Bounce Rates on News Sites

I was asked by someone about typical bounce rates on news sites. Keeping with my rule that an email response sent to more than a few people is better served if it lives out on the web where it can be discovered and referred to with a link rather than locked away in an email archive, I decided to share what I wrote.

Bounce Rate is defined as, “the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave (“bounce”) rather than continuing on to view other pages within the same site.” Generally bouce rate more useful when you’re measuring the drop-off of visitors to an e-commerce site where you are guiding people along on a “funnel” towards a transaction or other anticipated result.

This makes it a less useful metric when measuring performance on a blog or news site where typically you serve what the reader came for on their first pageview. That said, here are some things to look at and how you can use bounce rates as an effective metric.

News site bounce rates are all over the board and I’ve seen rates anywhere between 30 – 80%. The important thing is to segment your audience into populations that have different experiences so you can see which levers are impacting your bounce rate.

Are mobile users bouncing more than desktop? Maybe your mobile website is slow.

Are users on a particular browser bouncing higher? Check your site load times.

What about regional differences? If your international readers bounce rate is higher check with Ad Ops, maybe the remnant inventory served is impacting performance.

Another cause could be click-baity headlines. Take a look at your stories that have a high bounce rate and see if the headline is saying one thing but the post another. Do less of that.

Look at your largest referral sources. Are Twitter readers bouncing higher than Facebook? Maybe your social sharing unit needs work.

One other source of bounce rate is when a reader just leaves the page open and the session eventually times out. A quick hack to record an additional event that “tricks” analytics to preventing a timed out bounce is a “toaster” which you often see appear offering a follow on page as the reader scrolls down a page. This will improve your bounce rate but I would argue that it provides little value except as yet another link to follow and may distract you from understanding your reader’s true behavior.

Finally, look at the difference between new and returning visitors. If returning visitors are bouncing, get rid of pop-ups to subscribe or other CTAs that get in the way of reading a page.

All that said, bounce rates are not that helpful to measuring a news site’s performance. Most news sites are designed to give you what you need on one page. A visitor who follows a link to a story and leaves is the definition of someone who bounces. Bounce Rates were invented to measure conversations on Anne-commerce sites funnel. For news sites you’re better off optimizing for time spent, pages/session and conversion to subscribers.

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