Last updated in July 2022
What is bounce rate?
Bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors who leave your website after viewing just one page without visiting any other pages (known as a single-page session). Traditionally, bounce rate has been used as a proxy for audience engagement. Referencing bounce rate, you can find out if your site content is drawing in the right audience or if there could be issues with individual pages that prevent people from sticking around.
But a website’s bounce rate can be misleading. So let’s unpack how bounce rate works to understand why this outdated metric needs to be replaced with metrics that measure actual engagement. Then we’ll talk about engaged time—a better KPI that gives a more accurate picture of content performance.
How is bounce rate calculated?
A site’s bounce rate is calculated by dividing the number of single-page sessions for your website by the total number of visits to those same webpages.
A ‘bounce’ is when a user:
- Closes the window or browser tab
- Types in a new URL into their browser
- Clicks on a link that leads to a different website
- Clicks the “back” button to return to where they came from
- Leaves their browser idle for a specified amount of time (known as the session timeout)
What is considered a good bounce rate?
SEM Rush considers 41–55% an average bounce rate, with an optimal bounce rate being 26–40%.
But bounce rate differs across website type, industry, referring channel, and device. So, compare your user engagement to similar websites to set your initial benchmarks. And when you analyze content performance, segment your traffic by channel and device to get the most accurate picture of your content health.
What can cause a high bounce rate?
Good content isn’t enough to keep your readers around. There are a lot of other factors that play into maintaining your readers’ attention that shouldn’t be ignored. Here are some things that cause a higher bounce rate:
- Poor website design
- Bad user experience
- Slow page load time
- Technical error
- Lack of mobile-friendly design
- Cluttered content layout
- Missing or unclear calls-to-action (CTAs)
- Content depth
- Misleading title tag or meta description
- Reaching the wrong audience
- Directs to other websites
- Lack of internal links
- Not providing value to visitors
Learn more about how to fix these to maintain a low bounce rate and improve engagement.
Bounce rate vs. exit rate
Two different ways of measuring exits from your website are bounce rate and exit rate.
While a bounce rate measures the percentage of people who leave after a single pageview, an exit rate measures the percentage of visitors who leave your website from a certain page.
One hundred percent of your website visitors are going to leave your website at some point, so it’s not as worrisome when visitors leave. But there are certain site pages you don’t want your audience to exit from, so it’s worth tracking this metric for specific pages you want your audience to take action on.
For example, an ecommerce site wants more users to click “add to cart” from a product page than to exit. However, a high number of exits from an order confirmation page makes sense. A more precise way to measure how well your content is driving those valuable bottom-of-funnel actions is with content conversions.
Why bounce rate is misunderstood at best and misleading at worst
The whole point of measuring a page’s bounce rate is to determine audience engagement. But relying on bounce rate can lead you astray. We need to move on to more meaningful, accurate metrics to analyze the quality of our content.
Ever Google a recipe, follow it, and then leave? You were totally satisfied with your visit, but you didn’t need anything else from the website. Not all bounces are bad.
Some pieces of content are intended for single-page visits: recipes, some landing pages, single-page websites, or pages used for informational research. But it doesn’t mean the visitor didn’t find the content valuable.
What someone does while on that one page is more important. How much time are they spending on this one page? Are they scrolling? Clicking? Is their mouse moving? Are they highlighting text? Those movements offer more insight into the value of your content.
Disregarding your readers’ activities and relying on just bounces could mislead you to think that your content isn’t performing well.
What’s the best metric to truly measure engagement?
Engaged time measures true engagement by tracking how a visitor is interacting with your content, aggregating the time they spend actually engaging with it.
Parse.ly’s content analytics platform comes with this metric built in. But not all web analytics platforms do. If you can’t measure engaged time with your analytics platform, get the help of a developer to create custom events. These events can fire at specific times, like “started reading” or “content bottom,” to get a more accurate picture of engagement compared to bounce rate.
If you don’t have coding resources, measuring time on page is a step up from measuring bounce rate. Consider a reader who spends 30–60 seconds reading your content as engaged. And if they spend more than that, they’re more engaged than most website visitors on any content, according to our research.
Many of the same reasons for a high bounce rate can relate to reasons you may have low engagement, so you can continue to optimize your content accordingly. But now, you’ll have a more accurate picture of which pieces need to be optimized and which are doing their job.
Get an accurate picture of audience engagement
At the end of the day, bounce rate can only give you a high-level view of content health, and even then, it can be misleading. You’ll have to dig deeper to determine if readers are actually interacting with your content.
So, forget about bounce rate and start measuring true engagement.
Parse.ly’s engaged time uses a “heartbeat” pixel that gives a more accurate measurement of engagement by pinging every few seconds to check if a reader is still active on your webpage. That is, if the browser tab is still open and they’re currently engaging with the page (detected by identifying cursor movement, scrolling, video playing, clicking, and more).
Learn more about the actionable insights you can surface with Parse.ly’s content analytics platform.
Make your content perform better. Instantly.
Sign up for a Parse.ly account or ask to see our platform in action.
Win with your content every day, like these Parse.ly customers
Ready to win more with your content?
Join thousands of editors and content marketers who use Parse.ly every day.