Today, in another full house session of the Google Analytics Certification Bootcamp, an interesting discussion occurred on what I thought was kind of a dead topic. As usual, I was wrong about that, and the question from one of the attendees sparked this blog post. The question was this: on a one-page website (e.g., a landing page), what’s the difference between a “bounce” and an “exit”? Since dgmcamp.com is essentially a one-page website (technically not, but the since more than 90% of visitors to the site view only the single home page, it works for this model), we decided to study the DGM Camp website to discuss and see if we could determine the answer. We couldn’t, so I promised the class I’d dig further and make sure we came to some understanding.
First, let’s define the terms “exit” and “bounce” according to Google Analytics:
- Exit: the last page in a user session
- Bounce: a session consisting of a single pageview with zero interactions
Unfortunately, these limited definitions usually only cause more confusion, especially when put in the context of a single-page site. Here’s why: In a multiple page website, visitors may visit 2, 3, 5, 10 pages and then will eventually exit for one reason or another. The last page of the session is considered the “exit page”. If that page is the “Thank you” page after an email subscription is created, then it is to be expected that the page would be the exit page for many users.
Similarly, in a multiple page website, if a certain page gets a lot of bounces, that may occur for any number of reasons such as slow page load time. However, that page can be singled out as having an unusually high bounce rate when compared to other pages on the website. In other words, it’s easy to tell the difference between a bounce and an exit on a multi-page website.
But apply those 2 definitions to a single page website, and it’s more difficult. Here’s why: by definition, a single-page website can have no other page views and is always the exit page. Therefore, every exit could look like a bounce and vice versa. So how do you know?
Track other events on the page.
For example, if I left dgmcamp.com alone, I might think that the home page has a 76% bounce rate…or a 76% exit rate. How do I know the difference? We’re tracking events on the page in Google Analytics. Specifically, we track scroll percentage and outbound clicks to the General Assembly DGM Camp registration page, so we can see that more than half of the visits to the home page have scrolled to view more than 50% of the page, and that about 10% of the visitors to the page have clicked over to GA.
Doing a little bit of math, we can then estimate that the home page of DGM Camp does not have a 76% bounce rate, because more than 50% of the sessions have more than one interaction with the page (scrolling or clicking). Instead, we can see that the page does have a 76% exit rate, but only about a 20-25% bounce rate. We can estimate this data only because we track other events on the page that Google Analytics does not track by default. Tracking those events tells us that these sessions are not bounces, but rather actively engaged users who interacted with the site.