Why they’re leaving: How to keep students on your page and lower bounce rate

Posted: September 30, 2020

Reading time: 4 minutes

“I came, I puked, and I left.” 

That’s how web analytics authority, Avinash Kaushik, describes bounce rates. While he is certainly correct, there is still a widespread misconception marketers hold about this popular metric.

In higher education, prospective students rank an institution’s website as one of the most useful tools on their enrollment journey. So, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that a high bounce rate means a poor user experience. 

Don’t be fooled. As with any metric in the world of web analytics, the meaning is determined by the context. 

What Is A Bounce Rate?

First, let’s set the definition straight. 

A “bounce” is when a user comes to your website, looks at one page, and leaves. If that same user leaves after visiting multiple pages, that’s not a bounce. That’s an exit (measured by an exit rate). 

Bounce rates apply only to sessions that start and end with only one page. And they often don’t reflect other indicators of strong engagement, such as average session duration. 

To Bounce or not to Bounce

Conventional wisdom will tell you that a site-wide bounce rate of 40%-60% is good for content-heavy sites, like those found in higher education. This is an oversimplification. Sometimes, a high bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing. To truly understand what your bounce rates mean, start by focusing on the goal of each page on your website. 

You might have a content-heavy event page or news story, where the goal is for users to find everything they need on one page. Alongside other metrics, like high session volume and extended duration, a bounce rate of 60-70% (or possibly even higher) may indicate that your page is achieving its goal. 

Define the Goal for Each Page 

Different pages have different goals. Therefore, the implications of your bounce rate will vary for each one. 

For example, the main goal of a recruitment-focused page is to start a conversation with prospective students. In that context, you don’t want users to bounce. You want them to fill out a request for information form; send an email; submit an application. To achieve your goals, maintaining a low bounce rate alongside a high conversion rate is crucial. 

So, how do you keep students from leaving?

With inviting content. Fluid navigation. Innovative design. There are countless factors that go into making it as easy as possible for prospects to raise their hand and express interest. However, if your call-to-action (CTA) is weak, they will leave. 

Why? Because in their mind, there is no next step to take. 

Your CTA Must Be Clear

In our web redesign work for Troy University, we leveraged bold fonts and concise CTAs to help their admission page boost engagement.

For the College of Dupage, our homepage design placed the CTA front and center.

In each CTA, we spelled out the payoff beside the CTA, so users will know at-a-glance what’s in it for them. 

Reaching a Moving Target

In the oversaturated online space, one of the greatest challenges is to hold the interest of many different audiences. And depending on who you’re targeting, attention spans will vary. Generation Z students may prefer to scan and swipe. Non-traditional adult learners may want to linger over the information they find. In fact, studies show that long-form content often performs best in terms of search engine visibility. 

They Will Do What Feels Natural

Regardless, your visitors all expect an easy, intuitive user experience. Each component on your web page must be intentional in meeting their needs. Prospective students will leave your page when the act of leaving itself feels natural. 

There is a school of thought in Taoist literature that defines effectiveness as the absence of unnatural movement.

To ensure your website is effective in moving leads further down the enrollment funnel, each page must make the next-step action – the email, the RFI, the form-fill, and so forth –  feel effortless.

Finding Truth in the Numbers

Keeping your audience on your website is more than lowering bounce rates as the definitive measure of success. It all comes down to using the right data to inform real improvements.

Establish a holistic measurement strategy that aligns your web analytics with page-specific goals and meaningful engagement outcomes. Once you understand the story behind your data, you’ll find solutions hidden in plain sight. 

VisionPoint Marketing has extensive experience helping higher ed institutions use data to make better marketing decisions. Josh himself has taught web analytics to over 500 higher ed marketing professionals since 2001. If you have questions or want to start a conversation about how we can help – especially in terms of any of the tactical recommendations in this article – please visit our website or reach out to our team. We’re on a mission to help higher ed institutions succeed.