Bounce rate: the black sheep of the customer journey

Beyond web site metrics to measure the success of a web site, bounce rate is the one at which in my opinion a bit more importance should be attributed.

Although from different angles, Kissmetric seems to share my opinion and on this regard they wrote an article entitled “how to keep you bounce rate under 2%”; this without considering how many other people are daily concerned about the same KPI and they are in the process of reducing it.

Kissmetric states every page section is important to ensure longevity on customers visit, and that’s all Bounce rate is about. A pure exercise of housekeeping on factors that span from site’s usability to quality content.

Reasons I believe bounce rate represents an interesting metric

Let’s imagine your web site has a bounce rate of 4%, this means that every 100 visitors 96 have reached a second page. An interesting number after all.

But what if your bounce rate is 40%? Your audience suddenly reduces to 60, which is of course less interesting as more the visitors more the opportunities, regardless your marketing objectives.

Before going further…

As stated above, an high bounce rate may have different causes, and analysing them is outside the scope of this article. However, for the sake of completeness of this article I’ll explain it quickly.

The bounce rate is the percentage of users that visit just ONE page, and this must not be confused with the exit rate at all. Bounce rate can be applied to the whole web site (as an average) but also to individual pages.

However, the latter case is the most important, as once applied to the whole site, bounce rate is applied only to those pages where the user session begins.

As for the calculation process, try to imagine a user that land on your site. Regardless the sources, at the time a user land on a page, the analytics package drop a cookie (on the user machine) marking the time of the initial visit.

When a user leaves the site (e.g. By pressing the browser back button), all communications from the computer and the site (and the analytics package) are interrupted. After a certain period of inactivity (30 minutes by default unless differently configured) the user session expires and the analytics package will record the bounce.

On the contrary, as soon as a new page is requested, the cookie time stamp is refreshed, and it will help the system to determine how long a user stay on a specific page, also incrementing the overall time spent on site.

If you are interested in a more technical explanation, I would recommend you to have a look at the Google Analytics help, or to check this infographics here.

My (perhaps pointless) concerns

Site owners – in particular those that have been hit by Panda and Penguin - have probably understood that quality matters.

That’s why from spun articles and rubbish posts, the net is progressively moving forward to more decent-length and quality essays.

A direction, the one above, at which brand new sites and blogs are particularly bind, as more often than not the authors are operating in competitive landscapes, hence they really need to capture their audience from day one if they want to survive in this big jungle.

As the time I spend to nurture my blog is limited, and because I’m in operating in high competitive landscape too (SEO and web site optimisation), my authorship is consequently tiny and so does my traffic. And that’s from where my concerns came from.

Whilst having a look at my Google Analytics profile, I saw my visitors spending a decent amount of minutes on the majority of the articles I wrote, but ultimately bouncing off the site. What for?

Are all these users forgetting their browser open once they finished reading, or perhaps going for a long coffee before getting their user session expiring? I doubt so. Question is, why are they leaving the site after 3-5 minutes?

A bounce is normally recorded between 20 and 50 seconds, when users realise content on page is questionable or useless to them; a longer period means users were really interested. So for which reason those users don’t stick on site? I didn’t investigate on this (sorry, I’m short in time).

My considerations

  1. What could happen if at a certain point the back button it automatically disables?
  2. How much benefit a site may get from this? Will this annoy the users and theyàll simply kill the tab?

As I was interested to understand more about what a user could do at the end of the reading, I ran a poll. This is very far to be accurate considering the limited audience; it has emerged that in absence of the back button, people are likely to continue their journey by typing a new a URL or a new term in the address bar again leveraging the bounce rate.

  So it is not by disabling the back button that we can improve the situation. If users want to leave, they will do in a way or another.

The percentage of visitors that will carry on with the visit is certainly limited, and I wish I could have the crystal ball to make a prediction.

So, how much disabling the back button is worth?

I made a couple of considerations here:

A) by disabling the button, people are visually constrained and perhaps some remote chance for them to stay on site it may exist. In the worse case scenario, they will stay for a second page click and as little as 10 to 20 extra seconds.

As a little extra, your site ad impression rate will increase. If it comes just to this, it appears clear that disabling the back button it’s not a great idea though.

B) Bearing in mind the Google feature “Block all result from domain xyz” and their always greater market share, disabling the back button you may avoid a user to click on that link that normally appear underneath the URL of a site that appeared in SERP, thus avoiding users to exclude your site from their personal results (This is a great point in my opinion).

  Please note that sometimes the link may not appear.

This was an issue in the past months that Google engineers should have fixed by now but as a matter of fact I still display it passing via and not the UK version, in which at a certain point last year the feature has been rolled out.

I also appreciate this may sound a bit confusing, but back in 2002 / 2003 disabling the back button was a common practice among webmasters that were attempting to limit their users journeys while filling the forms (as the session expire mechanism and form-resubmission wasn’t as much efficient as today).

How to (theoretically) incentivize user to continue their navigation

What I have described so far is not a real problem for a site, but it may be an issue for marketers interested in KPI’s and conversions.

However, I tried to imagine how to solve this “problem”, and after all the solution is easy and can be implemented with a few lines of javascript, with a timer that after an x amount of seconds will automatically disable the back button.

I didn’t verify whether or not the most recent (and stringent) security patterns implemented by the browser still allow doing so, but I won’t expect any complications on this regard.

As I’m my coding skills are a bit rusty now, I’m not providing any code here, also because this was not the expected outcome.

Playing fair, of course is mandatory. Not doing this, it will probably create more trouble than benefits in both your site and statistics.

Perhaps what I discussed in this blog it’s a weak idea, and on the majority of the low traffic sites this won’t probably make any difference, but it could be something to think or to chat about.

So, leave a comment below and I’ll come back to you as soon as I can.