More Metrics – exit pages and bounce rate

Learning how our web site works is an important task. We’ve seen some simple examples in previous steps (visits, page views, and unique visitors) and we’ve seen some data that gets calculated (average page views and time on site).

While these were simple, and often given on the front page of your reports, I want to look at two related pieces of information that are not always so prevalent: exit pages and bounce rate.

The path users take to exitThe Exit Page is an easy metric to understand. This is generally a list of pages that was last page that a user visits. So if a user X visits p1, p2, then p3; p3 is the last page they visited, and this is counted as the exit page. If user Y visits p2, p3, then p1; p1 is their last page, and counted accordingly as the exit page.

Why this matters: This information is important because it allows us to see where people are leaving the site. In some cases this may not be a bad thing. Look at figure 2 to see how people are often leaving on the Sign Out page, which means that they have concluded their business. Additionally, people might exit after viewing a FAQ, because their question was answered. However, if people start to exit on an Account Sign Up page or on a Check Out page, this might start to indicate an issue. While this does not directly define the issue, it does allow us to know where to start to look.

Why this information can be misleading: Every user will eventually leave your site. So worrying about users leaving your site does you no good. Worrying about users leaving your site for no reason, or for the wrong reasons should worry you. Unfortunately, this metric doesn’t tell you why they left. And when you consider the number of “tire kickers” there are on the Internet, many will leave after checking your price to go and shop around to see if they can find a better deal. (Web conversion rates are notoriously low, with 2-4% being considered good depending upon type of product, price, etc.)

Top Exit Pages Metric - Screen ShotWe will also notice that there are files which it is perfectly acceptable to be the exit page. This would be things like the last page in checking out with their order, a sign-out page, etc. It can also be noted that many people will go to the homepage when leaving. Don’t ask why people do this, but the more I see different sites, the more I see this happen.

Bounce Rate is a modification of the Exit Pages metric. What can make it difficult to determine is that there are different ways of calculating this metric. There are two main ways of calculating a bounce. In the first example, a person visits a site, and then leaves the site without visiting any other pages; then they are counted as a bounce. The second method used, is to determine if the user was on the site less than a given amount of time, 10 seconds for example. If this is the case, then they are counted as a bounce. (Remember, we don’t know how long someone is on the last page, if they were on the first page for 7 seconds, and the second page for 30 seconds, we don’t know about the 30 seconds, and a bounce could be calculated.)

The bounce rate is a huge contention between different analytics people, and some analytics packages don’t even offer this as a metric. Let’s take a look at how it can be used, and why it may or may not matter.

Why this matters: If someone is on your site for less than 10 seconds or 1 page, then odds are, they are not engaged in your site. This means that your end goal cannot be met. Finding out what the bounce rate is, and more importantly why, will help you determine how to improve your site, to be more effective in meeting your end goal(s).

Why this may be misleading: As mentioned above, if this metric is being based on length of time of the visit, we don’t know how long the last page is viewed, we can get less than accurate information. Secondly, the bounce isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Let’s take an example of a person who is searching for a piece of information. They come to your site from their favorite search engine. When they get to your site, they find what they are looking for, and leave once they have properly consumed your information. If your site’s end goal is to provide information, it has succeeded, while still having a bounce. And finally, it isn’t uncommon to have an acceptable bounce rate on the web. Depending upon the type of site, you may have a higher or lower rate of bounce. For example, niche sites, will have lower bounce rates, and blogs tend to have higher bounce rates, landing pages might have higher bounce rates, while a portal or intranet tend to have the lowest.


Given all of this, you might ask, why is this one of my favorite metrics. As with everything analytics, this is a starting point. With it we can measure and track trends, and start to look for reasons why. Looking at the bounce rate as a web site wide number doesn’t really help, however when we start to drill down into the numbers, we can start to see more details that can help us.

About Walter Wimberly

Walter is a strong believer in using technology to improve oneself and one's business.


  1. Great observations and article on some topics on exit rates that I hadn’t considered. I tend to find that a high exit rate for pages can also indicate a technical issue or problem on a site.

  2. I often find the issue to be with the design of the page, not allowing people to easily use and continue through the site. I’ll be looking at that in another article soon.