Is Bounce Rate Relevant to SEO in 2021?

Google recently made waves when they announced that the new Google Analytics, among another changes, will no longer report on bounce rates. 

The announcement sparked a fierce debate in the online marketing community: to count a bounce, or not to count a bounce?

As bounce rate is one of the metrics we report on at BizzyWeb, we wanted to break down the argument and figure out if bounce rate is still relevant to SEO in 2021.


What is Bounce Rate?

Bounce rate measures how many people visit a single page on your website and leave without visiting other pages or taking any other action. Google displays this as a percentage of total visitors - for example, if a page has 100 visitors and 80 of them leave without taking another action then the bounce rate for the page is 80%. 


What is a good bounce rate?

The way most marketers contextualize their pages' bounce rates is by comparing their numbers against industry averages. Generally, a bounce rate of 40 - 60% is considered average while anything below 40% would be considered a low bounce rate.

However, it's important to consider the specific page.

Certain pages typically have a much higher bounce rate average of 80 - 90% because of how people interact with those pages - most often these are blogs and landing pages.

Visitors coming into your site on a blog  will typically be looking for an answer on a specific topic and therefore leave once that curiosity is satisfied.

Landing pages are designed to get people to take a specific action (such as filling out a form) and so people will naturally leave once they complete that action or they decide the offer isn't relevant to them.

Similarly, your page might have a high bounce rate if it links to a 3rd party tool, like having an eCommerce site that links to Square - any time a visitor "leaves" to go purchase an item it would be considered a bounce because they are technically going to another website.

Finally, some pages will naturally have extremely high bounce rates such as a contact us page or a menu page for a restaurant.


The Argument for Measuring Bounce Rate

Bounce rates can help provide some insight into user experience. A page or website with an extremely high bounce rate average over several months can indicate one or more of the following:

  • Your site is difficult to navigate
  • Users aren't finding the information they're looking for
  • The site/page takes too long to load
  • The flow of the page is difficult to understand
  • The information on the page isn't what visitors expected to see

You'll typically need to look at several different metrics in order to identify the true cause of your high bounce rate, as looking at bounce rate alone won't give you concrete answers.

For example, if your page has a very high bounce rate, average time on page and most users scroll all the way to the bottom, this shows you that the issue is likely that users aren't finding the information they need and leaving.


The Argument Against Measuring Bounce Rate

One of the biggest downsides of bounce rate as a metric is that it comes with so many exceptions that it can become pointless to even track. As mentioned above, a high bounce rate doesn't necessarily mean that a page is performing "badly" - in some cases, it can even be a sign that a page is performing well - but this isn't accounted for when looking at bounce rate alone.

Additionally, the rise of mobile use has drastically impacted bounce rate - mobile users are far less likely to poke around a website and visit multiple pages. They want to go straight to the page they need and then leave, which will naturally skew your site's bounce rate. 


What to measure instead

In the new version of Google Analytics (GA4), bounce rate has been replaced with "engaged session." To count as an engaged session, a visitor must do one or more of the following:

  • Actively engage with your website or app in the foreground for at least 10 seconds
  • Fire a conversion event
  • Fire at least 2 screens or pageviews

Instead of bounce rate as a metric, GA4 allows you to measure one of the following:

  • Engagement Rate = (engaged sessions) / (sessions)
  • Engaged Sessions per User = (engaged sessions) / (users)
  • Engagement Time = sum(engagement time)

Is Bounce Rate Still Relevant?

Like many areas of marketing and life in general, there's no one clear answer for every scenario. At BizzyWeb, we usually follow the sage advice of Captain Barbossa:


an animated GIF of Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean saying "The code is more of what you'd call guidelines than actual rules."

When it comes to bounce rate, it can still be a valuable metric but it isn't the only metric to be concerned about. It's also not useful to stress out about fluctuations in bounce rate. Rather, bounce rate is more of a high-level indicator of how your content might be performing. 

Engagement is also a useful metric to keep an eye on, but it too isn't the sole indicator of site success.

Ideally, you should keep an eye on both bounce rate and engagement, along with other marketing metrics, to paint a full picture of your website. 

As Google's GA4 is still being updated, it might be too early to toss out bounce rates entirely.  For now, we recommend tracking both metrics.

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BizzyWeb is a Minneapolis-based digital marketing and web design agency that helps companies get the high-quality leads they need to grow and thrive. Our tactics include inbound marketing, SEO, advertising, web design, content creation and sales automation. We are an accredited HubSpot Platinum Partner and we offer full-service HubSpot onboarding, enablement and strategy for new and current users.

Dave Meyer
Author: Dave Meyer
Dave Meyer is President of BizzyWeb. Dave has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications and has presented digital marketing topics to thousands of people across the US and Canada.