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Is bounce rate and conversion rate related? Short answer: No

To set the definitions right, it is generally agreed that bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who exit the website immediately after arrival. Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors who complete website goal, which may be a signup, subscription, purchase, download, etc.

balance

Most people believe that bounce rate and conversion rate is inversely proportional. That is, if bounce rate goes up, conversion rate would go down and if bounce rate goes down, your conversion rate will go up (because apparently you will have more interested visitors). On the face of it, this seems to be true and hence the proposition that fixing the bounce rate OR the conversion rate alone will achieve business goals seems to be true.

Sadly, this relationship between bounce rate and conversion rate is an illusion. To understand that there is NO relationship between these two metrics, you need to know what bounce rate really is. Does the bounce rate talk about visitors who viewed just one page on your website? Or should it capture more nuanced idea of visitors who stumbled across your website by chance? Most web analytics tools define bounce rate as the former: that is, a single visit is considered a bounce. Bounce rate, defined in such a manner, conveys completely wrong information.

Increasingly, visitors are becoming goal oriented.  For example, if they need to see your shipping policy, they will Google it, read about it and leave your website.  That visit is not a bounce: visitor got what he was looking for. Similarly, most of you will exit after reading this post for say 3-5 minutes. Do I consider you a bounced visitor? No, not at all.  You were engaged for a long time, how could you be classified as a bounced visitor. However, the web analytic tool I use will classify you as a bounce because you just read one page on the website. Realize that bounce rate which you are reading out from your tool is not what it says. Scrutinize definitions and understand what the metric is saying to put it in the right context.

So, what is the best way to represent bounce rate? I think bounce rate is best captured by measuring what percentage of visitors spent less than 30 seconds on your website. Any time  spent which is less will signal that visitors arrived on your website by chance and is NOT at all interested in what you are offering, hence quickly went back to what he was doing. All other visitors spending >30 seconds, even if they just see one page, should be classified as non-bounced visitors. To summarize:

Bounce rate = Number of visitors who spent < 30 seconds on the website /
Total number of visitors


Unfortunately, measuring exact time spent by a visitor by web analytics tools is difficult and most of them will approximate this number. That said, I think bounce rate should be defined by time spent on website and not by pageviews.

Coming back to conversion rate, how is it related to bounce rate? As traditional thinking goes, the visitors who bounced bring the conversion rate down as they have no chance of completing the website goal. I fully agree that bounced visitors (by definition) have no chance of completing the conversion goal. Then, I ask, why to include bounced visitors in conversion calculations at all? To truly reflect the progress you have been making on your website, conversion rate calculations should NOT include bounced visitors. Bounced visitors never really cared about your website, non-bounced are the ones who engaged and spent time going through what you are offering. Conversion rate should capture how good a job your website is doing for getting those visitors (who care about your website) to complete the goals. Conversion rate, ideally, should be calculated as following:

Conversion rate = Number of non-bounced visitors who completed the goal  /
Total number of non-bounced visitors


So, now we have two metrics which are not at all related to each other: bounce rate and conversion rate. Both of these metrics convey different information regarding how you are performing. Hence, both of these metrics should be separately optimized. Optimizing bounce rate is for convincing more number of people to engage with your website. Optimizing conversion rate is for convincing the visitors who are already engaged to complete your website goals. Reducing bounce rate AND increasing conversion rate are two different activities.  Remember that.

What are your views on relation between conversion rate and bounce rate? How do you and your web analytics tool measures bounce rate?

7 Comments »

  1. Congratulations on your ability to write such a long article on something that could have been cleaned up with 2 definitions :) That aside, all good points and thanks for the output!

    Comment by Vincent Roman — November 12, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  2. [...] The way I define Bounce Rate and Conversion Rate, they are not related.  But the way Alexa defines, the two metrics are definitely [...]

    Pingback by How to benchmark competition conversion rates using Alexa in two super simple steps « Wingify Conversion Optimization Blog — November 24, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

  3. I respectively have to disagree with your division of measurements. The reason is because many things that lower your bounce rate will hurt the conversion rate because you get more marginal people to stay on your site longer and be counted in the conversion rate. What is the right way to balance the value of the bounce rate versus the conversion rate? I maintain that what most companies really care about is advertising cost per conversion. Given that they generally have a reasonable idea of their cost per visitor driven by advertising, the ratio of visitors to conversions is the figure that they care about, and therefore what should be measured and optimized. Details of how that figure is broken down, what percentage bounce, etc, are of secondary importance.

    In short my point is that what we need to optimize is actionable metrics that directly impact the business, and not our understanding of how exactly the site is used. It is nice to measure and look at the latter, but only because it helps us produce theories about our users that give us ideas for how to drive the business forward.

    Comment by Ben Tilly — November 27, 2009 @ 11:37 am

  4. Hi Ben,

    I totally agree that what needs to be cared for primarily is the conversion rate as the impact of it can be directly quantified in the company’s bottom line. Bounce rates and other metrics are secondary.

    The purpose of the article was to show that these two metrics are unrelated, not to argue that one is better than the other.

    -Paras

    Comment by Wingify — November 27, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  5. My point is that conversion rate measured from visitor to conversion is what matters more to the company’s bottom line than conversion rate measured from non-bounce to conversion. Therefore in many businesses the conversion rate from visitor to conversion should be measured and tracked.

    Comment by Ben Tilly — November 27, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  6. It is the rate of visitors that enter your site, and leave within the first 5 seconds without viewing another page.

    Comment by Directory — June 18, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

  7. Brilliant explanation! Many people have been (are) confused by these metrics. I have been working in SEO for 10 years and dumped the idea that bounces and conversions are proportionately related.

    I have clients with a 40% bounce rate, their audience want a phone number – right on the top of the page in 56 point type. They are busy with orders.

    I have achieved a zero bounce rate for a client two months running – they are busy too!

    It boils down the industry you are in, what your audience is looking for. A big bold positioning statement drops bounces and boosts conversions!

    Nice blog too by the way!

    Cheers,
    Paul

    Comment by Paul Thomas — September 6, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

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