Your 100% Bounce Rate, Redux

November 8, 2007

So, I hit the wrong button and deleted this whole post. And I have never been so busy in my life. All I want to do is go lay down and sleep. So here is my post again on the 100% bounce rate, we’ll see if I know anything about WordPress slugs and if I can actually replace that page, or if it’s htaccess to the rescue…

My cell phone rang and I paused Grey’s Anatomy. Oh, Im so sorry,t he voice on the other end of the line said, It must be evening out there on the East Coast.He was the nicest guy in the world, with a really good business idea. And while we were talking, he asked me,Why is my GA bounce rate 100%

I love problems like this. They are so black and white that the answers are almost always technical (and not human. We humans are messy.) So I instructed, Tell me how many unique pages your analytics showed on the day when you had a 100% bounce rate. It’s on the left navigation, go to Content > Top Content.

Gee,â he said, I can only see two pages. That can’t be right, we have hundreds of pages.

So there was the problem. The site had very few pages tagged, and when the visitor leaves a tagged page and goes to an untagged page, the GA only knows that the visitor has left the site altogether  because for GA, if your page isnt tagged, it might as well not exist. And since a bounce is a page view of one page and immediate exit without looking at another page on the site, the broken page tags artificially created a bounce. (I won’t go into the intricacies of the visit length not expiring yet.)


Here’s the opposite problem, which I saw today (while I was actually looking at a computer, instead of Grey’s Anatomy.) I showed one of our customers how his site was doing with the new GA Site Search. Now, one of the things that you can do is measure visits with site search and visits without site search along many metrics. But most of the time, it doesn’t make sense to use “bounce”in the same sentence as “visits with site search,” because most site search requires the visitor to hit the enter button and see two (usually different) pagess — a page with search and a page with results. Ergo, no bounce at all for most on site search (depending on their architecture. This is actually an interesting problem, worth looking into in depth.)  On the same topic: pages that get redirected in the browser (and not by the server) will often see their GA load, and then the user automatically gets two page views and whoops! no bounce, even if it is a crummy page.

So before we fall in love with bounce rate, we have to understand it well.


Of course, I lost the comments, too. I have most of them in email, so will try to reproduce them here. Jacques commented that he would love to see how GA computes bounce and site search (I can’t find that one in my email). Daniel Shields wrote, “Bounce rate is a funny thing. In some instances it is a very important means to uncovering behaviors which indicate propensities. In other instances, it creates almost no value when improved upon. Context is ultimately where the difference is. As a metric which receives so much attention from a broad, utilitarian perspective, I find it almost completely useless in itself.

“I attribute my insolence mainly to the fact that the bounce rate is dependent on important factors such as the linguistic relationship between where and what your audience searches for. Slight modifications to search algorithms in any direction can drive volatility in bounce rate. However, when bounce is analyzed with respect to keywords or referring domains, it becomes extremely useful in a marketing metrics toolbox. This, however, deals more with the idea of bounce rate as a technical performance indicator. I like that.

“It would be nice to have alerts built in for systems like this. Maybe someone close to Google should say something?:-)”

Finally, Alan weighed in from Paris, “Hi there Robbin, Bonsoir Jacques,

“You really got me thinking about this bounce rate issue and I think I came up with a legitimate scenario.

“It is quite common for certain types of sites to use result pages on their websites as landing pages for their PPC campaigns. It is even possible to automate this in AdWords by using the keyword insertion tag in the destination URL, e.g.{keyword} whereby the ‘bought’ keyword in AW will automatically be placed in the URL (I would advise against this however because of LPQ, but that’s a different matter).

“If site search is enabled on such a site with the ‘kw’ query specified, then GA will count this visitor as having used the search functionality from their very first page-view and all the visitors that bounce will contribute to the bounce rate in the Site Search reports.

“I have a couple of customers who had a site search bounce rate significant enough that it can’t just be explained away by what I call the “freak-occurrence factor” (i.e. 7-8% bounce rate and above). I cross-segmented their google(cpc) traffic by landing page and saw that most of them were indeed search result pages with the site’s search query variable in the URI.

“I suggest you check out the Landing Page report and filter on the search query variable to see if this makes sense for your customers too.

“Hope this explanation makes sense.”

And speaking of hoping, I hope that I got everyone’s comments correct, please complain loudly if I didn’t.