Fun with Web Metrics

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Popular Metrics: II – Bounce Rate

“Bounce” refers to a web visit of one page, i.e., the visitor “bounces” in from somewhere and leaves immediately.   The “bounce rate” is the percentage of visits that only go to one page.

On commercial sites, the expected “conclusion” of a visit is usually a sale.   So, a visit consisting of a single page generally can’t really result in a sale (unless you went RIGHT to the check-out page and handed them $$$ to buy nothing).   So, typically, single-page visits are considered “failures” because there’s nothing to show for it in terms of the bottom line.

Of course SOME commercial bounces might be successes in disguise: e.g., the visitor goes to a commercial site to research something from a Google search, finds the information they want on the first page, and then heads out to the brick and mortar store to purchase the item.   Some retailers are even trying to discern when this happens through surveys.

BUT for the non-commercial site, the circumstance of bounce visits is far more murky.   A visitor could only view one page and then leave completely happy with all of their goals achieved.   Maybe they’ve even bookmarked the page for future reference – you won’t know from that little log file entry.

How can you clarify the situation?   Here are some of the things I use to filter my set of single-page visits.   There’s no guarantee that my underlying assumptions are correct all of the time, but it provides some sense of categorization.   At the very least, we can separate the different categories into “Success”, “Likely Success”, “Could Go Either Way”, “Likely Failure”, and “Failure”.

  1. The referrer is key:  if it’s a bookmark, then there’s a reasonably good chance that the “bounce” visit isn’t a failure.   Depending on the page content (e.g., if it’s a page with explicit information, such as a “Contact Info” page, or a page listing your hours, etc.) you might be able to distinguish from the Successes and “Could Go Either Way” situations.
  2. If the referrer is from a known source with established ties to your site (or at least you can guess WHY they linked to your site), I would count that as a likely success (again depending on the link at the other site’s end – if it’s promoting particular content, then it almost certainly be tagged as a success.
  3. If the referrer is a search engine, things are murkier.   Consider all the times that you do a search, try a possible solution and realize upon arrival that it’s a dead-end, and hit the back button…  OR the times you struck it rich and got what you wanted (possibly after some number of previous failed visits elsewhere).
  4. If the referrer is unknown to you and you haven’t checked its context, then it could go either way.

Depending on how pessimistic you want to be, you can get a “refined” bounce rate from counting on which categories you want to interpret as a failure, remembering that the conventional wisdom (from the commercial world) is that ALL single-page visits are failures.

It’s also helpful to look at the metadata from the referring URL where search engines are involved. Even non-commercial sites might want to invest in Google Ads or enhancing their ranking in search engines. Taking a look at what search terms were used that resulted in a visit (even if they’re off-base) is enlightening!

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October 19, 2010 - Posted by | philosophy | ,

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