How Engagement Rate in GA4 may have replaced the need for Bounce Rate

Published on October 23, 2023 by Alex Eade

Engagement rate in GA4 is believed by some to have replaced the need for bounce rate. Find out what it is and how to measure it, so you can make better marketing decisions.

In 2023, Google sunsetted its Universal Analytics platform. Along with this, bounce rate has been taken over by a more powerful metric – engagement rate. Whilst Google is still making tweaks and changes to GA4, it looks like engagement rate is here to stay.

Read on to discover the differences between bounce rate and engagement rate, what’s defined as an ‘engaged session’, and how to use these new metrics.

What was Bounce Rate in Universal Analytics? 

A webpage’s ‘bounce rate’ is a metric that has been around for a long time, but isn’t exactly loved by the SEO industry! Essentially, the bounce rate is the percentage of users who land on a specific page on your website from a search engine. And instead of clicking through to another webpage, they bounce off (this could happen at any point within the 30 minute timeout). So, if a user only looks at one of your webpages even if it’s for a long time they contribute to your bounce rate. 

Marketing Managers using UA would often use bounce rate in their reporting to highlight pages that aren’t doing a good job of keeping users on the site. A high bounce rate has historically been seen by marketers as a bad thing and something to always be concerned about. However, whilst high bounce rates (on certain pages and in certain industries) can be a sign of poor content or UX, it’s not always bad, and doesn’t always mean the content’s not engaging.

What is Engagement Rate in GA4?

When we used to think about engagement rate on a website, we would simply think of the opposite number to bounce rate. For example, if you had a bounce rate of 40%, you’d have an engagement rate of 60%. Or a bounce rate of 13% and an engagement rate of 87%. However this is simplistic and a bit of a false dichotomy. It’s actually possible for somebody to bounce AND be engaged in your content. GA4 has created a much bigger focus on true engagement, bringing in lots of new metrics including:

  • Engaged Sessions
  • Engagement Rate
  • Engaged Sessions per User
  • Average Engagement Time

What is an engaged session?

An engaged session is any session on your website that lasts longer than 10 seconds (this can be increased to 60 seconds), or resulted in 1 or more ‘conversion events’ or resulted in 2 or more page/screen views. 

These engaged sessions are then used to calculate engagement rate, by dividing engaged sessions by all sessions. This allows for a better understanding of whether users are engaging with your content, which pages/parts of your content are most engaging, and how long your users remain engaged.

Why has Bounce Rate been pushed aside? 

Bounce rate is a metric that has its sceptics, and lots of our team would fall into that category. This is because bounce rate is often seen as the be all and end all of engagement, and if you have a high bounce rate you immediately think that people don’t like your content. This is absolutely not true and doesn’t consider context. 

Here’s an example. Somebody searches for ‘best chocolate brownie recipe’ on Google, lands on your website, and leaves the page open for 30 mins whilst making your recipe (and closes it when done) – that’s an excellent sign of engagement, but UA would class it as a bounce! 

Have they had a negative experience on your website? No. 

Have they found what they were looking for without having to navigate around? Yes. 

Were they engaged in your content? Yes. 

Blogs and recipes often have high bounce rates as well as high engagement rates. It’s always been important to look at the other metrics surrounding the bounce rate, like average engagement time, to determine whether or not your content is effective.

Let’s recap

Whilst bounce rate has been around for a long time, it’s always had its limitations, so it’s great that we’ve now got more powerful engagement metrics which tell a clearer story. Engagement rate takes into consideration a number of factors that bounce rate failed to, and considers how real people use websites. This humanises the way we can report on the data – more so than the bounce rate ever did. 

Final thoughts

GA4’s engagement rate is a step in the right direction for understanding how visitors use your website and engage with your content. As for bounce rate – it’s great as a starting point, but you cannot rely on this metric alone!

Looking for support with GA4?

GA4 is still an unknown area for many marketing managers. If you’re struggling to get your head around the new metrics, take a look at our GA4 guide for some instant support. 

If you’d like bespoke training for you and your team, explore our GA4 training and Analytics consultancy services, so you can feel confident reporting on this powerful new data.