Once you install even the most basic of website analytics tools it will not be long before you are overwhelmed by the number of reports on offer and promptly underwhelmed by the amount of actionable information you now have at your fingertips.

However, one simple statistic that can have you reaching for your content management system to start making changes is the humble bounce rate – expressed as both an aggregate value over your website and as an individual value for each of the web pages.

A ‘bounce’ is calculated when a visitor comes to a page on your site, looks at it for a nominal small amount of time (a few seconds at most) and then leaves. It’s like you walking into a shop, looking around and immediately deciding, based on what you could see, that the shop wasn’t for you and promptly leaving – all within a few moments of arriving.

The statistic is shown as a percentage point. An aggregate bounce rate for a whole site should be between 20% and 40%. Some pages you would expect to have high bounce rates – ‘contact us’ pages, the ‘thank you’ pages from forms (in these cases people have completed their task and are ready to naturally move onto another site). Other pages with high values are revealing deeper problems that need attention.

To help you get to grips with this handy statistic I have come up with a brief overview of just four cases in which to put your bounce rate values to work.

Firstly, check the bounce rate on the web pages that greet your first time visitors. Search engines are re-defining the entrance points onto your website. The latest statistics I have reveal that over 70% of Internet traffic starts at a search engine. So while you may want everyone to start at the home page, there’s a good chance their visit could begin with the webpage that the search engine determines best matches their keyword search.

By checking which pages carry the most site entrance traffic you can avoid the common mistake of optimising the navigation and bounce rate of your home page (incorrectly thinking it is the page that carries the bulk of your inbound traffic) when the majority of your search engine traffic could be arriving at a poorly optimised product page deeper within your site.

Next, sort your high traffic pages by bounce rate – focusing on those with the higher percentages first. If there is no strong reason why people should be leaving (contact form or thank you page) then go to work on the content the page carries and the navigation options people can access.

Finally, if you are buying Google Adwords traffic for your site and you have Adwords properly configured to integrate with your website analytics tools then you can track the bounce rate of this traffic as a total and for each individual keyword you are bidding on.

Keywords that show a high bounce rate are either being delivered to the wrong pages on your sites or they are delivering prospects to your site who are looking for something else. Your choices are either to re-work your content or review why you are bidding on the term in the first place.

Each and every day people ‘bounce off’ your website and its pages because they are not happy with what they’ve found. You can’t please everyone but knowing the percentage of visitors that are willing to stay longer and where on your site they are more prone to bounce goes some way to ensuring you own an effective website.