High bounce rates are making an unwelcome return – so what’s happening and what can you do about it?
There’s no doubt about it; high bounce rates are back – and back with a vengeance. But this time with new underlying causes that retailers are just beginning to understand and starting to tackle.
Where has the problem come from?
Well the truth is that one of the underlying causes has been there for a while, as we have become used to seeing bounce rates on mobile at 150-200% of those on desktop. It’s the shift in traffic to mobile, with some retailers now seeing mobile mix as high as 70-80%, that has turned these higher mobile bounce rates into a commercial headache
Recent evidence has proved that sluggish mobile page download times are a prime culprit and, ironically, also lead to bounce rate being under-reported, as users abandon mobile pages even before the Google Analytics tag is fired. So it turns out that the problem is even worse than we thought..
It’s no surprise then, that there is currently significant focus on delivering improvements in mobile page download speeds to solve this issue, which has led to a number of interesting initiatives, including the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project and the move towards Progressive Web Apps. All good stuff.
However, there’s more to the bounce problem than this and, over the last six months we’ve noticed that some retailers’ mobile bounce rates have been creeping up at a pace that simply can’t be accounted for by the site speed issue.
Dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that the problem is predominantly with product details pages and specifically where users land directly on those pages, rather than navigate to them from elsewhere on the site (where bounce rates look more like the site average).
Where it occurs, this phenomenon exists to some extent across all marketing channels where users are landed directly on a product details page, including email and affiliates, but has a particularly detrimental effect on the performance of retailers’ most expensively acquired traffic – paid search and, in particular, Google Shopping.
So what’s going on?
Well, it’s not as complicated as you might think.
In the traditional journey, users navigate from the homepage or other landing pages to product listings pages (PLPs) before viewing individual product details pages (PDPs). This means that users have the opportunity to understand and evaluate the brand and its retail proposition, the overall range assortment and pricing, before even starting to consider individual products.
From a behavioural point of view on mobile, there’s now a well established pattern – users quickly navigate to the category they are interested in, once on the PLP they invest time filtering to refine their selection, before starting to view PDPs. If they get onto a PDP and don’t like the look of the product, they simply swipe right to return to the PLP to try again, until they have found what they are looking for. It’s at this point they are most likely to engage with deeper PDP content.
In general, the “traditional” PDP performs well in this context and optimisation can make it even better, where improving image gallery interactions, making product information easier to consume, integrating brand content and reinforcing social proof can all improve engagement and conversion.
Consider though, how different the user journey is when it starts on the PDP itself. For example, with Google search and Google Shopping, users (typically) enter a generic search term and are then presented with a list of specific products, offered by a range of retailers. Tap on any of these and the user is straight onto a retailer’s PDP.
We’ve seen what happens next repeatedly in the lab. Users land directly on the PDP and, if it’s not exactly the product they’re looking for and it’s not immediately obvious how to do anything else, as in the example below (with my apologies to the Homebase team), they instinctively swipe right, straight back to where they came from (in this example Google Shopping) and select another product. Boing.
Clearly then, the “traditional” PDP, conceived and refined for an entirely different browsing journey, simply isn’t fit for purpose as a direct point of entry to the site, where it doesn’t meet either the user needs or the retailer’s objectives.
Beautiful imagery, compelling features and benefits and great reviews? If it’s not actually the product I’m looking for, none of that stuff matters.
How to get PDP bounce under control
The goal is simple. Any solution has to make it easier for users who have landed directly on a PDP, but don’t like the product featured, to see more products. Even easier than swiping right.
A relatively simple aim then, but not necessarily a simple solution.
Firstly, we know that improving the discoverability of other similar items in the category is useful. That includes, for instance, making “see next” and “more like this” options more obvious, adding simple navigation options, upweighting and adapting breadcrumbs and so on.
But we also know that relatively small changes such as these can make a big difference on mobile and it’s essential that they don’t undermine the performance of the PDP in its traditional role, which is still important. So it’s absolutely critical that any changes are A/B tested thoroughly before implementation.
In reality though, a single solution that meets two entirely different sets of user needs will always be a compromise and possibly one too far.
So a more sustainable solution and the way to deliver the optimum commercial outcome, is to present an adapted version of the PDP to users who land directly on that page, thus meeting their specific needs.
How this differs from the traditional PDP can range from presenting much bolder navigation options, encouraging the user to continue their journey on the site, presenting alternative product options in a much more obvious way and ultimately creating entirely different page layouts that provide more radical solutions.
Prototyping, user testing and A/B testing are essential steps towards getting this right, as is delivering these adapted pages to users only in the right context, using your testing/personalisation tools.
Ultimately though, dealing with this issue will require creativity and a lot of experimentation – because the right approach differs from retailer to retailer and product category to category.
However you approach this issue – two things are certain: Finding the right solution is going to take quite a bit of effort, but the rewards for doing so make it well worth it, as it will make a difference to ROI across all of your marketing channels.
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