When high bounce rate may be a good thing

While the Internet started in academic and government labs, it is now, overwhelmingly a commercially driven environment. The tools, language, and ideas that make sense in a commercial space do not necessarily make sense in a government space. This is one of the primary challenges for any government website. Even when the government is providing services, as VA does, the service is not a consumer service. A site supporting that doesn’t necessarily call for a commercial consumer experience, even if it draws from the knowledge that makes good commercial consumer experiences possible. The challenge is understanding which ideas make sense to borrow, and which don’t.

In this context, one idea the vets.gov team has talked is bounce rates. For readers who aren’t familiar with the term, “bounce rate …”represents the percentage of visitors who enter a site and then leave (‘bounce’) rather than continuing on to view other pages within the same site.” For commercial sites a high bounce rate is usually considered a bad thing. Like brick and mortar retail stores, they’re designed to keep users on the site as long as possible to sell a product, deliver a marketing message, or collect usage data.

But what about government sites? Most people don’t want their government to sell to them, market to them, or invade their privacy. Keeping the user of a government site around as long as possible doesn’t make the same kind of sense that it does on a commercial site. What if, instead, a government site could be designed so a citizen seeking government benefits they’ve earned could transact their business on one page? Imagine the brick and mortar equivalent: what if, when it was time to renew your driver’s license, you could go to your local department of motor vehicles, walk directly to an open counter, fill out a form and walk away to go about your day, all in the span of five or ten minutes? Who wouldn’t want that?

To get there you probably wouldn’t look at retail store design for answers. In fact, you might look at what retail stores do and design an experience that is, in many ways, the opposite of a commercial experience. It’s the same idea with bounce rate and vets.gov. If we could, we would love to make a site where visitors got exactly what they needed in one page and then bounced off the site.