Bounce rate — the percentage of people who arrive on your site and then leave without looking at anything else — is a great example of a vanity metric: something people talk about a lot but don’t really act on.

If you find yourself wondering, "Is my bounce rate any good?" then you’re asking the Web analytics equivalent to asking, "Does my ass look big in these jeans?" But it doesn’t have to be that way. As my friend Jane Taylor says, it isn’t good or bad — it’s just data.

By looking a little closer at your bounce rate, you can make some decisions to improve your online marketing.

Bounce rate — the percentage of people who arrive on your site and then leave without looking at anything else — is a great example of a vanity metric: something people talk about a lot but don’t really act on.

If you find yourself wondering, "Is my bounce rate any good?" then you’re asking the Web analytics equivalent to asking, "Does my ass look big in these jeans?" But it doesn’t have to be that way. As my friend Jane Taylor says, it isn’t good or bad — it’s just data.

By looking a little closer at your bounce rate, you can make some decisions to improve your online marketing. Here are three specific bounce-rate reports and how you can use them to make things better:

Bounce rate on home page

The bounce rate (calculated by the number of people entering a site vs. the number of people leaving the site after seeing just one page) for your entire site doesn’t tell you much.

But the bounce rate on specific pages can help a great deal. Your home page, for example, is probably among the most-looked-at pages on your site. You can usually get to this report by navigating to the content reports in your analytics package.

If you want the bounce rate to be lower on this page (which everyone probably does), try using some of the testing ideas from last week’s column to put different content on your home page (for example: test a search function front and center vs. a welcome message). Keep testing until it improves.

Bounce rate by traffic source

Do you spend time and/or money driving traffic to your Web site? Got some pay-per-click stuff out there? Doing a little search-engine optimization? Playing around with social media? Wondering if it’s working?

Bounce rate by traffic source is one of the first steps to helping you improve your campaigns. You can usually find this report in the traffic sources area of your Web analytics package.

Using this report your can see which sources are bringing traffic that stays on your site. For example, if your organic search-engine bounce rate is higher than the bounce rate from Twitter, you might want to be spending more of your time/money using Twitter. Or maybe you’ll want to make some improvements to your SEO campaign instead.

The bounce rate by traffic source report can help you better allocate your marketing resources. …CONTINUED

Bounce rate on landing pages

If you are running campaigns to drive traffic to specific pages on your site, an SEO campaign for single-family homes in your market or a pay-per-click campaign for vacation property, for example, then the bounce rate for the landing pages of these campaigns can help you improve the performance of the campaign as it’s running.

You’ll find this report either through the advertising reports or the same way you found the report about the home-page bounce rate.

Working on the bounce rate for landing pages is important because you’re paying for these people to get to your site. You really don’t want them to bounce. Like the home page, these pages are great candidates for site-optimization testing. Test page headlines (tip: try a version that matches the headline of your advertising), different images, different offers and so on.

Improving bounce rates

There are two ways to make bounce rate better: get more visits from people who want to see more than one page, and get less visits from people who only want to see one page.

Note that the latter of those options will mean you will have fewer visits to your Web site (another "my ass is too big" vanity metric). Also, if visitors to your site need to see only one page (the phone number, maybe, or a blog post about how to work with you), then bounce rate might not be as important for your online marketing.

A note on comparing bounce rates (aka lining up in the mirror and comparing how your butt looks in your jeans compared to how your friends’ butts look in their jeans):

Even if you know the bounce rate of other sites to put your own bounce rate in context, it wouldn’t help you a whole lot. If you’re selling condos in Winooski, Vt., knowing the bounce rate for someone selling condos in San Diego, Calif., isn’t going to help you make decisions to improve your online marketing.

You have your own market and your own style. The comparison of bounce rates tells you more about your relative markets than it would about how to improve your online marketing.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors. He will speak during a Bloggers Connect workshop at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7.

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