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Bounce Rates, the Relevance as Performance Indicators, and Dependency on Culture

Intercultural Competence, Search Engine Advertising (SEA)



The bounce rate[1] in search engine advertising (SEA) campaigns (Pay-per-Click, PPC) is repeatedly cited as a key metric. However, many experts argue how the bounce rate should be used to optimize a campaign. And thus, what rates should be aimed for.


We briefly outline how a differentiated approach might look like and how it adds value to an SEA campaign. Then we discuss the cultural components that should be considered for an optimization.

Is lower always better? Is Bounce rate important for B2B at all?


A widespread opinion says that a bounce rate should be as low as possible. This seems logical, considering that a bounced visitor also means a loss of money.


But what if we created special landing pages for our campaign that feature an external link to a "free trial" or that show "offline" contact information directly on the site? Then the situation looks completely different. Then a "bounce" is perhaps exactly what we want, namely that the visitor leaves the page on the external link or calls immediately.


This example is quite simple, but it should be clear that a differentiated view of the campaign must take place before targets for the bounce rate can be defined. This can be done, for example, by considering the path the visitor is expected to take on the website. Therefore, the following aspects have to be taken into consideration when talking about the bounce rate.


Bounces can happen for different reasons:

  • The visitor finds what he is looking for – he just needs that one page (e.g. news article + phone number on a single page)
  • The visitor was just curious, just wanted to look (= no apparent reason)
  • Technical problems – the page cannot be displayed properly (mobile!) or the page loads too slow (pages from China)
  • The visitor does not find what he expected and therefore leaves the page (viewed content)


While in the first case bounces are exactly what we wanted and no additional measures are necessary, there is no cure for the curious people in the second case. Bounces for technical reasons can be tracked relatively easy with an analysis tools and then be fixed. The most interesting optimization potentials thus result in the latter case, with the unfulfilled expectations.


To make use of this potential, we ask ourselves the following questions considering the visitors’ path on the website:

  • WHO is the visitor? (What language does he speak, which country does he come from, etc.)
  • WHAT is the visitor LOOKING FOR? (Information contained in the search phrase)
  • WHAT did the visitor EXPECT when clicking on the ad? (Information from the ad text in conjunction with the search phrase)
  • WHAT does the visitor SEE on the website? (Is it a landing page with contact details, is the page complicatedly structured, does it have call-to-action?)


The answers to these questions give us two options for action:

  • Visitors with a certain profile should be better "sorted out" before clicking on the ad (e.g. by defining exclusion terms in the advertising campaign)
  • The information should be presented in a way that the visitor acknowledges the website content and the information he was looking for.

In particular, we are interested on how answers to these questions are also dependent on culture.


Questions that arise from the cultural context:


To what extent do the security needs of the visiting person affect the bounce rate?


Often we find a higher bounce rate for campaigns in the U.S. than for campaigns in Germany/Austria/Switzerland.


One reason could be the need for security: “I just click on an ad in a search engine when I'm pretty sure that I know what I have to expect and that the site behind the link is trustworthy.”


In the U.S., the need for security is much lower than in the German speaking regions (see e.g . Hofstede, 2001, Culture's Consequences: Uncertainty Avoidance Index).


How important is context?


As a German or an Englishman it is very difficult to evaluate a campaign for countries like Japan. Context is, amongst others, a major reason for this. In a high-context culture such as Japan advertising messages contain relatively less words. The demand for direct and formal advertising is much higher in countries like Germany.


But doesn´t this imply that the ads and landing pages must be designed differently and cannot be simply translated?

We would also expect that search phrases in high-context cultures are much shorter and therefore reveal less information about the visitors ("What does the visitor want?")


This makes it harder to generate traffic on long-tail keywords and to optimize exclusion terms for the SEA campaign.


How technically mature is a market?


Does a click really mean someone is interested in buying? We have learned, that in some countries a click very often only reflects that someone is interested in finding more information: “I want to know what this is!” (Especially in countries with a low demand for security)


This attitude is common e.g. in developing / emerging countries. This makes it obviously quite hard to filter this group of visitors from the targeted audience of our advertising campaign. So should we better refrain from advertising in these countries?


To what extent do the entered search phrases reflect the intentions of the visitors?


That refers to the question "What does the visitor want?" When optimizing a campaign we strive to sort out all visitors who are not looking for products or services that we offer. This becomes problematic when the search phrase does not exactly reflect what a customer wants.


Above it was mentioned that high-context cultures may tend to generally use shorter phrases.


But also in markets with low technical maturity the terms tend to be nonspecific and vague. This makes it difficult to optimize campaigns for exclusion terms, especially not to over-optimize so that parts of our relevant audience are being cut-off.


So what are the conclusions?


The cultural perspective helps us determine, which campaigns have the potential for improvement.


In summary,

  • the bounce rate is always a relevant metric
  • the bounce rate has to be considered separately
  • the cultural influences are essential to determine the quality of a campaign
  • the need for security and the type of the market are important influences, according to our investigation


We at effective have been dealing with this kind of issues for a long time and meanwhile have built a broad and international knowledge base. If you want to learn more about how we can help to significantly improve the success of your international SEA just call us at +49 621 17893-0 or write an e-mail to mannheim@effective-world.com.




[1] The bounce rate is by default defined as the number of visitors who have looked at only one single page. This is the way most standard analytics tools calculate the bounce rate. An alternative and perhaps more meaningful definition is the number of visitors who stay only a maximum of five seconds on the site. To measure the time spent on a single page, the tracking code on the website must contain a JavaScript that can be executed in the visitor’s browser. If JavaScript is not supported or has been turned off by the visitor, the determination of the residence time is not possible. A tracking tool supporting the measurement of the residence time is Google Analytics. go back