The metric “Bounce Rate” ran the show in Google Analytics for a decade. If a site had a high Bounce Rate, it seemed to be unequivocally doomed for businesses (fortunately, this isn’t the case.) So naturally, this metric got a bad rap, and when Google Analytics 4 rolled out in the fall of 2020, Bounce Rate was nowhere to be found. Finally, however, there was a new kid on the block, and “Engagement Rate” showed up as the shiny, improved replacement. What was once a vague, problematic metric now had the potential to give analysts a more in-depth understanding of visitor engagement. But that also comes with a caveat … we’ll explain further below.

What is Bounce Rate Exactly?

Let’s go over the basics: when a user views a page and then exits, a “bounce” occurs. This was the primary metric used for years to measure user engagement in older versions of Google Analytics. But it caused a lot of friction — it was static, only applying to traditional websites and ignoring mobile apps. The metric is also tricky because it is manipulatable through “interactive events,” which is essentially any activity a user makes on the page, such as form submissions, file downloads, button clicks, etc. These events are considered in the bounce rate metric (more on this later). To sum it up, the bounce rate is worrisome because it’s not a clear marker of the success of a site. For example, a user could come to the site by mistake for five seconds, or someone could get hungry and leave to grab a snack, or a prospective customer is there — bounce rate is not able to delineate what is actually happening on a site, it’s merely covering traffic. 

Image by Olivier Le Moal

Peace Out, Bounce Rate

Google realized Bounce Rate wasn’t cutting it, so they created three metrics under Engaged Sessions. Unlike bounce rate, now, we can look at short-term visitor behavior, which could be very useful for conversion optimization and increased revenue. For a visit to be measured, the user must stick around on the site for at least 10 seconds, make an attempt at a conversion, or look at multiple pages. With all of these user behaviors occurring, Google accumulates data for Engagement Time, Engaged Sessions Per Use, and Engagement Rate. So long, bounce rate.

Hello, Engaged Sessions 

Now that Google Analytics 4 looks at mobile app and desktop data together, we can look at a broader range of user experiences. So, everything’s solved now, correct? Not so fast. Even though engagement rate tracks sites like blogs and news sites and mobile apps — not to mention measures a more diverse range of data than bounce rate — it’s still manipulatable by those pesky events we talked about earlier. That’s right; technically, we still can’t pinpoint a true bounce on a site, which leads to our next point: your engagement rate could still be low or too high for many reasons. For example, there’s only one way to be contacted, or the event could be misconfigured and fired too many times. The world of user engagement is not a black and white one — it’s grey and requires nuanced understanding.

Nobody’s Perfect, Including Google

If you’re leaving feeling disillusioned by Engagement Rate, we’re sorry. Unfortunately, Google has yet to find the perfect answer to the perplexing question that is: “Are users engaged with my site?”.  On a positive note, we can use metrics from Engaged Sessions as a troubleshooting tool rather than a KPI. Engagement Rate is not the end-all, be-all we would like it to be, but it can lead us to important questions that will further our SEO and CRO journeys. We suggest focusing on conversions and drilling down on the event triggers before blaming bounce rate or engagement rate.