Friday, 10 December 2010

Web site measurements that bounce to the exit

While using Google Analytics recently, two measurements of web site traffic analysis came to my attention for their significance. These are Bounce Rate and Exit Rate.

They are quite similar, and can be confused with each other. Also confusing is when and why
you should use each of them.

The Bounce Rate represents those web site visitors who visit a web site, but then navigate away to a different web site. Rather than stay on the web site and continue to navigate their way around the site by viewing other pages, they have "bounced" away and left the site without opening any other web pages from the web site.

The formula for calculating bounce rate is:

Bounce rate = total number of visits viewing one page only / total number of visits

The Exit Rate represents those web site visitors who visit a web site, but instead of immediately bouncing away to a different web site, will navigate through some pages of the web site before exiting the web site. What is important to measure with Exit Rate is the page the user was viewing when they exited the web site.

Here are examples of both Bounce Rate and Exit Rate that hopefully explain the differences between these two measurements. John - our imaginary user - navigates to a page on a web site that tells him all about a particular bicycle. He has arrived at the web site via a search engine result listing. Clicking on the top search result link opens the page related to the bicycle he is interested in. After looking at the web page on the bicycle, he then leaves the site without visiting any other web pages from the web site. In this scenario John is said to have bounced away from the web site.

In the second scenario, John arrives at the same web site via a search engine result listing for the same bicycle. John views the web page, but rather than leave the web site, he decides to look through the web site at some of the other bicycles. He navigates to the "Find Us" page to see where they are located, and then leaves the site. In this scenario John is said to have exited the web site from the "Find Us" page.

There are several ways a user can exit a web site:
  • Using the web browser's back button to return to a previous web page from another web site
  • Entering an address (or URL) into the web browser's address bar
  • Closing the tab or web browser

Why are Bounce Rate and Exit Rate important?
The Bounce Rate is useful for determining how your landing pages are performing as compared to visitor expectations. For example, a high Bounce Rate may indicate a problem with the web page. Is there a problem with the web page? Does it error, is it slow to load, is it confusing? Does the content of the web page match the search terms entered by the user in their search engine?

What is important is to look beyond the Bounce Rate number, and apply due diligence in determining the reason(s) behind the Bounce Rate. If you're running a paid search campaign for bicycles on a car web site, you're going to need to re-evaluate your marketing strategy. In this case, there may be nothing wrong with the web page at all. It's your web strategy that is at fault.

A high Exit Rate for a specific web page may indicate a problem with a particular process. For example, many web sites contain processes, where the user is navigated through a series of web pages. For example when you make an online purchase, you will probably be asked to enter your item information, address information and payment information. When a user is navigated through a series of web pages with an endpoint or goal (in this case making a purchase), they should continue until they have completed their transaction.

If users are exiting the process before they complete their transaction, then you would want to find out which web page in the process that is causing the problem. Once the user has started to process their payment, why are they exiting before they have completed making payment? You will need to determine which page(s) have the highest Exit Rate, and determine if there is a problem with those pages. You would naturally expect to have a high Exit Rate for the last page in the process. Once the user has paid for their goods or services, they may well leave the web site and go elsewhere.

Whenever you look at Bounce Rates and Exit Rates it's important to look beyond the number itself. List the pages with the highest rates, and methodically look through them to look for possible problems. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe what those solutions may be.

When used appropriately, Bounce Rate and Exit Rate can help you maximise your web traffic, helping you to drive increased traffic to your site.

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