Bounce Rate vs. Exit Rate

Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Understanding how users move around your website is an important part of making sure they see what you want them to see. In this lesson, we'll define bounce rate and exit rate and describe how they are different.

Movement from Webpages

Whether you are a blogger, a small business owner, or someone who works in marketing at a large organization, understanding how users move around your website is critical information. You want to know--to the extent possible--how they arrived at each page they visited and where they went when they were done viewing one of your pages.

Before we can measure this activity, let's make sure we understand the terms associated with this movement from page to page on your website.

Bouncing vs. Exiting

A bounce is when a user begins a session on a webpage, only views that webpage, and then ends the session. As we walk through examples, a bounce from page A will be notated like this: Page A > Exit.

An exit is when a user visits a webpage and then ends their session from that webpage. In the examples we'll look at below, an exit from page B would be notated like this: Page B > Exit. Our earlier example of a bounce from page A is also an exit from page A.

These definitions should make the difference between a bounce and an exit clear. A bounce from a webpage is when a user visits that page and ends the session without visiting any other webpages on your website. An exit is when a user visits a webpage and then exits your website from that webpage, even if they visited other webpages on your site during the same session.

The Calculations for Bounce Rates and Exit Rates

Now that we know what bounces and exits are, we can figure out the first number (the numerator) we need for our calculation. But, what about the second number (the denominator)? This gets a little tricky, but review these definitions and look at the examples below, and you'll see how they work.

When we determine the denominator for the bounce rate, we need to count how many sessions are potential bounces. Recalling the definition of a bounce, what does it take for a session to include a bounce? The session must begin with the webpage.

So, look at this user's session: Page C > Page B > Page A > Exit. Would we count that in the denominator of page A's bounce rate? No. Page B's? No. Page C's? Yes. Why? Because the session didn't start with page A or B, so that session COULD NOT have been a bounce for either of them. But while it was not a bounce for page C, it COULD have been one, since the session started with page C.

We use the same logic when counting sessions for the denominator of the exit rate, the sessions which COULD potentially count as an exit for a webpage. If we look at the same example we used earlier--Page C > Page B > Page A > Exit-- for which pages would this session be part of the exit rate denominator? Page A? Yes. Page B? Yes. Page C? Yes. All of them! Why? Because at any point in that session, the user could have exited. Now, if there is a Page D, this session would NOT be included in its denominator; the user can't exit from page D if they never visit page D.

Now that we know how to count bounces and exits, and how to identify the denominators for each rate, we can practice calculating the bounce and exit rate. All we need to do is divide the number of bounces or exits by the number of potential bounces or exits. Easy!

Some Examples

For the next few examples, let's use the following five sessions:

Session 1: Page D > Exit

Session 2: Page B > Page A > Page C > Exit

Session 3: Page B > Exit

Session 4: Page D > Page B > Exit

Session 5: Page A > Page B > Page D > Page C > Exit

First, let's count the bounces. Since we know a bounce is when only one webpage is visited, and then an exit, how many bounces are there in those five sessions? The answer is two: session 1 and session 3. In each of those sessions, which page 'got' the bounce? Page D in session 1 and page B in session 3, right?

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