Eric Goebelbecker
July 27, 2022

Improving Your Drop-Off Rate: A Comprehensive Guide

You have a website for a reason. You want to show viewers what you know and build an audience via newsletter subscriptions. But posting new content next to a sign-up form isn't enough. You need a strategy to get users to register, and you need a way to see if that strategy works.

In this article, we're going to look at one of the key metrics you should follow if you're trying to improve your sign-up conversions: drop-off rate. We'll look at what it is, how it compares to similar metrics, and what you can do to improve it.

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What Does drop-off Rate Mean?

Depending on who you read, drop-off rate can mean one of several things. Let's agree on a definition first.

Drop-off Rate According to Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, a drop-off is an indication in a flow report. It's when a user leaves the flow you're viewing. It usually means that the user didn't complete a goal, such as purchasing a product or signing up for an email newsletter.

The drop-off rate is the total number of users that entered the flow, divided by the number that dropped off, expressed as a percentage. So, if the flow had 1000 visitors in a period and 335 of them exited without completing the goal, the drop-off rate is 33.5%:

335/1000 * 100 = 33.5%

Since a drop-off is when a user leaves a defined flow, it's not limited to users leaving your site.

Drop-off vs. Bounce Rate

Drop-offs and bounces are similar, and they can even overlap, but they're not the same thing. A bounce is when a user visits your site and exits from the same page. They "bounce" off that one page to another site.

It's possible that the one page is part of a defined flow, and that may be interesting to your drop-off analysis. More about that later.

Drop-off vs. Exit Rate

Exit rate is a measure of people that left your site from a page. So, it's a measure that can overlap with both bounce and drop-off.

For example, consider a user that visits a page and immediately leaves your site. That event counts as both a bounce and an exit for that specific page.

Next, think about a user that visits a page, follows one or more links, then leaves the site. This isn't a bounce, because they visited more than one page. But it counts as an exit for the last page they visited. It may also be a drop-off if the sequence of pages they visited before leaving is part of a flow.

What Makes a Drop-off Different?

So, after comparing drop-offs to bounces and exits, we can define a few attributes that make a drop-off different.

In order to measure drop-offs, define a sequence of two or more steps for them to follow. We usually design flows to accomplish a goal: buy a product, register for an event, or sign-up for a newsletter. For example, an email sign-up flow would have an entry page that starts the flow, one or more steps, and a final interaction such as clicking a registration button. If you don't have a flow defined, there's nothing for them to drop out of, and you can't measure your results.

A drop-off is when the user leaves the flow. It may be for another website. It may be when they close the browser tab. Or it may be a link to a page on your site that isn't part of the flow. This is a significant difference from both bounces and exits.

What Is a Good Drop-off Rate?

The rule of thumb for a good drop-off rate is 26% to 40%. But, it's hard to tell what this is based on since it's repeated on various websites without mention of an authoritative source. Some sites go further and call 40% to 56% "average" and higher than 56% percent too high.

Regardless of where your current rate lies on this scale, what you can do is measure it regularly and work steadily to lower it.

So, how can do lower your drop-off rate? Let's see.

Regardless of where your current rate lies on this scale, what you can do is measure it regularly and work steady to lower it.

Improving Drop-off Rates

Page Load Times

Improving your drop-off rate starts with looking at how your website performs. Slow loading pages make users impatient, and impatient users leave. According to Google, there's a direct correlation between page load time and bounce rate. The probability of a user leaving your site reaches 32% as load time increases to three seconds. It goes to 90% at five seconds. It exceeds 100% at six. These numbers are for bounce rates, but it's not a stretch to say that if a client reaches a slow-loading page in your subscription flow, they may give up and just leave.

Before you look at individual pages, it's worth looking at your overall site. It's possible that all your pages share design elements that are slowing things down. What's your average page load speed? It's easy to test with PageSpeed Insights, which will show you times and some advice on where to look next. As both PageSpeed and the article linked above will tell you, size matters. You may speed your entire site up by compressing common images, JavaScript, and CSS.

After you've optimized your content, another strategy to look at is a content delivery network like CloudFlare or CloudFront that will help get your content closer to your users. They will even help by compressing some content for you.

Finally, after you've done what you can for your website, it's time to look at individual pages. It may be worth ensuring that the pages in your flow load even faster than the rest of your site. Consider streamlining them down to the essentials: capturing the information you need and convincing the viewer to take the next step. We'll touch on this further below.

Improving your drop off rate starts with looking at how your website performs. Slow loading pages make users impatient, and impatient users leave.

Mobile Experience

You're not finished with your website yet. How does it look on mobile devices? Are a significant number of your drop-offs from mobile users? Are they even getting to your flow, or do they look at your main page and bounce?

Mobile matters more and more with each passing month, and if you haven't taken the time to ensure that your site is usable on mobile devices, you're alienating users.

Optimize Your User Flow

Once you're sure your site is performing well, it's time to look at the pages in your user flow.

First, where are users dropping off? Open Analytics up and look. While each page in your flow probably suffers from drop-offs, start with the page with the highest rate and ask yourself a few questions.

First, does the page load slower than the rest of your site? Fire up PageSpeed Insights again and take another look. If it does, fix that. Even if it's not loading slower, could it be faster? What can you remove from it?

Next, where are users going when they drop-off? Are they leaving your flow for a different page on your site? If there are, remove those links. Consider removing all links and keeping the page focused on getting the reader to the next step.

Are they leaving your site or closing the browser tab? Why?

  • Are you asking too much? Does it take too many steps to subscribe to your newsletter? Are you asking for too much information? All you need for a newsletter is an email. Consider stripping your form down to a single field.
  • Is your copy compelling? Is it focused on what you want the user to do and why it will benefit them?

The good news is, there's an easy way to adjust your pages and test them.

A/B Testing

If you're changing your flow, set up an A/B test and track the results in analytics. This isn't optional: there's no point in making a change if you can't measure how well it worked. Once you have some faith in your tests, you'll probably find yourself more willing to experiment.

Lowering Your Drop-off Rate

We've discussed drop-off rates and how to lower them. We started out by defining what drop-offs are and how they compare to other common web metrics like bounces and exits. While these three measurements have a lot of overlap, they are different and understanding how they differ is important. Then we discussed how to improve your drop-off rates. We saw how website performance is a key factor, since slow websites make users leave. But we also discussed the importance of support for mobile users and of interesting content that drives users to your goal.

Now that you understand drop-offs and how to address them, get to work improving your website!

This post was written by Eric Goebelbecker. Eric has worked in the financial markets in New York City for 25 years, developing infrastructure for market data and financial information exchange (FIX) protocol networks. He loves to talk about what makes teams effective (or not so effective!).