Bounce vs exit rate as online marketers

To be successful as an online marketer you need to analyze and understand visitor behaviour and traffic to your website or blog. And understanding bounce rate versus exit rate is one part of this puzzle.

First we will look at what bounce rate and exit rate actually means.

Next I will explain why the high bounce and exit rates can be bad – but not always. I will use the affiliate marketer perspective as an example.

I will round off the article with 3 points that you should remember when you analyze bounce and exit rates in your role as an online marketer.

What does bounce rate mean?

A bounce is simply put when a visitor arrives at one of your webpages and then leaves without interacting with the content on the web page.

The words “interacting with” are central to understanding bounce rate.

For an interaction to be counted it needs to be counted and measured. And for an interaction to be measured the visitor will typically have to for example click on a link to another page or start an embedded video on the web page.

If a visitor arrives at a web page from another web page on your website it cannot be counted as a bounce. 

The session or visit has to start with the web page for it to potentially count as a bounce.

Let’s look at the bounce rate using the image below. If you look at the image below you can only record one bounce. And it happens on the Start page. Calculate the bounce rate and then look at the answer below the image to see if you got it right.

Explaining bounce rate vs exit rate
We only have one bounce and that happened from the Start page Day 1.

And in this simplistic example the bounce rate would be 50%. We had two sessions starting on the Start page (Day 1 and Day 3).

But only the session on Day 1 resulted in the visitor leaving without viewing any other pages.

That gives us 1 bounce from 2 visits equalling a 50% bounce rate for the Start page.

Always remember that bounce rate should be measured on page level as different web pages serve different purposes.

What does exit rate mean?

Exit rate measures exactly what it sounds like. The number of times a specific web page is the last web page a visitor interacts with.

Here it doesn’t matter where the session or visit to your website started. Every single visit or pageview to a particular web page counts.

Exit rate measures the number of times a particular web page was the last web page that was visited before the visitor left your website.

Exit rate is also expressed as a percentage.

Let’s now look at the exit rate for the Start and the Product pages. As before you will find the answer below the image.

Explaining bounce rate vs exit rate

Looking at the Start page we see that the Start page was part of all 3 sessions. And the Start page was the last page visited in 2 of these sessions. This gives us a exit rate for the Start page of approximately 67% (2 divided by 3).

2 sessions included the Product page. But only in 1 of the 2 sessions were the Product page the last page visited. Here we have an exit rate of 50% (1 divided by 2) for the Product page.

bounce rate vs exit rate as online marketers

Now when you know the difference between bounce rate vs exit rate.

But how do you use this information in your role as an online marketer?

Understanding purpose and desired outcome

 When you build a blog or website you need to have a clear purpose for every article or post you publish. 

What behaviour, engagement or action are you trying to invoke?

Is the purpose of the page to 

  • inform and educate your visitors? 
  • convert the visitor from browser to buyer of your product or service?
  • generate members to your mailing list?
  • create leads or sales to an affiliate partner?
Read more about the customer journey in a customer centric perspective 

The affiliate marketer perspective

As an affiliate marketer you focus on driving sales or conversions to your affiliate partners.

You have a mix of informational posts and articles and one or several strong sales pages meant to convert the browser to a buyer.

You probably also work to rank strong landing pages with the intent to convert the customer on that one single page.

In this simplistic example you have 3 types of web pages

  • Informational web pages
  • Sales web pages
  • Landing web pages

As an affiliate marketer you need to drive sales and a high bounce or exit rate may cause initial overall concern.

But you need to look at each web page individually and take the desired outcome into account.

Informational web pages

A high bounce rate tells you that your visitors arrive and leave without further interaction.

But what does that really mean? 

It does tell you that the page does not engage your visitor to stay on your website. And this is not good.

But without looking at “average time on page” you cannot conclude that the page is of low quality.

Infact, maybe the page is “too good” and answers all questions the visitor had and thereby matches user intent perfectly.

Sure, you may need to work on adding or improving your calls to action but the overall webpage may be of sound quality.

A high exit rate could also be a problem but could on the other hand be great.

If a lot of visitors click on your affiliate links and convert they are still counted as exits. After all, they are leaving your website.

But it matches your desired outcome perfectly.

Again you need to analyse the data before jumping to any conclusions.

It could of course also mean that visitors simply close their browser and go away. But how can you know?

Exactly, you need to look at the data and see what happens before you take action.

Sales web pages

Sales pages serve one purpose and one purpose alone. You are trying to turn a browser into a buyer.

You will typically not try to rank a sales page in the search engines. Sales pages are value pages that you link to internally and the content is thin and is designed to “close the deal”. 

You use your informational pages to create the need and the desire. The sales page is the virtual handshake that closes the deal.

But this also means that you usually only give the visitor two possible courses of action.

  1. Buy
  2. Exit

You are not trying to inform or educate. You are only trying to sell.

With this follows that numbers for especially exit rate will be high by design.

If the visitor does not buy they are very likely to move on and leave your website.

On the other hand if the visitor clicks on your affiliate link it still counts as an exit. After all, they are in fact leaving your website.

So does this mean that a high exit rate is always good?

Of course not. But again you need to look at the whole picture and take sales and conversions into account.

Landing web pages

Landing pages are a hybrid between informational and sales pages.

You will try to inform and educate with the purpose of creating a need or desire to purchase.

Your focus is to take the visitor by the hand and convert them from browser to buyer on one and the same page.

Here the content is both informational and educational but overall you summarize and stay on point.

You ask questions and answer them without leaving any need for further confirmation or information.

You try to be one step ahead of your visitor and address each possible doubt with clear and concise reasoning.

Again, here the desired outcome is to convert the browser to a buyer. You do not give the visitor links to additional resources. That would defeat your purpose.

And in addition this will be the actual web page that many visitors will arrive at from the search engines. You work hard to rank the page and the content is good and user oriented.

Both these facts will lead to high bounce and exit rates by design. 

The exit rate will be high whether the visitor converts or not. And with only one possible way to interact the customer will click through to your affiliate partner or be counted as a bounce.

But how can I improve bounce and exit rate?

In an ideal world exit and bounce rates are easily explained by stellar sales and conversion rates.

But in the real world we are often faced with a situation where we need to look at how we can improve performance.

Here are my top 10 suggestions on how to improve bounce and exit rates for individual web pages.

1. Page loading time

If your page is loading too slowly you will lose visitors and both exit and bounce rates will be affected.

Use the free services from Google or GTMetrix to measure how fast your web pages load.

Again focus on individual pages. 

The loading speed of your home page is only relevant for that specific page. 

2. Thin content

"People also ask" section in Google to understand user intent and expectations
“People also ask” section on Google SERP

Have you included all relevant information on your web page?

Or are you in fact only meeting some of the needs of you visitors?

It is of course difficult to know for sure.

But there is one good way to find out.

When you search in Google there is often a section called “People also ask”. 

Have  you answered all or at least the majority of those questions?

If not, you have some work to do.

3. Calls to action

Are you asking your visitors to take action in a clear and concise way?

You have a desired outcome for your web page. But you also need to communicate this desired outcome to your visitors with cleas and enticing calls to action.

For example, what are you asking me to do when I have read your article?

Is there a clear call to action or am I staring at a page footer full of links to privacy policies, terms and conditions and information about cookies?

Communicate your desired action clearly with calls to action.

4. Trust and security

Are you doing all you can to show that you can be trusted?

Think of any objections a visitor may have and address them. 

Talk about your 30-day money back policy, warranties or how your trusted payment processor uses secure payment protocols and procedures.

Include customer testimonials, phone numbers, your physical address and maybe even a photo of you or your team.

All of these may not apply to you but you get the point.

5. Improve user experience

Is your page easy to use?

Visitors have no patience for clever menu structures or the latest whizz-bang technologies.

Make sure that your page is easy to use.

One way to find out is to put the page to the young and old test.

Ask a young or old person to navigate your website or a specific webpage with a clear instruction to follow.

Listen and look for reactions as they interact with your page.

You can also use a service like Hotjar . The BASIC plan is free and gives you access to user behaviour on any specific page up to 1000 pageviews.

6. Use visuals to engage

Graphics and photos can help engage your visitors. 

Using short easy to read sentences is another useful approach.

Noone likes to be greeted by a wall of text. Make it enjoyable to consume your content.

To provide a good user experience you work to entice and stimulate. But you need to work equally hard to decrease friction or doubt.

And a webpage feeling like too much work will make visitors leave to find a more user friendly source of information.

Read more about customer experience and friction. 

7. Responsive design

More visitors than ever consume information using a smartphone. 

This also means that you need to present your content in a responsive way to cope with a multitude of screen sizes and resolutions.

Google has announced that they actively look at how fast your webpages reach a stage of visual stability. The concept is called Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) and is a part of the Google core web vitals.

8. A/B Testing

To know what works we need to test. Noone can consistently guess or know from experience what the optimal course of action would be.

A/B testing is a great way to test and learn.

In its simplest form you use two different web pages that are designed or built differently but with one and the same objective.

Next you send visitors to both webpages. Observe differences in customer behaviour using for example Hotjar and then look at the results.

You will learn a lot and it is also a great way to test new ideas without risking too much.

9. Deliver on headline

Everyone puts a lot of focus on the headline. And rightly so.

A well written headline will attract more visitors. It’s a fact.

But always remember that it is not worth anything unless you can deliver on the promises you make.

Be careful of using words like “life-changing”, “never seen before” or “guaranteed results”. Ask yourself if your content can live up to the promises you make.

If not you will lose the visitor and have gained nothing but badwill.

10. Avoid popups

When was the last time a popup made you happy?

It is a fact that most people do not like popups or other intrusive messages when they are visiting a website.

Popups can of course serve a purpose. But always think:

  • timing
  • placement
  • options

Visitors arrive at your web page looking for answers and solutions. Why would you use a popup before they have had a chance to interact with your content?

And why would you trigger your popup at the top of your webpage? Give the visitor a chance to engage with your web page before you  cover the entire screen with your popup. 

Finally, make it equally easy to say “yes” as it is to close the popup. Do not hide a minimal “x” for exit in the top right corner.

Be clear and trust your message to convert the visitor willingly.

Summary and conclusion

Do not panic about high bounce or exit rates until you understand why. Pages are designed to serve different purposes. Take desired outcome and actual outcome into account before looking to fix the “problem”.

Do not focus on overall or average levels. Bounce rate and exit rate is only a useful metric on web page level.

Look at ways to improve bounce and exit rates when web pages have a high exit and / or bounce rate and no conversions.

Meet the author: Mattias (Matt) is a serial entrepreneur and travel industry expert with more than 20 years of experience in business and web development. Mattias identifies with self-starters and entrepreneurs, loves to garden, and believes everyone needs a game plan for financial independence.