Bounce Rate vs Exit Rate Explained—The Department Store Analogy

Updated · Mar 06, 2023

It's no secret that the average attention span is shorter than it used to be.

In the world of TikTok and other instant gratification, if you can't capture a visitor’s attention in seconds, it’s likely they will just go somewhere else. 

This could be disastrous for ecommerce store owners, so let’s discuss one of the main metrics that measure a site’s ability to hold attention.

We’ll talk bounce rate, and a related and often confused term, exit rate.

Because these two terms are often confused and can be quite confusing even on their own, we’ll be discussing bounce rate vs exit rate through the use of an analogy, and try to avoid complicated formulas.

The Set-Up

Imagine a physical department store as a stand-in for your website. The store is made up of four departments—clothing, electronics, food, and DIY. 

The department store has one main entrance (your homepage) that leads to all four departments, but each department also has an entrance of its own (which could be search engine results or PPC ads leading to specific pages on your site).

With us so far?

Okay then.

Let’s go.

What Is Bounce Rate

A bounce rate is a metric used by webmasters to measure how often visitors to a website "bounce" back to the search engine results page after visiting one page on a site without clicking through to another page on the same site

In our analogy, this would be the same as a person walking into the department store, before instantly turning around and leaving. The bounce rate would be the number of visitors who instantly leave, divided by the number of total visitors. This gives a percentage. 

A high bounce rate indicates that visitors are not immediately finding what they're looking for on the site. This may be an indication that the site's content is not relevant to their needs. 

It could also mean that they’re entering the site in the wrong place, or the home page doesn’t clearly lead them to where they want to go.

It could even mean that the design of the website is offputting. Two out of three users prefer to browse a good-looking site.

Someone looking for clothing enters through the electronics section, but there are no signs indicating where anything else is, so they assume the store doesn’t have what they want and leave.

Instead of digging, a user would rather click back and click on the next search result hoping for instant gratification.

What Is Exit Rate

An exit rate is the percentage of people who leave your website from a particular page, after having come from somewhere else on the site. 

In our example, the majority of people may enter through the main entrance, but depending on what they’re shopping for, each department will have a different exit rate. 

Therefore a page’s exit rate is the number of people who leave it, divided by the number of visitors who have visited more than one page on your site. The more frequently a page is a visitor’s “last stop”, the higher its website exit rate.

In real life, one department may have a high exit rate for a practical reason i.e. The DIY department is closet to the parking lot, or the electronics section is closet to a popular coffee shop people go to after shopping. 

In ecommerce, a page should have a high exit rate because it has a “completion” point on it. This would most commonly be a checkout page, or perhaps a major information page that directs users to affiliates of yours.

Exit Rate vs Bounce Rate

As you can see, a bounce rate and exit rate are not the same thing.

A bounce is an instant exit upon first landing on a site, but exit rates are assigned to pages depending on the number of visitors who leave the site from that page after coming from somewhere else on the site.

A Simple Suggestion for Bounce Rate Optimization

Optimizing bounce rates is a huge topic on its own, but we have a simple suggestion for getting started—The use of landing pages

Optimization involves constantly tweaking your pages and seeing what gets people to click through. Landing pages can be a valuable way to do this because they’re stand-alone, and landing page builders usually have split testing features.

The landing pages can be used to see what works before the heavier job of modifying your core-site.

A Simple Suggestion for Exit Rate Optimization

Ultimately, exit rate vs bounce rate optimization feeds into each other. Can’t ensure good exit rates if everyone is bouncing. 

A smart way to go about this is through to use of different types of “sales funnels.” These can help you structure the customer journey, and if you make use of funnel builders, it becomes even easier to measure what’s working.

Remember, in order to balance bounce rate vs exit rate, your site should have a good “flow’.


There you have an explanation of bounce rate vs exit rate.

As you can see, they’re certainly not the same thing, but both are important metrics for figuring out how people are interacting with your site. 

By paying close attention to them, you can make sure that you are drawing in visitors, and helping them see their journey through to completion.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.