Web Metrics: Why Returning Visitors And Bounce Rate Are Important.

“I came; I puked, and I left.”

Web analytics can provide a substantial amount of information for both businesses and personal use. Creating a user-friendly website, using the right keywords, and optimizing for different mediums like mobile, tablet, and desktop are all very important, but to really know whether a site is successful or not the website traffic and engagement must be analyzed. Two metrics that are critical for success are returning visitors and bounce rate.

Returning Visitors

Returning visitors, which falls under the visitor characterization category, can be defined as the, “…number of unique visitors with activity consisting of a visit to a site during a reporting period and where the unique visitor also visited the site prior to the reporting period.” (WVU, 2016). This metric can be beneficial for businesses for several reasons, including brand loyalty. According to the Digital Analytics Association (2007), “The return visitor metric, when compared with the new visitor metric, is helpful in determining the overall loyalty and affinity of visitors to the site being analyzed.”

Before diving into new versus returning visitors, it’s important to know how the information is tracked. On Google Analytics, each visitor is given a tracking code or unique ID called the client ID, which is sent to the Google Analytics server (Sharma, 2015). This means that every time someone visits the website without an existing client ID they are counted as a new visitor. This ID is then used to track how the users’ interactions with the website. However, it’s important to note that if someone visits a website, leaves, decides to delete their ‘cookies’ which includes the client ID, and then returns to the website, this will then count as a new visitor rather than a returning visitor even though they were just on your site. It is also important to note that if a user leaves the website, but returns to the website within the same reporting period, they will not be counted as a new visitor (Digital Analytics Association, 2007).


Search Engine Watch, 2013

The image above shows just how important returning visitors can be for a website. In the graphic above, the returning visitors stayed on the website for an average of 30 minutes longer. Although the number of returning visitors was substantially less than the new visitors, the returning visitors had much better interaction data (Lewis, 2010). According to the Cam Foundation (2015), it generally costs at least five times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. If a business is able to find users that have returned to their website, it will be easier to isolate them and find out why they returned and what their engagement was on the website through the audience behavior metric. Once the metrics have been analyzed, businesses can take it even further by properly segmented visitors.


For example, when a returning visitors are arriving to the website directly (without referrals from other sites), a business can see which pages they are most likely to arrive on and what pages they have bookmarked. This information can then be used to create similar content, market or share that content more, or maybe even use that data to attract new visitors.

Bounce Rate

Bounce Rate, which falls under the engagement category, is defined as, “single page visits divided by entry pages” (WVU, 2016) or the rate at which new visitors visit your site and immediately click away without doing anything (Kissmetrics, 2010). Bounce rate is often confused with the page exit metric, which is number of exits from a page divided by total number of page views of that page (WVU, 2016). The main difference is that page exit ratio applies to all visits regardless of length whereas bounce rate is determined based off of time spent on a single page, group of pages, or site-wide (Digital Analytics Association, 2007). Avinash Kaushik said it best, bounce rate should be defined as, “I came; I puked, and I left.”


To know if the bounce rate on a website is good, it should be low. A lower bounce rate indicates that visitors are spending a longer amount of time on the page(s). According to Kissmetrics (2010), a high bounce rate can mean several things, including weak or irrelevant sources of traffic and landing pages that aren’t optimized for conversion (have a poor design, low usability or high load times). However, a high bounce rate may also mean that users have found the information that they are looking for and left the site. Also, if a website consists of only one page, this may be the reason for a high bounce rate as most analytic services do not register multiple pageviews unless users reload that page (Google, 2016). Blogs also see a higher bounce rate since visitors generally come to read the single article and then leave the website as there is no need to browse any further (Sharma, 2015).




Check out this image again. It is important to see how analytics can sort of tell a story and integrate with each other to develop and help guide the customer journey. As seen above, the returning visitors have a substantially lower bounce rate. However, the new visitors have a pretty high bounce rate of 66.44% and only spend about six and a half minutes on the pages on average. If a business wanted to gain new customers, one way they could do this is to see how the returning visitors are engaging on the website.

  • What are they landing on when visiting the site?
  • Is this something that should be the landing page for the new visitors?

Segmenting the data to determine why specific audiences have a high bounce rate would be very beneficial for a business.Maybe the new visitors are using other mediums such as mobile whereas returning visitors are more likely to visit on desktop. This sort of information could mean that maybe the mobile website is not user-friendly or optimized for mobile.

Both of these metrics are very important, but as mentioned above, analytics tell a story about how customers engage with the business. It’s essential to analyze all important data based on pre-determined goals to have a successful website.



Reed College of Media (2016). Week 1 lesson: Intro to web analytics and the basics of web analytics. West Virginia University. Retrieved from https://ecampus.wvu.edu/

Cheng, R. (2015). How loyal are your customers? This metric has the answer. Contently. Retrieved from https://contently.com/strategist/2015/08/18/how-loyal-are-your-customers-this-metric-has-the-answer/

Mostyn, S. (2015). Google analytics: 7 important audience metrics to track. Practical eCommerce. Retrieved from http://www.practicalecommerce.com/articles/116726-google-analytics-7-important-audience-metrics-to-track

Sharma, H. (2015). Understanding users in google analytics. Optimize Smart. Retrieved from https://www.optimizesmart.com/understanding-users-in-google-analytics/

Kissmetrics. (2015). The 8 most important conversion metrics you should be tracking. Retrieved from https://blog.kissmetrics.com/the-8-most-important-conversion-metrics-you-should-be-tracking/

Digital Analytics Association. (2007). Web analytics definitions. Retrieved from http://www.digitalanalyticsassociation.org/Files/PDF_standards/WebAnalyticsDefinitionsVol1.pdf

Google. (2016). Bounce rate. Retrieved from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1009409?hl=en

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