Using Bounce Rates in Google Analytics to Improve Your Web Site’s Critical Path
Google Analytics is a fantastic program for assessing the performance of a website. It’s THE primary fixture for most small and medium websites when it comes to measuring traffic. By now, most people are familiar with tracking visits, visitors, pageviews, referring sites, search engine traffic, and so forth. A good deal of users are also tracking sales, leads, and revenue.
These are wonderful things to be doing. They’re essential to any business that’s serious about growing their web presence.
But if you could only measure one thing, what would it be?
As much as you’d think it’d be something like traffic or revenue, there’s really a more actionable metric. Metrics are useless if they aren’t useful. I know that sounds like I was just channeling John Madden but think about it. Knowing the number of visitors, even if you knew them in relationship to previous months traffic isn’t very actionable. It just provokes a second question.
Why did x number of people come to my website last month?
And off you go to look at referral traffic data. But since we’re limiting ourselves to one metric, we can’t do that. So knowing how much traffic the site is getting, while awesome, isn’t actionable.
It’s the same story if you want to know about sales, leads, or revenue. They all beg a second question: why that particular number of sales, leads, or revenue? And off you go to look at your conversion funnel…
What we really need is a metric that tells us something about how the website is performing that is also tied in some way to increasing the bottom line.
Let’s cut to the chase: that metric exists, it’s the bees knees, and it’s called the Bounce Rate.
The bounce rate is a really simple concept to understand.
A bounce rate measures how many people came to a specific page on your website from someplace else on the Internet and then left without going deeper into your website. Or to put it more simply, it measures one-and-dones.
Why does this matter and how is it actionable?
It matters because people are likely to leave your website if they can’t find what they want. If you know what percentage of people are leaving a page and if that number is high, it tells you that something on that page is confusing to users. A low bounce rate indicates that people are able to see what they want and have clicked elsewhere on your site to find it.
Where the bounce rate really shines though is in how it can help you clean up your site’s critical path.
On your typical e-commerce site a critical path looks like this:
- Front page
- Category page
- Sub-category page
- Product Description page
- Checkout – Shipping
- Checkout – Billing
- Checkout – Review
- Checkout – Order Receipt
Just about all traffic will land on one of the first four pages – down to the product description page. Look at those pages in Google Analytics. What are their bounce rates? The first three pages are just filters so the bounce rate should be as close to 0% as possible. The product description page will have a higher bounce rate because it’s a destination page rather than a filter page. When people land on a destination page, they are making a decision about information on that page. They are no longer trying to find what they’re looking for. As such, it’s possible that the visitor won’t need to go further into your website. Because of this, it’s acceptable to have a bounce rate on your product description page. But you should really work on getting your filter pages as close to 0.00% as possible.
Start with the page with the highest bounce rate and see if there are any obvious reasons why people may be leaving the page without going deeper into the site. If you need it, consider a tool like Inspectlet so that you can see actual user behavior on your site. Work on refining your pages to lower your bounce rate.
It’ll have the effect of strengthening your critical path and will lead to higher goal conversions.
You can think of the bounce rate as the canary in the coal mine. It’ll let you know where the problems are. It’s up to other tools and user testing to suss out the specific problems on those pages but the bounce rate does a great job of focusing site updates on places where they will have an immediate positive effect.