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High Bounce Rates Are Not Necessarily a Bad Thing
Friday, January 15, 2010
The attention span of the online generation (aka digital natives) is somewhat, shall we say, "reduced" to put it politely.  Have you ever taken the time to watch your son or daughter or coworker for that matter and see just how they interact online as the travel the World Wide Wide?  At times it is quite impressive and sometimes it is rather annoying, but the fact is their attention span is most likely different from previous generations. 

The ability to find information quickly at your fingertips has had a profound impact on our capability to gather and consume information.  As a result of the varying attention spans, there are different reason as to why your site visitors interact with your site (or any site for that matter) and why your bounce rates are affected by this.  Many talk about reducing bounce rates, but just because you have higher bounce rates does not mean that you should be trying to reduce your bounce rates.  Sure we want people to stick around so we can wow them with our product or service offering, but we may be forgetting an interesting point.  People's time is invaluable to them.  Why do you think we have seen the invention of things such as:

  • "Fast Food" Restaurants
  • Drive-Thru Checkouts
  • Drive-Thru ATMs
  • 1-hour Photo Labs
People are in a rush.  Why is that?  Well perhaps because people want to experience more, or perhaps they just want to wrap up their day, or maybe it is because they have poor time management skills?  Regardless, people are in a hurry and the Internet directly speaks to all of us in this time accelerated manner.

So getting back to bounce rates, sure we are all trying to reduce bounce rates and keep the visitor on our site for longer durations, but knowing that they may be in a rush and knowing just how important their time is to them, helping them find the information they are looking for quickly can provide a great return. 

The Need to Provide the Right Information at the Right Time

Bounce rate is about keeping the visitor on your site so that they visit subsequent pages and further engage with your content.  It is a very important metric, no question.  However does a high bounce rate mean that users are not engaging with your site?  The answer is no.  They may not just be clicking through to other pages on your web site.  So then, what happens if the landing page they land on has the information that they need?  Perhaps they are looking for a mailing address or a simple fact.  Maybe they are looking for a date or a formula or an ingredient.  You provide them with this information and your job is done.  Or is it?

Now depending on the page, a high bounce rate could simply mean that the visitor was able to quickly find the information that they were looking for.  This is great if you are an information portal because chances are they user will return (again providing they found the information that they were looking for).  But what if you are an e-commerce site?  What if you are selling a product or service online?  In this case this is where the typical discussion about lowering bounce rates becomes important.  Confused yet?  Well we're not saying that high bounce rates are a good thing, but they don't always have to be a bad thing.  At the end of the day, the goal is the same, to provide the user with the information that they are looking for.

Relevant content will always be important.  Think of why Google is so successful, there is a perception that Google provides the most relevant results out there.  As part of Google's messaging, they have stated that they want to organize the World's information (presumably so that it is easy to find and is accurate and relevant to a searcher's query.)

Bounce rates can be difficult to control.   Think about how hyper-competitive the Web is.  If you have a site or a page on hockey skates, apple pie recipes or weather patterns in Canada, chances are somebody else does too.  People have options and people are informed.  The growing population of digital natives presents a whole new group of Web savy surfers.  As a result, we can expect bounce rates to remain high for the simple fact that there are more options available and people's attention spans are getting shorter.

This is why the value of a repeat visitor is often not as appreciated as it should be.  Jakob Nielsen featured a great post on reducing bounce rate and fighting for that second click which you can find here.  Nielsen discusses the importance of realizing that there is no such thing as a single bounce rate.  In his post he breaks down bounce rates by entry source and talks about the importance of a loyal site visitor.  We tend to agree.  You want to lower your bounce rate?  Work on improving the number of repeat visitors to your web site.  Until then, we may just have to deal with higher bounce rates.


posted by Jody @ Friday, January 15, 2010  
  • At 10:34 AM, Blogger Rob said…

    I totally agree with you - many different types of sites prefer high bounce rates actually - think of the locally oriented business directories - a higher bounce rate generally means a successful visit. My company for example operates business directories in over 100 cities and we have a high bounce rate because people find what they need and leave. Most people don't even realize they've been to one of our sites, but I know :)

    Also, e-commerce sites should welcome high bounce rates especially if they have brick and mortar stores. People are doing the research they want and generally want to go touch the item before they buy. Don't believe me? Just pay attention to your personal usage.

    I know I do it all the time - research something - particularly if it's big ticket - I'll go to the different vendors in to price compare (a very quick trip to the product page and I'm gone = high bounce rate) then I'll likely go to one of the stores and buy it.

    So, yes, high bounce rates can be a great thing!

  • At 8:16 AM, Blogger Greg said…

    Agreed. Bounce rate as a metric in a vacuum is not effective. The site bounce rate across the entire site does not tell the whole story. A page's bounce rate tells a much better story. The home page? You probably want it pretty low. On an information rich page? A higher rate is acceptable.

    Thanks for the pointing this out. Too many people are caught up on a general bounce rate.

  • At 4:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    great article!

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