thanks Glen, it’s good to know there was something in there that was useful to you.


Sophia Angelique 4 years ago

Please can you explain the stats of one of my articles yesterday.

It had 2753 visits (yes, only yesterday and only one article) of which 90.04% were bounces and 88.88% were exits. The average time spent on the page was 4.46 minutes.

This is well below the 29 minutes which indicates that the people were actually reading my page, and as there were nearly 3000 of them visiting yesterday,it's unlikely that all of them went somewhere to get coffee while they were on my page.

However, if something can either have a bounce rate or an exit rate, then the sum of the two must be 100%. Clearly, this is not so. Clearly, it is possible to both bounce and exit. I don't get that. It appears that nearly 90% of my nearly 3000 visitors to that one particular article both bounced and exited.

That is the question I have been trying to get answered for nearly a year now and nobody has been able to answer me.

On another hub, there were 743 visitors yesterday. Average time spent on site is 3.56 minutes. The bounce rate is 82.5% and the exit rate is 77.93%.

I could go on and on, presenting hubs with similar figures. The point is that if the bounce rate means leaving the site after they have only visited one page, and the exit rate means that they leave if they have visited several pages, why don't the two combined add up to 100%. Note that it's not out by a few percent. It's out by an average of 80%.

In addition, the bounce rate supposedly indicates that nobody read what you have to say. Clearly people stay on my hubs for very long periods of time. That is the norm. I don't have very many 0.00 times on my hubs.

If you can explain this, I would be greatly pleased.


Peter Hoggan profile image

Peter Hoggan 4 years ago from Scotland Author

Sophia, without looking at your analytics anything I say here regarding your visitors or bounce rate is purely an educated guess.

It’s possible for a page to have both bounces and exits, but they represent different visitors, i.e. the same visitor can’t bounce and exit within the same session. When added together bounces and exits on a particular page can exceed the number of visitors, which seems to be the case with the example you cited.

The numbers often don’t add up when looking at one page in isolation, and they probably never will. However if you have a high exit rate on one page, other pages are benefiting by having a lower exit rate. i.e. you can only exit a site via the last page you visit.

Above all the most important thing to remember is the numbers are inaccurate.

Hope that helps


Sophia Angelique 4 years ago

Peter, yes, I understand that pages can have both bounce rates and exit rates. Obviously. However,the figures indicate that Dick,Tom, and Harry (an idiom for everybody in case this saying has gone out of fashion) is both exiting and bouncing at the same time.

If I have a 100 people visiting my site, and 80 of them exit and 90 of them bounce, that means either there were 170 visitors to that particular page, or that one person can both bounce and exit - which, in terms of the definition, is clearly impossible.

You don't have to look at my my analytics. I'm reporting the information accurately.


Sophia Angelique 4 years ago

Peter, as I know for a fact that you don't need to see my Google Analytics in order to work with the information I have given you, obviously you think I have given you wrong information. I'm happy to do a screenshot and email it to you if you email me your email address. Please remember I worked in SEO in 2001 in London and in Houston for a while last year. When I ask something, it's because I can't figure it out, and none of the 'experts' can give an answer that makes sense.


Peter Hoggan profile image

Peter Hoggan 4 years ago from Scotland Author

Sophia, It’s impossible for someone to both exit and bounce at the same time, even for Tom, Dick and Harry. As I said earlier, if you are looking at the bounces and exits of one page in isolation you might find the exits and bounces combined are lower or higher than the total number of visitors to that page. Even looking at the site as a whole will show discrepancies, for example my HP account shows I have a 73.79% bounce rate and a 54.44% exit rate which if taken literally would equate to nearly 130 of actual visitors.

The fact is, looking at bounce or exit rates on their own, will tell you very little. The reasons for that will be covered in a future hub.

I believe 100% that you are reporting the information from your analytics correctly, the point is, Analytics might be reporting incorrectly to you.

Between this Hub, the one created by PCunix, and the thread you recently started in the forum, there is very little else that anyone can tell you about this. With all respect I suggest you go back and read everything again.

Incidentally, the 29 minutes you referred to earlier referred to the length of a session in Google analytics and has nothing to do with how long a visitor actually spends on your page.

Also,I have no interest in seeing your analytics, nor was what I said a request to do so. All I was saying was without it what I was about to say was an educated guess.


Peter Hoggan profile image

Peter Hoggan 4 years ago from Scotland Author

The thread can be found at:

http://hubpages.com/forum/topic/89783

And PCunix’s hub can be found at: http://pcunix.hubpages.com/hub/The-truth-about-Bou...


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

Hmm... read all the way through, and I still don't get it. My mind works well with words, but not with numbers, so, I just write what I write, hope for the best, and don't pay a lot of attention to analytics because I don't understand them well anyhow.

As you point out, the numbers can manage to be inaccurate, so why stress myself with that potentially misleading information?

You explained it well enough, but the article also illustrates why I don't trust numbers and statistics. I learned it well many years ago when our parents' group was fighting to keep our kids' school open. We surveyed the teachers, suspecting that many of them would leave the district entirely if that school were to be closed. Indeed, the figures we gave to the school board represented that 14% of the teachers would leave.

In point of fact, the real numbers showed that 14% amounted to a only a single teacher! (This was a smallish Kindergarten to 6th grade school--there were fewer than 20 teachers employed there to start with.)

From that day forward, I have not trusted percentages--they lie, and mislead, and I don't care to see them; give me only actual real numbers, please! That is why I mostly ignore "G.A."

Voted up and useful nonetheless, because it will be so for many others.


Peter Hoggan profile image

Peter Hoggan 4 years ago from Scotland Author

Thanks for commenting DzyMsLizzy, your reminded me of Mark Twains Quote, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics".


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

LOL--yes, indeed--I had forgotten that particular quote, or I might have used it myself. ;-)


Dale Hyde profile image

Dale Hyde 4 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

This was very helpful as I had not ran across such a good explanation in regards to bounce rates. Thanks so much for sharing this information.


Peter Hoggan profile image

Peter Hoggan 4 years ago from Scotland Author

Thanks for stopping in an commenting Dale. Good to know you found it helpful.


Marketing Merit profile image

Marketing Merit 4 years ago from United Kingdom

I've never really managed to get to grips with what the bounce rate meant exactly! I always thought that it was related to the amount of time someone spent on your page.

For example, if someone clicked on your page, realised that it wasn't what they were expecting to find, and more or less exited immediately, that was a bounce.

Ok, I now know that scenario is a bounce, but not for the reason I thought it would be!

Many thanks for your clear explanation Peter!


Jorge 4 years ago

Very informative! Avery good explanation with regards to bounce rates. Thanks you for sharing.


John 4 years ago

I really enjoyed your article. Thanks! I do have a question. My bounce and exit rate increased by ten times. It all started last Saturday. I've only been blogging little over 30 days and prior to last Saturday my bounce rate was always around 0-10%. In the last 4 days it's been 60-80% consistently. Did google analytics change something? I'm trying to figure out why it's accelerated so fast.


gabgirl12 profile image

gabgirl12 4 years ago

Wow, how did I completely miss this? Thanks so much. Better late than never.


Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

I've just begun looking into bounce rates and trying to get a 'better' bounce rate. I'm still kind of confused, but your hub has helped a lot. Thank you!


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 3 years ago from California, United States of America

Thanks for breaking this down, it helped clarify a lot for me on the issue of Bounce Rate and Time on Page.

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