The Complete Guide to Website Exits, Bounces and Goodbyes

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Andy Crestodina
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As you read this, visitors are flowing through your website. In a trickle or a flood, they’re coming in through traffic sources, then moving through your navigation and internal links to your pages.

But where does the flow dry up? When do visitors leave? Where do they go?

If you can’t answer these questions, you’re not alone. Most website owners can’t. But you’re missing some key insights and opportunities.

Once you know WHERE and WHEN visitors leave, you can better understand WHY they go and HOW to keep them a little longer.

Here’s a guide to understanding website exits of all kinds.

The 3 main types of website exits

All good visits must come to an end eventually. You can’t keep your visitors forever! There are three main ways that visitors say goodbye:

  1. The back button on the first page they visit (a bounce)
  2. Typing in another address directly into the address bar, or closing the browser tab
  3. Clicking on an exit link or button on one of your pages

Each of these might be no big deal or a huge disaster. Here is a guide for understanding happy and unhappy farewells.

Tip! The most popular flow of visitors is your “top path.” Knowing where this river is going is called user flow analysis, and it’s key to website optimization.

The Back Button: They didn’t find what they were looking for.

The back button is the one thing every website has in common. If it gets clicked on the first page they visit, this is called a bounce (actually, it may not be a bounce, which we’ll explain in a bit)

Not all bounces are equal. Here are some ways to measure bounces and understand the good and bad.

1. Back button clicked …on an article that the visitor found by searching Google.

Impact: Not a problem

They were happy to find you. You answered their question, they stayed for a nice long visit, then they bounced back to their search results. They didn’t subscribe to your newsletter, but maybe they shared the article. Maybe they’ll think of you later.

To see these harmless exits, go to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages, then filter to see just your blog posts. Unlike the All Pages report, this report just shows visitors from search, which is useful here.

Like all the reports in this section, you’ll need to connect Analytics to Search Console first (video instructions here).

Note: Viewing just the blog posts is easy if all of your blog posts are in a directory. It’s also possible to do this if the posts are in a subdirectory. Learn more about how your website works with (or against) Analytics.

If the page is a post and the source is search, don’t worry too much. They came to your site for a single purpose. You didn’t want them to bounce, but it didn’t hurt you that they did. It was still brand awareness. It was nice that they dropped by.

2. Back button clicked …on a landing page that the visitor arrived at by clicking an ad

Impact: Huge problem

You paid for that visitor. Every bounce is a failure to capitalize on your investment. You should do everything possible to lower this bounce rate and reduce these exits!

Here’s how to measure bounce rates from ad campaigns. For AdWords, just go to Acquisitions > AdWords > Campaigns. To see them all, go to Acquisitions > Campaigns and add “Source / Medium” as a secondary dimension.

To reduce bounce rates from ads, make sure that the landing page uses the same words as the language in the ads. It’s part of the information scent and it’s key to keeping visitors on the trail.

3. Back button clicked …on a product or service page that the visitor arrived at after searching Google

Impact: Huge problem

This visitor was looking for help, not just advice. You didn’t pay for them, but they were still a big opportunity.

This visitor searched for a “buyer-related keyphrase.” They may have been ready to buy or to become a lead.

But the page they landed on didn’t impress them. They were confused or disappointed. They hit the back button seconds later, and they’re gone. This visit was a missed opportunity.

Here’s how to find these visitors in Analytics. Again, we’ll check the Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages report, but instead of filtering for blog content, we’ll exclude the blog using an advanced filter.

Now you’re looking at visits from search engines to your marketing pages. The bounce rate shows the percentage of people who came then left without seeing another page. See any surprises?

Generally, I’d say that a bounce rate of 50% or more isn’t good. But many well-optimized, high traffic sites may have much higher numbers. A good guideline is to compare the bounce rate of each page to the site average.

By using the average bounce rate for the entire website as a benchmark, you can easily find the under-performers. Now, take a close look at those pages and ask some tough questions:

  • Does this page look professional? Is it immediately impressive?
  • Does this page quickly and clearly state the benefit of the product or service?
  • Does this page offer detailed information answering common questions?
  • Does this page build trust? Does it offer evidence to support its claims?
  • Is there a clear, obvious call to action?
  • Are there any irrelevant distractions or added anxiety here?

See any opportunities? Any easy fixes? Little things can make the difference between a quick bounce and a warm lead.

The Closed Browser Tab: They left suddenly and completely.

Sometimes, the visitor just closes the browser tab or types another address into the address bar. Unlike the landing page bouncers, we don’t know as much about these people. But we do know one thing: where they left from.

Sometimes, these exits are fond farewells, and we don’t mind a bit. Other times, it’s a painful breakup. Here are examples:

4. The tab is closed …after the visitor became a lead or purchased a product

Impact: No problem

The thank you page is a success. And an exit from here is perfectly natural. Both you and the visitor declared victory and moved on.

To see these exits go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and filter for “thank you.” Look at the % Exit column.

The numbers will be high. But even here, all is not lost. These thank you pages are opportunities to keep that visitor a bit longer.

Offer more content and more conversions on your thank you pages. There are at least nine ways to get more from your thank you pages. Any of these will lower that exit rate!

5. The tab is closed …when the visitor was on the contact page, about to become a lead

Impact: BIG PROBLEM

An exit from the contact page is sad because this person could have converted into a lead. You can spot these in your Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualization report.

So sad. How can we plug this leaky funnel? Here are some ideas that might reduce the exit rate from your contact page:

  • Simplify the page, removing any distractions
  • Answer last minute questions. When will you respond to their request?
  • Add some personality, such as a picture of a team member
  • Shorten the contact form. I’ll never forget the day we doubled our conversion rate by cutting the number of fields in our contact form in half.

Actually, a high exit rate on contact pages is normal. Many visitors come here to find your address or phone number. Maybe they’re dialing your number now or on their way over. These are successful visits, even if they exited.

6. The tab is closed …on the shopping cart

Impact: Huge problem

Nothing hurts more in digital than an abandoned cart. These are the most expensive exits. For ecommerce (or any multi-step process) the funnel visualization report is also known as the “step drop off” report or “cart abandonment” report.

If there are a lot of exists from your shopping cart, something is wrong. Time for some ecommerce soul searching.

  • Can we provide key information sooner in the process? Is the cart the first time we’re showing price, shipping cost, shipping time or tax information? If so, try moving this information upstream in the visitor flow.
  • Is this an easy process? Or are there roadblocks? Are we forcing visitors to take steps that they don’t want to take? (such as create an account before buying)
  • Does this cart look secure? Does it convey trust?
  • Are there distractions here? Did we miss a chance to create urgency?

Improvements to an ecommerce checkout process is the shortest path to more revenue.

The Exit Links: You showed them the door and they opened it.

If you offer people a chance to leave, they just might take it. The exit may have been a call to action. You may have suggested that they go to another site. Is that a problem? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

7. The visitor clicks an exit link …to go take a desired action on another website

Impact: Super positive!

Registering for an event on Eventbrite, taking a survey on SurveyMonkey, buying a book on Amazon, subscribing to the podcast on iTunes. These are all exits and successful ones.

Sometimes, you can track these successes with cross domain tracking. Sometimes you can’t. When you can’t, you can use event tracking to measure exit link clicks. This will show you how many people clicked on that off-site call to action.

Example: The page for our book, Content Chemistry, gives you two ways to buy: direct from our distributor and from Amazon. Both links take you off of the website. Which gets clicked more? Once set up, the Behavior > Events > Pages report for this page (with the primary dimension set to “Event Label”) will show you.

8. The visitor clicks an exit link …on an article to go read supportive content

Impact: Not really a problem

Your purpose in writing the article (just like my purpose in writing this) is to attract a visitor and help them. Your purpose in linking to other websites (like my purpose in linking to other articles here) is to help that visitor even more.

Don’t hoard your visitors. Help them. If you can make your article better by linking to another article, do it. You’ll still benefit from all of the indirect benefits of content marketing.


Expert insight: Henneke duistermaat, Enchanting marketing

Good content marketing starts with an attitude of generosity, a sincere willingness to help your target audience. If that means sending them to another website to read valuable content, do it. Your generosity will be repaid in ways that might not be measurable; you might gain more respect, authority and goodwill, your visitor may come back at another time, and perhaps you might even gain a link back in the future. 


And of course, links are often citations. Always give credit to contributors and sources by linking to them. To do otherwise would be unethical.

Which of your exit links are people clicking? Again, we’ll need to set up event tracking first, but then we can see them all in the Behavior > Events > Top Events report. Set “Event Label” as the primary dimension and you’ll see them all…

Notice anything? Are you sending someone a ton of traffic? Demand tribute! Or at least reach out and offer to collaborate more deliberately. Here are a few ideas:

  • Suggest that they set up a welcome page for visitors from your site
  • Offer to partner on a mutually beneficial content project
  • Strength the call to action on your site, sending them fewer, but more targeted visitors.
  • Maybe they could link to your site or add a quote from you to something they’re publishing
  • Become an affiliate for their services

9. The visitor clicks an exit link …to go look at supportive evidence on another website

Impact: Not a big problem

Yes, if you won an award and the visitor to your service page clicks a button you made, sending them to the award site, this was probably a good thing.

But really, you didn’t want them to leave. They might get distracted there. They might see other providers who also won the award. This exit is a mixed bag.

10. The visitor clicks an exit link …to go to a social media website

Impact: Big problem

These visitors rarely return. Why? Those social networks are experts at keeping their visitors. So they fill their pages (and the landing page where you send your visitor) with related content and even ads.

Big, prominent social media links are one of 15 things you should remove from your website.

They ain’t coming back.

11. The visitor clicks an exit link …from the home page or a product or service page.

Impact: Huge problem

These visitors were in your sales funnel. They were headed into town, but they veered off onto an exit ramp. You put the exit there and you may not know how many people are taking it.

If the link wasn’t to anything that strengthens your brand, then it’s a negative. Sending visitors from your service pages off to articles isn’t helping your conversion rate. It’s a distraction.

Don’t lose your visitors!

It happens to all of us. But remember, not all exits are bad. Here are four high-value posts keep your visitors on your site and flowing well.

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Comments (3)
  • Do you think adding external links with target:blank is a good way to prevent exits?

    • That doesn’t prevent the exit and it will still record as an exit click in Analytics based on this setup. But it may help keep the visitor around a bit longer. I don’t have any data to support this, but I assume that if your site is still there in the background, the visitor is more likely to keep interacting!

  • Hi, Andy. These blogs are always so informative. I have a question that doesn’t relate to this particular blog. We are updating our meta data. But for some reason, Google seems to be automatically inserting before our meta title our company name and title–basically obliterating the title. Should this happen? Is there a way to prevent it? Thanks!

 
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