Directions of Exit in relation to bounce rate

This is from the SEO Theory newsletter by Michael Martinez.

So far as I know no one has written about this concept using the expression “direction of exit”. It’s really something I should (and probably will) write about on the SEO Theory blog but I share it here with all of you first.

SPECIAL NOTICE: You have my permission to share this article (not the whole newsletter) on your blogs or in SEO presentations/webinars. All I ask is that you give me proper attribution if you heard it here first. If you summarize the information I’ll still appreciate a mention.

There are four ways a visitor can leave a Web page:

  1. They click deeper into your site
  2. They click away from your site (to another site)
  3. They close the browser window
  4. They click on the BACK button

These are the four “Directions of Exit”. Although intuitively most people have acknowledged these four directions of exit in various ways through the years, I have never seen anyone discuss how they impact the interpretation of “Bounce Rate” data in analytics.

Bounce Rates are complex things. If you really want to analyze bounce rates properly you have to add to the documented complexity and try to determine the directions of exit from a given page because all four directions can be interpreted as bounces.

For example, if a user clicks through to a deeper page on your site that does not contain your analytics code (such as an order form or — if they land directly on the order form and use it — a “thank you” page) that user’s visit appears to last 0 seconds and consists of 1 page view. Most analytics software (maybe all) would classify this as a “bounce”. Some analytics software might try to look at what the user clicked on (the Javascript would have to be configured to record clicks).

Also, if a user clicks away from your site (or just enters a new URL in the browser address bar) the analytics software is again left with only a 1-page visit of indeterminate length.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to detect directions of exit. You can ensure that your analytics code is on every page of your site, including order forms and thank you pages (this should be done for conversion analysis and goal tracking anyway). You can also try to record clicks but that might slow down performance. I’m not sure how Google Analytics does that. A sophisticated log file analyzer should be able to track a user’s IP address by click path (HTTP-ANALYZE and WEBALIZER cannot do this).

I do not share many SEOs’ concerns about high bounce rates. I explain many reasons why in my SEO Theory article but the four directions of exit are also an important reason in their own regard.

– Michael Martinez

I am posting this because I cannot find it indexed anywhere yet – lets see if anyone else ends up listing it too!