Where did my Bounce Rate go?? Meet Engaged Sessions in GA4
Bounce rate is a metric that’s mentioned a lot when discussing user engagement, but it’s not necessarily the beating pulse for a site’s health that it’s sometimes made out to be. This is in large part due to the fundamental changes with how websites are designed today (vs 10-15 years ago when GA was a much newer tool for website analysis) and how users interact with them. Google Analytics has recently replaced bounce rate with a new form of measuring user engagement. Here’s what you need to know.
What Bounce Rate Represents
A “bounce” is recorded whenever a user visits a single page on your site or app without interacting more deeply.
But Bounce Rate generally only tells you that there is a problem, while deeper digging is required to find the reason your visitors may have bounced. It could be an issue with your content not providing appropriate value to your prospective visitors, but it could just as easily be a problem with pages that are slow, broken links, or content that hasn’t been designed to be responsive. Despite this, bounce rate has managed to be one of the de facto standards for measuring engagement at a glance for roughly a decade.
As a reminder, here is what Bounce Rate looks like in Universal Analytics:
Why Bounce Rate Was Phased Out in Google Analytics 4
The problem with bounce rate is that it’s not a terribly effective indicator for actual user engagement, and it’s becoming less so as the way we interact with the web is changing. As more users interact with the sites using their phones and other devices that aren’t PCs or laptops, things like single page apps have become a much more popular choice for site development. Since these types of pages don’t require click-through for interactivity, bounce rates can actually offer highly inaccurate conclusions about how effectively you’re engaging with your visitors.
Further complicating matters is the fact that not all content is designed to drive traffic to do more than just look. If your landing page is designed to provide your users with all the information they need in a quick snapshot or you’re operating a news periodical site, a high bounce rate could actually be a priority rather than a liability. And with more retailers using a combination of service pages and long-form blogs, the amount of interaction you want is likely to vary depending on the content of the page. While bounce rates could once be used as a diagnostic for identifying where to start hunting for a problem, they’re now just as likely to send you on a wild goose chase.
Due to these reasons, users have done their best to hack their way into a more accurate bounce rate, for example, by using a event in Universal Analytics such as scroll tracking that could then capture activity on the site and prevent the session from being considered a bounce. Even these types of hacks though don’t necessarily give you a good understanding of true site engagement.
How an Engaged Session is Different From Bounce Rate
GA4 has removed bounce rate entirely as a metric from the interface, and instead replaced it with a new metric that offers deeper insight into the actual behaviors of page visitors. “Engaged sessions” serve as an inversion of bounce rate — measuring active interaction rather than a lack of it — and in doing so, they allow you to form a more nuanced understanding of how visitors interact with your content. Engaged sessions are recorded when users stay on your site for a period longer than 10 seconds, view one or more pages, or trigger a conversion event. Conversion events can cover a wide variety of different points of interactivity that can range from using a site’s search bar to signing up for an email newsletter to following the site on social media.
The result is a more fully formed understanding of the customer experience, and one that can help you better structure your website design and optimization strategy. Engaged sessions can tell you if your customers are interacting with each page the way you want, and it can give you a bigger picture understanding of what they come to your site looking for. Engagement rate, engaged sessions, and engagement times can all be found in the same table reports in GA4 where bounce rates used to live.
Check out the video I recorded covering this topic on YouTube:
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