Are you measuring bounce rate wrong?

B2B marketers are measuring bounce rate wrong, argues Daniel Reilly, director of Ruler Analytics

When it comes to analysing the success of a website’s performance, and any corresponding marketing campaign that is driving traffic to a website, bounce rate is one particular metric that is often analysed by marketers. Generally, a high bounce rate is often associated with a bad performing website, based on the assumption that visitors are clicking off the site after failing to engage with its content. 

But this is not always the case. Below we look at what B2B marketers can do to assess the performance of their marketing strategies and website, and actually determine whether their bounce rate stats are a cause for concern.

So what exactly is bounce rate?

If someone visits a single page on a website but then leaves the site without viewing a second page, then this counts as a ‘bounce’. Google will measure the time the visitor first arrived on the page, and if they don’t move to a second page within 30 minutes, then this will be classed as a bounce.

A low bounce rate tends to be a good sign that visitors are engaging with the content and are spending time looking through the website. However, a high bounce rate has tended to be unfavourable with marketers as it could mean that users are leaving the website quickly due to design issues or because the content isn’t relevant to what they’re looking for.

Why is bounce rate often mistaken?

Based on Google’s interpretation of bounce rate, there is a big disconnection between what’s happening on the site and what’s actually being reported in Google Analytics. Simply looking at the fact the user ‘bounced’ doesn’t paint the full picture of the visitor journey. For example, it doesn’t tell a marketer what they viewed on the page, how long they were there for or what they did after they left. It could be that the user actually found everything they needed on that first page and then decided to leave the site to engage with the business directly, perhaps by picking up the phone.

Or the user may have spent 29 minutes on the page reading all of the content like a blog post or perhaps watching a marketing video, and then actually filled in an enquiry form before they left the site. But again Google would still class this as a bounce as no second interaction was recorded within 30 minutes of the visitor arriving on the page, even though the customer may have interacted with the business. On first glance, a high bounce rate could indicate that there are problems with the website. And in some cases, this lack of clarity has led to marketers mistakenly believing their content is not performing well.

So how can B2B marketers gain a more accurate view of their bounce rate?

The way Google measures bounce rate doesn’t really provide much insight into whether the marketing campaign is doing its job and bringing in valuable leads, or whether there are areas that need improving. It just gives a bounce rate percentage that leads marketers to believe companies are leaving their websites without engaging.

As the majority of B2B marketers will find when using Google Analytics, they can set up goals to measure form fills, and compare this to the bounce rate but it still doesn’t paint an accurate picture and track the individual journey of the user.

To therefore properly determine how effective the marketing campaign is at driving traffic to the website and generating conversions, marketers need to be looking at the individual journey of each user, from when they first landed on the site, to the point they decided to leave – and more importantly why.

One way marketers can gain a full understanding of what’s happening on the site is by setting up ‘events’ as goals in Google Analytics. Google actually measures two types of actions when calculating bounce rate – page views and events. Page views will automatically track how long a person has been on a page, but only if they move to a second page during their visit, otherwise their time will just be shown as 0:00 and will be classed as a bounce. However, events can be set up to actually show how a visitor is engaging with the page, even if they only view that one page. They can track when a visitor watches a video, clicks a section further down the page, downloads a PDF or signs up for the newsletter. When a visitor makes such an interaction, Google will be notified and will know that the person didn’t just leave the site quickly without engaging, so will not count that visit as a bounce.

Adding events is particularly valuable to sites that have long-form landing pages or on sites that don’t load new pages often. With these websites, visitors are more likely to remain on just one page during their visit, so the bounce rate will probably be higher. But by adding events to interesting actions, such as on menus, links or buttons, this can help to lower the bounce rate as Google will know what behaviour should not be considered as a bounce.

How can marketers ensure they are tracking the right metrics?

Alongside adding events, measuring and optimising the right metrics can ultimately help marketers see the greatest return on investment. There are a range of in depth marketing analytics tools available that can identify the full journey the customer embarked on to reach the point of conversion - from how they first searched online for the product or service, to the pages they viewed and even if they made an enquiry.

Some of the best tools on the market can highlight how long a company stayed on a particular page (which Google doesn’t do if it’s a single page visit), and provide more of an inclination as to whether they found all the information they needed or if there were issues with that particular page. They can also track the exact keywords that were searched for to find the product or service in the first place, allowing marketers to identify exactly how leads are being generated in order to calculate which marketing avenues are working. Having this information to hand means marketers can ensure the content on that page is relevant, and can concentrate on the sources that will produce the most valuable outcomes.

It’s also important to think about what customers are doing after they have left the website, something that Google’s bounce rate doesn’t take into account. By tracking calls, marketers can see whether a user actually ‘bounced’ off or in fact picked up the phone to directly contact the business. This will assist with determining whether campaigns are successful or not.

Simply using Google Analytics to measure goals and analyse bounce rate doesn’t provide much insight into who’s using the website, and it won’t be able to tell marketers how well their campaigns are really working. B2B marketers should consider setting up events and using in depth analytics tools to analyse the entire customer journey taking place online. When armed with this level of insight, marketers will be able to truly understand what their bounce rate actually means, how well the website is performing and the areas of their marketing strategy that may need improving.