The bounce rate is one of the most commonly used metrics for analysing consumer behaviour on a website. In simple, though not entirely accurate, terms, it is defined as single-pageview visits to a website. In other words, a “bounce” is when someone comes to a website and leaves without further interaction. The “bounce rate” is the percentage of those single-pageview visits relative to all visits.

The generally accepted science for websites is that high bounce rates are negative. As Avinash Kaushik put it quite crudely, a bounce describes the experience of a customer as “I came, I puked, I left”. With this thinking, RocketFuel classified “excellent” bounce rates as ranging between 30 and 45%. This means you have a well-designed website if over half your visitors interact with more than one page.

For CANalytic councils, bounce rates range from 37 to 75%. Roughly 30% of the councils have bounce rates in the “excellent” range, while the average for the group stands at just over 50%. Do these high bounce rates really reflect poor design or usability?

We looked at the outliers to get a better perspective. The council at 75% appears to have a well- constructed site. It is very easy to find exactly what you need – to pay for council tax or check rubbish collection times – straight from Google. Once on the site, the transactional elements are either handled by a third party provider or are framed into the site. In both cases, once a user completes the transaction, she will leave the site without visiting another page. Hence the 75% bounce rate.

The council at 37% appears to have an equally well-designed site.  The difference is in the approach. Transactions are not less efficient but are completed within the site on multiple pages. The site also has one of the most active job boards amongst CANalytic councils, meaning it is more likely that users will visit multiple pages reviewing available positions. So the 37% bounce rate is also easy to explain.

We saw similar examples on other sites across the CANalytic spectrum. High bounce rates usually meant easy-to-find functions and transaction-completion on external sites. Low bounce rates were more often attributable to in-page transaction-completion and other useful features which encourage multiple page-views. Both methods, while using different approaches, are equally effective.

The conclusion is that bounce rates cannot be used as the only measure to determine the quality of council websites. Both low and high rates are associated with high-quality approaches that make it easy for the resident to transact with the council.

Before we wrap up, it would be remiss of us not to address the impact that advertising has on bounce rates. If someone clicks on an ad from the first page visited, they would count as a bounce, increasing the bounce rate. On average, however, banner ads have click through rates of 0.03 to 0.04% - that’s 3-4 people in 10,000 clicking on an ad. This should give us confidence that advertising is having no discernible impact on a council’s bounce rate.

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