Why It’s Hard to Use Page Exit Rates
This is the second post in a series about how to use metrics in Google Analytics to understand how your website is performing. As a follow up to the post about using bounce rate to justify a website update, I was going to write about how analyzing page exit rates can also provide rationale. But after doing thorough research, I was unable to provide logical justification for why exit rates alone should be used to determine whether or not a website is doing its job. Why? Because context is everything, and without it, metrics like exit rate can easily become meaningless or misleading.
‘What’s the big takeaway here? You have to think critically about the big picture and take into account many different factors before you can understand the role of any data set. Google Analytics metrics are not always as simple as pre-made, self-serve insights. Getting actionable intelligence often requires some deeper thinking. I’ll explain why.
Exit Rate vs. Bounce Rate
I started looking at exit rates as a way for marketers to communicate the relative success of their website. The exit rate is the percentage of pageviews that were the last in the session. This simply means how often a page is the last page a person visits before leaving. Users have to exit your website somewhere. This is different from bounce rate, which does not have to happen. Bounce rate is the percentage of times users visit one page and one page only, leaving right after that. Bounce rate is for one-page sessions.
At first, it may seem like a bad thing for people to be exiting your website. But wait. Remember everyone has to exit at some point. What’s more important for your company is to understand the who, what, where, and why.
Here are 5 things to consider when interpreting your exit rate:
1. Who is exiting?
It’s risky business looking at aggregate data for exit rates. You would need to have specific audience segmentations to get a better idea of why users are exiting and whether or not this is a bad thing. For example, your competitors may come to certain pages and check things out, but never convert. You wouldn’t want to make strategic decisions based off of their website behavior. Similarly, you may have a considerable segment of traffic from people interested in careers at your company. Their objectives, and consequently their behavior, can be quite different from the objectives of potential customers. It’s all about understanding user intent when determining whether or not a page’s exit rate is cause for alarm.
2. What type of page is it?
Remember how everybody has to leave your website at some point? Well, if people must leave, you want it to be when they have gotten the information they are looking for or completed the action you wanted them to do. Consider the exit rate for pages such as content download pages or contact pages. Once someone has completed the form, they have accomplished what they needed to do. They don’t need to stay. However, if you have a high exit rate on important pages that would affect the completion of the desired goal, this may be cause for concern. For example, consider the impact of a high exit rate in the checkout process of an ecommerce site. Also consider other situations, such as websites with a single, scrolling page. That one page will have a high exit rate because it’s the only page you can leave from.
3. Is the page providing value to your audience?
High exit rates may indicate that for some reason your audience isn’t finding value in the page content. This could be because your content is low-quality, fluffy nonsense. It could be because there are broken links, images, or features. It could be because the information is outdated and no longer accurate. If your content is not relevant to your audience, people will not feel compelled to stay. On the flipside, if your content is providing value and people are happy and satisfied, they may also leave. So exit rate does not necessarily indicate that a page has low value. Consider, for example, someone who wants to look up the hours of a local restaurant to see if they are open. Once they find out the restaurant is open, they can exit the page and go visit the restaurant. This is a case where exit rate does not necessarily indicate anything bad, and in fact may be good. It simply doesn’t tell us enough to draw any definitive conclusions from exit rate alone.
4. Does the page fulfill expectations?
People may exit if your page sets certain expectations (i.e. in the headline or linking page), but does not deliver on them. Make sure your headlines and descriptions are accurate and set the user up to find what they’re looking for. However, again, exit rate does not necessarily present a linear model of “if this, then that.” A high exit rate doesn’t necessarily mean the page didn’t fulfill expectations. Similar to the question of whether or not the page provides value, if a page does fulfill expectations and is also able to give users what they need, then it’s perfectly fine to have people exit. We’re facing the same conundrum: high exit rate alone doesn’t tell us enough about what is happening, why it’s happening, when, with which users, etc.
5. Are you using compelling CTAs?
You can’t expect people to go through much effort to interact with your website. People usually take the path of least resistance and this can often mean leaving a website altogether. Unless you provide a blindly obvious path, people may be inclined to leave. One way to keep people from exiting is to give them a reason to stay. Just be mindful that people do have to leave at some point. Understanding user flows and where people are in their journey is important. People may not be ready to purchase on their first visit. Give them a CTA to subscribe to a newsletter or to follow your company on social media. Early on in the customer journey the goal is to get people to keep interacting with you. The opportunity here is to identify pages with high exit rates where there is potential to keep users further engaged.
Exit rate alone cannot tell you whether or not your website is performing. If you want to better understand the efficacy of your website, you need to be able to look at the big picture to understand how your website fits into your overall business strategy. Identify the role of your website in accomplishing business objectives, and understand how this relates to your audience(s) and their needs.