Bounce Rate vs Exit Rate – What’s the Difference?
Some basic stuff right? Well, the basics matter. Let’s take a fresh look at the 2 metrics, how they’re defined and in what circumstances a good web analyst should use them. I’ll also highlight some tool specific differences between SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics.
Bounce Rate – the % of visits, who having entered on a particular page, go no further than that page during their session. Note that on a global basis, this metric may not make much sense, since you can’t bounce off a site, you have to bounce off a particular page. In SiteCatalyst Version 15 the metric is now defined out of the box, but formerly it was determined by a calculation like:
Single Access / Entries – where single access meant a page was the first and last pageview of a session and entries means how many visits entered the site on that page.
EXAMPLE: Let’s say 1,000 people enter on my homepage and 150 never go any further. My homepage has a bounce rate of 15%.
About entries – since bounce rate must apply to a particular page, it only matters if you entered on that page. If very few people enter on a page and it has a high bounce rate, there’s probably very little to consider. But if that page has a lot of traffic flowing to it internally, you may want to check on….
Exit Rate – exit rate is sort of like bounce rate that doesn’t care about how you got to the page. It still relies on some page being the last page viewed within the visit session however. Here’s an example – let’s say I enter on the homepage then click on your Hiking Boots category page. I filter a few things then get to a pair of boots I like. I get distracted, close out my tab and take off. My exit was on the hiking boot product detail page.
EXAMPLE: Let’s say of the 1,000 people who viewed the product detail page today, 340 never viewed any pages afterward. That gives us an exit rate of 34%.
Further, let’s say that 300 people entered on that page and 100 never viewed any additional pages. Then the page would have a 33% bounce rate. But wait, 340 people never viewed any pages after the product detail page – true…So, are my bouncers also included in the exit rate calculation? Let’s recap:
BIG EXAMPLE: Some product page:
1000 views – 340 times the last page viewed in the session = 34% exit rate
300 entries – 100 bounces = 33% bounce rate
Is the 100 included in the 340? Of course! Exit rate doesn’t care how the visitor got to the page, it only requires the page to have been the last page viewed in the session. In SiteCatalyst the calculated metric would be:
exits / visits = exit rate or the % of sessions which ended on some particular page. Again, exit rate for the site has even less meaning than bounce rate because any session that begins, must end.
If a site has one page, can bounce rate and exit rate ever be different? Well, everyone enters on the same page, and you can’t go to any other pages. But, you can reload the page, did you technically bounce? The exit rate will be 100% for the page, since you can’t end the session on any other pages. So what about that reloading – does it get you off without bouncing? We’ve never done any web analytics consulting for 1 page sites, but here’s what Google says:
“If you have only one page on your site (a blog, for example), Google Analytics doesn’t register multiple pageviews unless visitors reload that page. As a result, single-page sites tend to have high bounce rates.”
So there you have it – if the page is reloaded, the visitor didn’t bounce. So, the exit rate on the page will be 100% but the bounce rate could be zero percent if everyone who visits the site reloads the page.
If you have a high bounce rate, make sure lots of people are entering the site before you worry too much. If your visitors can accomplish their goals on that page, who cares about bounce rate. Our blog has a pretty high bounce rate on some pages because the post is read, then they move on. Thanks for reading!
High exit rates can make sense, especially on pages like your receipt page, or deeper into the funnel, eg the product detail or the preliminary cart pages. If the majority of your traffic doesn’t buy on the first visit, there may be nothing wrong here.
Most likely you want to keep an eye on these metrics as a signal, especially before/after or around site layout changes. Another way to use the metrics – segmenting traffic by behavior to improve online media spend. Affiliate traffic will probably have a pretty poor behavioral score but you’re only paying for completed goals. SEM should have a bounce rate higher than direct or organic in most cases but much lower than display. Now I’m generalizing.