How to Track (and Reduce) Website Exits: Your Guide to Bounces, Back Buttons and Outbound Clicks

By Andy Crestodina

As you read this sentence, visitors are flowing through your website. In a trickle or a flood, they’re dropping in from various traffic sources, clicking links and buttons and moving through your content.

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 marketers 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.

exit clicks chart

1. Back button clicked …on an article

Impact: No big deal 😐

They searched. You ranked. They clicked. They landed. They read and then left.

It was a one-page visit, which is the common definition of a bounce. Bounces are perfectly normal and when the source is organic and the landing page is content marketing, it’s nothing to worry about.

But it could affect SEO. There are really two kinds of bounces from search: the short click and the long click. They are different user interaction signals for the search engine.

The difference is “dwell time.” That’s how long they spent on the page after clicking on the search listing.

  • A low-dwell time bounce is a signal to the search engine that the page was unsatisfying. Sometimes called pogo-sticking.
  • A high-dwell time bounce is still a one-page visit, but it’s a signal to the search engine that the page is good.

Dwell time isn’t actually a metric in Google Analytics, but you can find it (and bounce rate) if you know where to look. Go to your Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report, set an “Organic Traffic” segment and (in this case) filter for blog posts.

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.

The bounce rate for these pages may look astronomical. 95% is far above the 61% average bounce rates for websites. But there’s no need to worry. The source is organic search so it costs you nothing. And the visitor had low intent anyway.

You answered their question, then they bounced. They didn’t subscribe to your newsletter, but maybe they shared the article. Maybe they’ll think of you later.

But because user interaction signals are a search ranking factor, we should still work to keep the visitor and to defend our future rankings. Take a minute to improve the page, especially in ways that make it more visual, more scannable.

  • Add images (especially charts and diagrams)
  • Add formatting (short paragraphs, bullets, subheads, bolding)
  • Add a contributor quote
  • Add research and statistics
  • Embed a video (it doesn’t have to be something you recorded)
  • Add depth and detail
  • Add internal links (these can actually lower the bounce rate!)

Unsurprising, longer pages tend to have a longer time on page. Here’s a quick scatter plot of our top 50 articles.

content length time on page correlation

Besides, there are often your highest-traffic pages. People are dropping by. Why not tidy up a bit?

2. Back button clicked …on a PPC landing page

Impact: Huge problem 😥

You paid for this traffic, so every bounce is lost money. It’s a failure to capitalize on your investment. Do everything in your power to lower this bounce rate.

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

bounce rate on paid campaigns

The first step in reducing bounce rates from PPC or social ads is to 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

Impact: Not good 🙁

This visitor was looking for help, not just advice. If they came from organic search, you didn’t pay for them, but they were still an opportunity to convert them into a lead or customer.

This visitor searched for a “buyer-related keyphrase.” They likely intended to buy or to become a lead.

But the page 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.

As before, we could use the Site Content > Landing Pages report with an organic segment. But there’s another way.

Go to the Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages report. (If the report is blank, you’ll need to first connect Search Console with Analytics. Here’s how). This time, instead of filtering for just blog content, we’ll exclude the blog content 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? Anything interesting? Surprised at how many people

bounce rate on service pages

Use the average bounce rate for this dataset as a benchmark. It’s at the top of the bounce rate column, The under-performers will stand out immediately. Next, take a close look at those pages and ask some tough questions:

  • How does it compare to the other high ranking pageses for the keyphrase or topic?
  • Does this page quickly and clearly name the product or service? Its benefits?
  • Does this page include detailed information? Answer the top questions?
  • Does it show people and personality?
  • Does this page build trust? Does it offer evidence to support its claims?
  • Is there a clear, obvious call to action?
  • Are there any distractions? Any unnecessarily visual noise?

A lot of pages are just so similar to the competition, the lack of difference creates a lack of interest. Why wouldn’t they bounce? It’s just another marketing page.

So take a minute to polish it up. Little things can make the difference between a quick bounce and a warm lead.

Need ideas? Take some from our checklist for B2B service pages.

checklist anatomy service page

4. Closed the tab …on the thank you page

Impact: Great news! 😃

A visit to the thank you page is the definition of success. In fact, the goal of digital marketing is to build a bridge from a traffic source to your thank you page.

An exit from this page 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.

exits on thank you pages

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.

Notice how the exit rate from some of the pages on the chart above are below 50%. How is that possible?

Offer more content and more conversions on your thank you pages. There are at least 15 ways to get more from your thank you pages. Any of these will lower that exit rate.

5. Closed the tab …on the contact page (or shopping cart)

Impact: Not good 🙁

An exit from the contact page is sad because this person could have converted into a lead, but they didn’t fill out the contact form and proceed to the thank you page.

But it’s not necessarily bad. There are many cases where a contact page exit may still be a success:

  • The visitor called (tracked as a conversion only if you have call tracking software or event tracking on a phone number tap for mobile visitors)
  • The visitor came for the address or directions
  • The visitor came to see hours of operation
  • The page offers a path to another type of conversion (see open jobs, make a reservation, fill out a support ticket, chat with an associate, etc.)

You can spot these exits in your Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualization report.

contact exits

If there’s a problem with this page, it should be addressed first, before any other marketing efforts proceed. This comes first on the “where-to-start-your-digital-marketing” list.

How to plug this leaky funnel? Any of these improvements may 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. Conventional wisdom is that fewer fields lead to higher conversion rates. (I’m actually skeptical of this because of auto-complete features in the browser)
  • Add a “kicker” statement, such as “we’ll be in touch within 24 hours”

What about shopping cart exits?

This is a huge problem.

Nothing hurts more in ecommerce than an abandoned cart. These are the most expensive exits. For ecommerce, the funnel visualization report can show a multi-step checkout process, making it a “step drop off” report or “cart abandonment” report.

shopping cart abandonment

If there are a lot of exits from your shopping cart, it’s time for some ecommerce soul searching.

  • Answer questions earlier
    Is the cart the first time you’re showing price, shipping cost, shipping time or tax information? If so, try moving this information upstream in the visitor flow.
  • Reduce friction
    Is this an easy process? Or are there roadblocks? Are you forcing visitors to take steps that they don’t want to take? (such as create an account before buying)
  • Build confidence
    Does this cart look secure? Does it convey trust? Can you remove any distractions? Create any urgency?

Improving the ecommerce checkout process is the shortest path to more revenue.

6. Closed the tab …on your site’s own search results page

Impact: Not good 🙁

A visitor uses your site search box because they couldn’t find something in the navigation or on the page. After searching, they may leave the site because they couldn’t find it on your search results page. This is a problem.

To see what visitors are typing into your search box, check out the Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms report. If you’ve set up site search tracking in Google Analytics, it will show you everything people have searched for. It looks like this:

search terms

But did the visitor actually find what they searched for? Look under the % Search Exits column. It shows what percentage of searches for each term left the search results page without clicking.

It’s like The Report of Broken Dreams.

search exits

There are three main reasons people leave the website from a search results page:

  1. The website doesn’t have the content they’re looking for (content gap)
  2. The website has the content but it isn’t ranking in the search results (keyphrase mismatch or problem with site search tool)
  3. The visitor sees the answer right there in the search results page without clicking (in the example above, the visitor is looking for a bank’s routing number, which is visible in the search results)

The fixes for each are obvious. Don’t have the content they’re looking for? Make it! Have the content but it isn’t ranking? Optimize it!

7. Outbound link clicked …on an article

Impact: No big deal 😐

The reason you wrote that article (and the reason I wrote this one) is to attract and help a visitor.

The reason you linked to that other website (and the reason I link to other websites from here) is to help them even more.

Don’t hoard your visitors. Help them. If you can make your article better by adding an outbound link, don’t hesitate to do so. The best links are to supportive research, examples, image source links and related how-to resources.

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 violate blogging etiquette.

Are people clicking those exit links?

Probably, not a lot. But to find out, you can  set up event tracking to track outbound link clicks.

Once done, you can see all those exit clicks in the Behavior > Events > Top Events report. Set “Event Label” as the primary dimension…

See anything interesting? 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
  • Ask them to link to your site or quote you in something they’re writing
  • Become an affiliate for their services?

8. Outbound link clicked …to convert on another site (buy, register, donate)

Impact: Great news! 😃

Sometimes, success and failure look very similar. When the conversion is on another website, an exit may be just what you were hoping for. An outbound link click may be a victory!

Here are some common types of conversions that happen on other websites.

  • Register for an event (Eventbrite or similar)
  • Apply for a job (JazzHR or similar)
  • Donate (NeonOne or similar)
  • Buy a book or other product (Amazon or similar)
  • Subscribe to a podcast (iTunes or similar)

These are all exits and successful ones.

Sometimes, you can track these off-site successes with cross domain tracking. Sometimes you can’t.

When you can’t, you can at least measure how many people clicked that off-site call to action with outbound link event tracking. This will show you how many people clicked on that CTA.

Here’s an example…

The page for our book, Content Chemistry, gives you three ways to buy: from our distributor, from Amazon and from Barnes and Noble. All these links take you off of the website.

Which gets clicked the most? With the event tracking in place, we check the Behavior > Events > Pages report for this page (with the primary dimension set to “Event Label”) to find the answer.

As with any call to action, once you’ve benchmarked the clickthrough rate, you can start testing ideas to improve it. Try any of these seven tips for getting more clicks. They can make a huge difference.

9. Social icon clicked …in the footer

Impact: No big deal 😐

Q: Why would you send your visitors to a social media network?

A: Because your website is so horrid that your social media profiles are actually a better brand experience.

Generally, you don’t want your visitors to pack their bags and head over to a social network. Those visitors rarely return. That’s because social networks are amazingly good at keeping their visitors. The second they land on your company’s social profile, they’ll see notifications, distractions and ads.

They ain’t coming back.

Are your social icons getting clicked? Use the same outbound link tracking set up in Google Tag Manager with the events report in Google Analytics. There’s your answer.

Divide the pageviews on the page by the total number clicks on social icons to find the clickthrough rate. Ideally, it’s below 2%.

Any actions to take? It’s a question of how to properly integrate social media. Here are a few tips:

  • Confirm that the social network opens in a new tab
  • Remove social icons of any networks where you are not genuinely active
  • So move your social media icons to the very bottom of the visual hierarchy. That means make them small, colorless and low on the page, in the bottom of the footer. If they want it, they know where to find it.

Big, prominent social media icons are on our list of the top 15 things to remove from your website.

All good visits must come to an end

You can’t keep them on your site forever!

If your website were a city, there would be roads and highways flowing through it. Each link and button we offer is an intersection. When it’s an outbound link, it’s an exit ramp.

And the one turn that every visitor can make at any time is the back button. It’s the one feature common to every website.

It’s up to us to know the traffic flows. We can see it in two places: the navigation summary report and the user flow report. But the roads out of town aren’t in these reports.

Go ahead and add that exit ramp and let your visitors take off out of town. But do so deliberately.

Know where the exits are, how popular they are and then decide if they’re a problem.

There is more where this came from…

The best articles from this blog are available all in one place – our book. Now on it’s 6th edition.

Content Chemistry, The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing, is packed with practical tips, real-world examples, and expert insights. A must-read for anyone looking to build a content strategy that drives real business impact. Check out the reviews on Amazon.

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