Green Tax Break Syndicated Easements Face IRS Scrutiny

Jack Fisher has raised hundreds of millions of dollars pitching investors on real estate development projects that were never built. Fisher, an accountant-turned-developer, promoted projects such as the Preserve at Venice Harbor, near Hilton Head, S.C., where marketing illustrations showed houses on canals that evoked the famous Italian city. Instead of developing the land, he recruited investors to elaborate deals that provided them charitable tax deductions in return for donating easements for conservation.

The Internal Revenue Service, however, suspects the deals may amount to tax fraud. Fisher is at the center of a criminal probe related to these syndicated conservation easements, according to people familiar with the details, who requested anonymity to discuss a confidential matter. The investigation has already led to tax conspiracy charges against three accountants who worked with him.

A syndicated conservation easement gives dozens of investors in partnerships three choices: to build a specific development project; to hold on to the land and build later; or to donate an easement to a land trust or government, promising to forgo development. The third option entitles investors to charitable tax deductions, based on the appraised value of the land, that can be worth four or five times their investment.

Easements have been used—legitimately, and mostly by family partnerships and individuals like farmers—for decades as part of a federal push to preserve more than 30 million acres of land. Those aren’t the focus of an IRS crackdown. Instead, it’s going after promoters like Fisher who sell deals through brokers, accountants, lawyers, and tax preparers, and who market the projects that generate large tax deductions. The IRS has made these an enforcement priority, suing some promoters to shut them down and criminally investigating others.

California conservation lawyer Misti Schmidt says a typical syndicated easement used by wealthy investors is an “ugly tax-shelter scheme” that relies on grossly overvalued appraisals. “There’s so much money to be made, they just keep doing it,” says Schmidt, a partner at Conservation Partners.

Those appraisals are at the center of the legal fight around syndicated easements. Before an easement donation is made, an appraiser assigns it a value based on its highest and best use. That number is then used to calculate the tax deductions. The IRS often argues that those appraisals vastly inflate the development potential of a property, and that promoters use those valuations to market lucrative tax deductions.

Two of Fisher’s associates, the brothers Stein and Corey Agee, pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to promote fraudulent tax breaks and are cooperating with prosecutors. Although Fisher wasn’t charged or named in the Agee cases, he’s referred to as Promoter A in court documents, the people familiar with the details say. Documents reviewed by Bloomberg confirm Fisher’s role in the deals. Lawyers for Fisher didn’t respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.

In the Stein Agee case, prosecutors say the deals were “illegal tax shelters that allowed taxpayers to buy tax deductions,” according to the charges. Appraisals were “falsely inflated,” while the conservation option was “always a foregone conclusion.” Many investors signed up after the tax year in which easements were donated, prosecutors say, even though the IRS allows deductions only in the same year a donation is made. Promoter A and others had investors backdate checks and agreements, according to the charges.

“Promoter A’s tax shelters resulted in a massive evasion of taxes,” the charges state. In all, more than 1,500 investors received $1.2 billion in fraudulent tax deductions, prosecutors said. At one point, Promoter A told Stein Agee that he met with several co-conspirators to make sure they were on the “same page” about late investments, according to the charges. Promoter A proposed that Agee could falsely suggest that backdated checks weren’t deposited because they were “lost” on someone’s desk. Lawyers for the Agees declined to comment.

Nationwide, the IRS has challenged $21 billion in tax deductions claimed for syndicated easements from 2016 to 2018, saying it’s auditing 28,000 taxpayers. Former President Donald Trump has donated several easements, including two under scrutiny by New York state authorities.

“The IRS fully supports the benefit of legitimate conservation easements around this country,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told Congress in March. “It has done tremendous things for farmers and others. Our problem is with the abusive syndicated easements.”

The IRS crackdown comes amid a battle in Congress that pits conservation groups and national appraisal organizations against promoters of syndicated easements. Conservation groups want legislation that would bar investors from claiming deductions worth more than two and a half times their initial investment. Promoters have been blocking that fix for years.

“The IRS’s current take-no-prisoners litigation strategy is also going after minor technical flaws that arise in all easements, not just syndications,” says Schmidt, the conservation lawyer. “Legitimate easements are now getting disallowed.”

Fisher, who’s in his late 60s, grew up on a small-town farm in Marshall, N.C., and still speaks in a soft Southern drawl. The son of a truck driver and homemaker, he graduated with a degree in accounting from nearby Mars Hill College in 1974 before joining the IRS. Fisher then became a certified public accountant, worked for Price Waterhouse, and joined a firm that moved him to Atlanta to work with the National Football League’s Falcons.

Later, he took a job at an accounting firm with the Agee brothers’ father, Edward Agee. “I got a lot of good experience,” Fisher testified at a trial after a real estate broker sued him, claiming the developer owed him a commission. Fisher said he met people who “could refer you to business: bankers and things like that.”

He got into development by auditing construction companies, and later began assembling his own investment deals, founding Preserve Communities about two decades ago.

Fisher was adept at raising money, says Anthony Antonino, a real estate consultant who helped with the sale of 800 acres in North Carolina for $14.75 million to entities controlled by Fisher and a wealthy investor. “Jack knows where the money’s at, and he knows how to get it,” Antonino says.

Some of Fisher’s wealthy investors were involved in equestrian events, say people familiar with the matter. His family owned a 40-acre show stable in Alpharetta, Ga., according to a 2013 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His then-wife, Libba, and two of their children won several titles competing in elite hunter and jumper events, according to records maintained by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

He was a hands-on developer, says Mark Brooks, a civil engineer who helped Fisher build projects. “He was out there walking the roads and figuring out site lots,” Brooks says. “He was real proud when he did the developments. He felt he was doing things to help out Madison County, which was a pretty poor county.”

He also branched out to the Western U.S., buying a 1,088-acre ranch near Reno, Nev. In late 2018 a Georgia corporation Fisher formed donated an easement covering 812 acres to the North American Land Trust. Investors got $51.2 million in deductions, according to court filings. They put up $10 million, his partner told planners in Nevada’s Washoe County.

Months later, Fisher pursued permission to develop 38 homes on land not covered by the easement. He showed up at a rural advisory board meeting in July 2019 wearing a cowboy hat and flanked by ranch hands, according to a resident. When pressed, Fisher backed down.

“We have no plans to do anything with that property other than to make it part of the ranch,” Fisher said at the recorded meeting. In the face of stated opposition by planners, he withdrew his application.

The Agee brothers, whose father died in 2009, helped promote some of Fisher’s deals. At the proposed Preserve at Venice Harbor development, $179.8 million in tax deductions were claimed by the 390 investors who chose a conservation easement instead of building homes, court documents show. That was more than four times what they put in.

By 2018, less than two years after the IRS began targeting syndicated easements as tax shelters, Fisher was under investigation, the people with knowledge of the matter say. “You have to be very, very careful that these look like real estate investments as compared to, you know, basically a tax shelter,” Promoter A told an agent posing as an investor, according to the charges against Stein Agee.

Fisher continued to work with the Agees through last year, the people say. In November, Promoter A left a handwritten note for Stein Agee saying he’d been “cleaning up the books,” the charges state. About the same time, a video was uploaded to the Preserve Communities Vimeo account.

Fisher talks about his career while viewers see images of forests, mountains, and rivers, and of Fisher himself sitting on a deck, and then feeding a horse. “I hope the people who live in our communities gain a greater connection to nature, to slow down in life, to realize what’s really important,” he says. “We only have so many years here on the planet, and feeling good about what you’ve done with your life.”

— With assistance by Kaustuv Basu, Neil Weinberg, and Elise Young

By: David Voreacos

Source: Green Tax Break Syndicated Easements Face IRS Scrutiny – Bloomberg

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Haven’t Checked On That Bitcoin Account In A While? Your State Could Have It Liquidated

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If you know you have an old bitcoin or dogecoin account somewhere but haven’t gotten around the digging up your login information, you may have a nasty surprise waiting for you. With the rise of cryptocurrency, nine states have now adopted rules that include it as a form of unclaimed property and several more are requiring or recommending that companies report their unclaimed virtual currency.

That means that this fall, when banks, insurers, retailers and state government agencies are required to annually report and remit any unclaimed funds, your old cryptocurrency account could be liquidated and turned in to the state’s unclaimed property office.

There are a lot of concerns about this possibility, not the least of which is the fact that liquidating a cryptocurrency account prevents the owner from realizing any future gains. But there’s also a larger economic issue, says Kristine Butterbaugh a solution principal, at the tax firm Sovos.

“Some of our clients don’t want to liquidate these accounts because it could have an impact on the market as a whole,” she says. “We’re talking millions of accounts, potentially, across the country.”

What’s muddling things is a lack of clarity on the rules around cryptocurrency. Unclaimed property law is written for traditional property but now it’s being enforced for non-traditional property.

Here’s how unclaimed property law usually works: Every fall, businesses are required to remit any unclaimed property to the state. For accounts and other financial instruments to be considered unclaimed, they have to be dormant for three to five years, depending on the state. That means the account holder hasn’t accessed the account or responded to any communications. Once the account is deemed unclaimed, it gets transferred to the state’s general fund.

That’s all well and good when we’re talking about a traditional bank account that is sitting around earning minimal — if any — interest. But states aren’t equipped to hold cryptocurrency, so they’re telling firms to turn those accounts into cash before handing them over.

Now let’s say you watched the meteoric rise of dogecoin this past spring and decided to go hunting for those coins you invested in on a whim a few years ago. And when you finally tracked them down you discovered your account was liquidated back in November, robbing you of thousands of dollars in potential earnings? You’d probably be pretty angry.

“Companies are in a really uncomfortable position because they’re unsure whether or not they should be liquidating for fear of owner retribution down the road,” says Butterbaugh. “And then you have the state saying, ‘You have to,’ even if it’s not explicitly in the statute.”

States are also motivated to enforce unclaimed property laws because it’s a revenue gain for them. Although the state keeps track of the amount due and the rightful owner can still eventually claim the money at any time, states in the meantime can use the money for their general operations. This may seem like a gamble, but only about 2% of unclaimed property ever gets returned to the true owner, according to Accounting Today.

Delaware — home to more than a million companies — is one of the most aggressive states when it comes to auditing companies on unclaimed property law compliance and has secured hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade in unclaimed property and fines.

So, companies are stuck between not wanting to get dinged for noncompliance and being afraid to liquidate a cryptocurrency account. They want more clarity on what to do and Butterbaugh says two places — New York and Washington, D.C. — are working on a solution.

But in the meantime, she advises companies dealing in cryptocurrency to start addressing their dormant accounts now.

I am a fiscal policy expert, national journalist and public speaker who has spent more than 15 years writing about the many ways state and local governments collect and spend taxpayer money. I sift through that complicated information then break it down in quick ways that everyone can understand. I’m most known by policy wonks for my work at Governing magazine and for my fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute of Government where I write about the intersection of government and the future of work. My work is also in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, CityLab and other national publications. Frequent and enthusiastic radio and podcast guest.

Source: Haven’t Checked On That Bitcoin Account In A While? Your State Could Have It Liquidated

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3 Ways To Be An Authentically Empathetic Brand

The pandemic has shown us that brands and leaders acting with empathy, authenticity and transparency have an edge. From the media attention and cultural significance Zoom garnered by supporting K-12 schools to Starbucks expanding mental health benefits to its employees and their families, consumers are taking notice. In fact, DoSomethingStrategic has been researching Gen Z’s response to brands throughout the COVID-19 crisis and found that even young people are paying attention to how companies treat employees, partners and communities — and they reward or punish said companies with their wallets.

According to a recent poll, Americans believe it is now more critical than ever that brands “demonstrate empathetic qualities and take action to maintain customer loyalty and support.”

Empathetic leaders, cultures and brands enjoy higher levels of innovation, collaboration, loyalty, positive word of mouth and, per my experience and research, profitability and market valuation. The results prove that empathy is not just good for society; it’s great for business.

Leaders are starting to get it. But how can they ensure this empathy comes across as authentic and engaging to customers? After all, we’ve all been burned by companies that say they care about customers when the reality is quite different.

To be believable, effective branding must start from the inside out. Here are three ways to ensure your brand — as a leader or as a company — walks the talk and avoids what I call the dreaded “empathy veneer.”

1. Move Beyond Social Memes

Marketing can’t solve all your reputation issues. It simply communicates the truth of your real story. Involve every department in the conversation: HR, product, customer service. Who are we? Why are we here? Who do we serve? What are we about? Align on your mission and values, and audit your policies and practices to back up your claims. If you have not “operationalized” this value, no one will believe in it. For example, if your company is taking an empathetic stance on racial injustice, posting nice thoughts on social media is not enough. Your company must change its hiring practices, recruiting policies and pay structures to make customers believe you are the real deal.

2. Hire For Emotional Intelligence

A brand is merely a collection of actions performed by people. If you truly want to be an empathetic brand, you must hire the right people to live it out. This means going beyond the resume and assessing emotional intelligence. Ask tough questions to get to who people really are: How did they get past a disagreement with a colleague? What do they do to ensure their team members feel seen, heard and valued? How do they handle negative feedback? How have they gone “off script” to solve a customer’s problem? You can always teach technical skills but it’s harder to teach someone to be creative or collaborative in a clutch moment.

3. Leverage Accountability and Rewards

If you want your organization to have an empathetic culture, you have to make that the criteria for success. This means acknowledging, rewarding and modeling the behaviors you seek through performance evaluations or bonus discussions. Others will see that this is how success happens at your company, and they will understand this is what is expected. Employees are not dumb. If you’re constantly rewarding people who blatantly ignore core values, refuse to listen or disrespect colleagues, you send a clear message that your words mean nothing.

Your company can’t simply make empty marketing promises if your internal processes don’t align to external gestures. Branding starts from the inside out.

It’s not merely about projecting an empathetic brand. Walk your talk across the entire customer experience. If you do that, customers will see you as authentic and engaging, whether they’re interacting with your company in person or online.

By: Maria Ross , Founder, Red Slice

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Flying Canvas Productions

There are 3 components you must have to market with empathy. But first, you must understand what empathy really is: a personal identification between story and audience. It’s not enough to create video content. Customers demand stories. Therefore, brands have to be storytellers. This video guides you through the requirements of empathetic marketing, while steering clear of the pitfalls of misusing it. https://flyingcanvasproductions.com/e…​ Flying Canvas is more than a video production company. We’re story-makers. We’re an artisan video marketing studio for the digital brands and agencies, who want to rise to the modern customer’s demands. https://flyingcanvasproductions.com

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The Importance Of Audit In The Evolving Financial Reporting Ecosystem

The debate about responsible financial reporting has not been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the future of audit—and how it should adapt to changing stakeholder demands—has only grown in importance as financial reporting ecosystem participants consider how to deliver reporting that provides the insights for businesses and investors to recover and thrive.

To inform this debate and understand the value placed on financial statement audits, Deloitte Global surveyed 351 C-suite, finance and audit committee executives, investors, shareholders, and board members across nine countries from a broad spectrum of companies. The survey, which was conducted in April/May 2020, at the height of the initial global response to COVID-19, shows that even within the economic turmoil of the pandemic, market participants place great value on audits and the assurance that they provide.

Audit remains essential

The survey results underscore the fact that audit is an integral part of the financial reporting ecosystem, which includes management, boards and those charged with governance, regulators, standard setters, auditors, and investors, each having an important role to play. Ninety-eight percent of respondents agree that an audit of a company’s financial statements allows them to trust and rely on the financial statements to some degree (31% agree completely, 62% agree strongly, 5% agree somewhat).

There continues to be differing views about the perceived scope and purpose of audit. While today’s complex business environment requires the audit to be dynamic, multidimensional, and insightful in order to meet changing needs and expectations, there has been a growing demand for audits to evolve and provide real-time, relevant information, and companies expect audits to keep pace as they innovate their businesses and processes.

Auditing firms are responding to these demands to modernize the audit. These advancements seem to have made an impact, as 94% of respondents said that they are more confident in their financial statement audit process than they were five years ago, with nearly one-third (32%) answering that they are much more confident. Although great progress has been made, with increasing complexity, risk, and expectations, there is still more to do.

Expanding audit

Ninety-two percent of respondents seek a more holistic view of the direction their organization is heading from their audits. When asked which business areas they would like their audit to include in the future, they were equally split among the following areas—corporate culture, sustainability practices, ethical standards and practices, social responsibility practices, corporate purpose, and cyber risk.

When asked specifically about financial statement audits, 95% of those surveyed said that a financial statement audit should provide additional value beyond providing an independent auditor’s report on the historical financial information. These findings suggest that a financial statement audit should inform as well as assure, extending its scope to areas of broader public interest, not solely historic financial statements.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (73%) believe financial statement audits are designed to provide assurance that any fraud will be detected by the auditors. However, in its current form, an audit is not designed to provide these absolute assurances indicating there is a misunderstanding about what an audit is designed to do. The auditor’s responsibilities in relation to detecting fraud is an area of continued focus in adapting the scope of the audit and requires the constructive, integrated evolution of standards.

Fraud risk is not new, but recent corporate failures have increased the focus. This is emphasizing the responsibilities of management boards, regulators, and auditors. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant operational and financial pressures on many companies and may have led to changes or weaknesses in their internal controls.

Transparency expectations

Technological disruption, rapid market changes, and recent events have also highlighted the desire for greater transparency and breadth in reporting. A majority (65%) of executives surveyed cited greater visibility and transparency around the process and outcomes of the audit as a way to address these expectations.

Further, we see much greater interest in sustainability by a range of stakeholders. Over the past years, issues such as ESG (environmental, social and governance) performance have moved from being a fringe interest to a key factor in investment decisions.

Auditing firms are actively engaging with policymakers in evolving the scope of the audit—taking a critical look at the auditor’s role within the financial reporting ecosystem and how greater transparency can drive more meaningful financial reporting.

A financial reporting ecosystem fit for the future

As expectations evolve, it is clear that the entire financial reporting ecosystem will need to continue to adapt as an integrated whole. All players across the ecosystem have a collective responsibility to serve the public interest. More forward-looking reporting, covering both financial and non-financial matters, such as climate and ethics, is an important step in this evolution. Ultimately any changes implemented need to drive responsible business behaviors, improve clarity and transparency of relevant reporting, and provide stakeholders with more meaningful information to equip them to take informed decisions.

The auditor is critical, but only one part of the financial reporting ecosystem— continued constructive collaboration is needed to drive further change.

Jean-Marc Mickeler

Jean-Marc Mickeler

Jean-Marc Mickeler is the Deloitte Global Audit & Assurance Business Leader. He started his career at Deloitte in 1994, overseeing the audit of several major international banks. Jean-Marc holds an MSc in Management from Amiens Business School. He is a registered Statutory Auditor and an ACPR registered auditor. Jean-Marc has also served as the Chairman of the Professional Club Control Commission of the DNCG (Professional Football League) since 2017.

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Edspira 172K subscribers Auditing provides credibility to companies’ financial information and is therefore essential to the functioning of capital markets. If you’re thinking of purchasing a business, buying shares of stock in a company, or lending money to a company, you need to know that the numbers in the company’s financial statements are legitimate. Auditors create value by serving as an independent, third party that rigorously examine management’s assertions in the financial statements and let you know whether these assertations can be trusted. If investors and creditors have no way of knowing whether they can trust companies’ financial information, they will be hesitant to invest or lend money to firms – this would cause markets to grind to a halt.

SUBSCRIBE FOR A FREE 53-PAGE GUIDE TO THE FINANCIAL STATEMENTS & OTHER FREE GUIDES * http://eepurl.com/dIaa5z — MICHAEL’S STORY * https://www.edspira.com/about/ — LISTEN TO THE SCHEME PODCAST * Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast… * Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/4WaNTqV… * Website: https://www.edspira.com/podcast-2/ — CONNECT WITH EDSPIRA * Website: https://www.edspira.com * Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/edspiradotcom * LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/edspira * Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Edspira * Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/edspira *TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@edspira — CONNECT WITH MICHAEL * LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/prof-mich… * Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/Prof_McLaughlin * Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/prof_mclaug… * Snapchat: https://www.snapchat.com/add/prof_mcl… *TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@prof_mclaughlin — HIRE MCLAUGHLIN CPA * Website: http://www.MichaelMcLaughlin.com/hire-me

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Wilton Community Update: Thursday’s Vaccine Clinic is Fully Booked, Stadium Stands Reopen, Road Paving, and More news.hamlethub.com – Today[…] 3% 16% 6% With the uptick in cases and the variant strain of the virus found in Connecticut, please exercise extra caution and behave as if you have the virus and as if those around you do as well […]1

New Buenos Aires scheme aims for 1 million daily bike rides http://www.weforum.org – Today[…] is that commuters will use bikes instead of trains to help maintain social distancing and take more exercise in the process […]1

How Questco Helped a Start-Up Team Stay Focused on Growth blog.questco.net – Today[…] Besides complying with the law, this exercise helped Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance management identify future vacancies that would nee […]1

Student Identity Matters — Online, Too campustechnology.com – Today[…] Often that first “tell us about yourself” exercise or assignment is the only time identity shows up in a class […]N/A

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Top 8 Rated The Best Work Boots For Bad Knees Reviews For 2021 workwearmag.com – Today[…] They can be caused by falling, knee trauma, heavy physical work, intense exercise, poor exercise form, and so on […]1

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YouGov : Britons’ attitudes toward national lockdown | MarketScreener http://www.marketscreener.com – Today[…] People are also not so keen on more rigorous rules around exercise […] in England and Wales would be opposed to a ban on two people from different households meeting for exercise, with the same proportion rejecting calls to limit how long or how often people can go outside to exercise […]0

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Building Resilience: The Importance Of Audit During Times Of Disruption

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the existing challenges facing businesses and exposed new risks that must be addressed. To better understand these challenges, Deloitte Global conducted a survey of 351 respondents from around the world in April and May 2020, at the height of the initial global COVID-19 lockdown.

Through this survey, we sought to better understand the value that c-suite, finance and audit committee executives, investors, shareholders, and board members place on audit as a result of COVID-19.

The results unveil some of the most pressing COVID-19 concerns, many of which are still relevant today, as well as executives’ changing perceptions about the role of auditors in approaching these challenges.

The importance of assessing risk

Deloitte’s survey reveals respondents were seeking insights that could help them assess the risk presented by COVID-19 or similar “black swan events.” In fact, 90% of executives in our survey felt that management could benefit by taking a page from the auditor’s playbook in assessing risks from such events. For example, adhering to sound internal controls principles and practices, employing robust systems of quality control, and entrenching a culture of ethics and integrity can go a long way to helping an organization remain resilient in times of crisis.

Businesses that seek to understand the long-term impacts of the crisis on their operating models are more likely to find new ways to quickly adapt to the post-COVID-19 world. To navigate this emerging environment, all participants in the financial reporting ecosystem from companies and boards to regulators, auditors, and investors, will need to continue to participate in regular and transparent engagement.

Successful businesses will find opportunities to learn from the COVID-19 crisis and use their experiences to prepare for future disruptive events. For example, some companies—Deloitte included—are leveraging their cloud infrastructure and investments in innovative collaboration tools as well as virtual learning.

Addressing resiliency concerns

While the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the ways some businesses operate, it’s also ushered in a new reality of virtual working. Driving a reliance on digital technology and collaboration tools has left many executives concerned about the long-term efficacy of their pre-COVID-19 business strategies. When asked about the resilience of their companies during COVID-19, the two largest concerns for respondents were viability of their business models (e.g., impacts on infrastructure, logistics, technologies, ongoing operations, and go-to market strategies) (57%) and accounting and financial reporting issues (54%).

When viewed by geography, respondent concerns shifted somewhat. Brazil, France, India, and the US rated business model concerns the highest. European respondents in general showed greater concern for the health and well-being of their employees (49%), and Asia Pacific respondents’ had the greatest concern for customer relationships and future demand (49%).

The pandemic has impacted industries in different ways, and the results reflected these differences in executives’ concern by sector.

For example, consumer products companies cited financial resilience (capital stability and liquidity) and liquidity as their top concern (64%), while companies in the financial services industry were most concerned with the brand and reputation of their businesses (55%).

Evolving the financial reporting ecosystem

The economic and health crisis resulting from the pandemic has also caused the process of financial reporting to be far more challenging than before. Professionals must now deal with travel restrictions which prevent routine in- person meetings and activities, market volatility that impacts estimates and valuations, challenges of cross-border data sharing, and complex tax implications of work-from-home mandates.

It is therefore unsurprising that 54% of executives shared that navigating accounting and financial reporting issues was a top concern—this was an especially common concern among investors. They are seeking objective insight about systems of control and quality that informs guidance in difficult decisions relating to forecasts, estimates, and other judgments related to valuations and complex accounting treatments.

Infographic: Covid-19 concerns
Deloitte Global

When asked what actions their businesses were planning to take to respond to COVID-19 challenges, 63% of executives said they were focusing on communications with investors and stakeholders on business challenges and impacts. This response amplifies the positive potential impact that constructive engagement throughout the financial reporting ecosystem could have on markets.

Many regulators have acknowledged the uncertainties created by COVID-19 and emphasized the need for high-quality reporting that includes the transparent disclosure of new risks and assumptions made. These comments have provided some assurance for reporters and users of financial statements alike, and more regulator input will go a long way in reinforcing trust and reliability.

Access to timely, transparent, meaningful data and insights to inform financial reporting and associated disclosures remains critical. It enables stakeholders— investors, employees, suppliers, governments, and regulators—to identify which companies have so-far mitigated the disruptive effects of the pandemic.

Looking forward

As businesses continue to adjust to the new normal, understanding the long-term effects of the pandemic and what actions we all need to take is critical. COVID-19 has revealed just how disruptive events can be on “business as usual” and emphasized the need for future planning. With threats like climate change ramping up there is a lot to be considered and planned for. Further, the pandemic has brought into sharper focus the need for transparent and reliable information beyond historical financial statements.

Doing business has been forever changed, including how auditors operate. It is clear that the auditing profession has an important role to play in advancing economic recovery. This is why the conversation around the future of audit is so critical at this moment in time.

Jean-Marc Mickeler

Jean-Marc Mickeler

Jean-Marc Mickeler is the Deloitte Global Audit & Assurance Business Leader. He started his career at Deloitte in 1994, overseeing the audit of several major international banks. Jean-Marc holds an MSc in Management from Amiens Business School. He is a registered Statutory Auditor and an ACPR registered auditor. Jean-Marc has also served as the Chairman of the Professional Club Control Commission of the DNCG (Professional Football League) since 2017.

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Harnessing Innovative Technologies To Advance Audit Quality – Panos Kakoullis

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Businesses today operate in a dynamic, fast-moving, digitally enabled, and fiercely competitive global economy. To respond, organizations must constantly adapt – and so must their auditors, by incorporating innovative technologies to continuously address and identify emerging risks in markets characterized by perpetual transition. Ground breaking technologies are significantly enhancing audit quality by arming auditors with innovative tools to solve big problems— such as how to acquire robust and complete data in a repeatable fashion. Technology is enabling auditors to process, organize, and evaluate data at a faster pace than ever before………

 

 

 

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Bounce Rate Analytics: How to Measure, Assess, and Audit to Increase Conversions

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Your bounce rate can be such a scary number, right?It’s common knowledge that a high bounce rate is bad and a low rate is good.Every time you log into your Google Analytics account, it’s right there waiting for you.

I understand the feeling when you see that number creeping up.But the problem is that numbers can be misleading.After all, how high is really too high?In this post, I’m going to show you how you can fully measure and assess your bounce rate. That way, you’ll know if it’s actually too high for your industry or if it’s perfectly normal.

I’ll share tips and tricks on how to audit your bounce rate and understand what’s driving it up.I’ll also tell you some of my secrets for lowering your bounce rate.But first, let’s talk about exactly what a bounce rate is and why you should care.

What is a bounce rate and why does it matter?

A “bounce” occurs when someone visits your website and leaves without interacting further with your site. Your bounce rate shows you the percentage of your visitors who bounce off of your site.

By default, Google Analytics considers a visitor to have interacted with your site if they visited at least one additional page.

The bounce rate you see in your overview report on Google Analytics is your site-wide bounce rate.

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It’s the average number of bounces across all of your pages divided by the total number of visits across all of those pages within the same period.

You can also track the bounce rate of a single page or a segment or section of your site.

I’ll show you how once we start looking at the different segment reports.

The bounce rate of a single page is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the total number of bounces divided by the total number of visits on a page.

If you run an e-commerce site that also has a blog, you may want to implement a segmented bounce rate.

Why?

Your blog posts may have a very different average bounce rate than your product pages.

We’ll get into the exact details later, but segmenting the two can make your numbers more meaningful when you’re looking at the data.

So, why is bounce rate important?

According to SEMrush, bounce rate is the 4th most important ranking factor on SERPs.

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However, according to Search Engine Journal, Google does not use bounce rate in its algorithm metrics.

Can they both be right?

Yes, and I’ll tell you why.

Google’s algorithm may not directly take bounce rate into account, but what it signifies is very important to it.

As of 2016, RankBrain was the third-most important ranking factor of Google’s algorithm.

If you’re not familiar with RankBrain, its main purpose is to improve search results for users by better understanding their search intent.

If a user clicks on your page and leaves without any interaction, that could signal to RankBrain that your site isn’t what they’re looking for.

It makes it look like your result doesn’t match the searcher intent well. As a result, RankBrain says, “Maybe this page shouldn’t be so high in the results.”

Can you see how these connect?

If you understand bounce rate properly, it can tell you if your marketing strategy is effective and if your visitors are engaging with your content.

The key is to understand what your “target” is and break down your bounce rate in a way that provides meaning.

What bounce rate is good?

Many different variables determine what a “good” bounce rate is.

Things like your business type, industry, country, and the types of devices your visitors are using all influence what a good average would be for your site.

For instance, Brafton found that the average bounce rate is 58.18%. However, their research shows that bounce rates are higher for B2B businesses than B2C businesses.

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These 2017 benchmarks show a wide range of average bounce rates across industries:

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If you’re still unsure about the bounce rate you should be targeting, Google Analytics can help you figure it out.

Google Analytics gives you a quick visualization of the average bounce rate for what it believes is your industry. It does this by benchmarking.

First, you need to set up benchmarking in Google Analytics.

Under the admin section, click on “Account Settings” and then check the “Benchmarking” box.

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Now you can compare industry averages.

Just navigate to your behavior reports. Click on “Site Content” and then “Landing Pages.”

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You’ll immediately see the average, site-wide bounce rate.

Of course, a site-wide average can be too broad to be a valuable benchmark.

You can drill down further to view section-specific bounce rates.

With either the Content Drilldown Report or the advanced filter feature, you can see the average bounce rates for sections of your site.

For example, now you can compare the industry average for just your blog or product pages.

In the “Audience” section of Google Analytics, go under “Behavior” then “Benchmarking.” Then, select “Channels.”

Now you can choose your vertical and compare whichever time period you want to review.

This should give you a better idea of your website’s bounce rate performance compared to the average by channel.

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The chart above compares your channel bounce rate against other Google Analytics accounts or properties in your industry.

If you want to look deeper, you can do so by going into “Acquisition,” then “All Traffic,” and then “Channels.”

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Then click the “Comparison” button on the right and filter by “Bounce Rate” to see which channels are above or below average.

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You can then dig even deeper into each one for further analysis.

Ultimately, a “good” bounce rate will be different for every site. It may even be different for every page on your site.

I suggest that you simply focus on your bounce rate trends over time and how you can improve the highest ones to boost conversions.

The focus should be on using this metric to find weaknesses in your site. Don’t worry about hitting a magic number.

Now, let’s look at how you can improve your bounce rates.

Modifying bounce rates

Your site-wide bounce rate is too broad to be anything but a vanity metric.

It’s too shallow to provide meaning.

To measure and assess your bounce rate, you need to narrow it down and group it by different variables.

You won’t be able to start lowering your bounce rate until you really understand what’s causing it to be high.

There are a couple of ways that you can modify the bounce rate metric you see in Google Analytics.

As I already mentioned above, the first way is by segmenting your bounce rate.

You can create all sorts of different segments in Google Analytics to better analyze your bounce rate. You can even create custom variables.

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We’ll look at nine different segment options that will help you assess and improve your bounce rate.

Segment by age

There are plenty of different demographics that Google Analytics tracks, which allows you to better segment and analyze your site traffic.

One of these is the age range of your visitors.

To look at bounce rate by age range, look under “Audience” and then “Demographics” on the left-hand sidebar. Then, click the “Age” option.

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The resulting report should look something like this.

google analytics age breakdown 2

Now you can easily see if your bounce rate is higher with a certain age range.

You can see in the example above that seniors (65+) have a much higher rate than the rest of this site’s visitors.

If seniors are part of your ideal target market, make sure that you structure your web pages properly for marketing to them.

For example, avoid using jargon, trendy language, and slang.

Segment by gender

The “Gender” option is just below “Age” on that left-hand menu.

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This report tells you your bounce rate for males and females.

Google analytics gender breakdown 1

You can now easily see if your site is better at retaining one gender over the other.

Gender targeting with tactics such as different language and colors can impact viewing and purchasing behavior.

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If you have a higher bounce rate with one gender, make sure you’re not accidentally creating the perception that you’re only targeting the other sex.

Segment by affinity

The next option in the “Audience” section is under “Interests” and then “Affinity Categories.”

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This groups bounce rate based on visitor interests.

google analytics affinity reports 1

Check out which affinity categories have the highest bounce rates to see if you’re losing out on key marketing groups.

You can see in the example above that this site is engaging best with business professionals and shutterbugs.

Engagement with music lovers, movie lovers, and green living enthusiasts is the poorest.

This knowledge can now help you better target those groups with your imagery and content.

Segment by location

Still in “Audience,” just under “Interests,” you’ll find the “Geo” section. Within that, you can click on “Location” for another segment report.

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First, you’ll see a color-coded map that shows you where most of your visitors come from.

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Below that, you’ll see the table version breaking down your visitors by geographic region.

google analytics geographic breakdown 2

This gives you your bounce rate by country.

In the example above, you can see that Australia and the UK have much higher bounce rates than the other countries.

You can drill further into it to see if there are certain provinces that are engaging worse than others. Then, you can adapt your marketing strategy to target areas where you want to see improvement.

Segment for new visitors

A good segment to check out is the “New Vs. Returning” breakdown. It’s also in the “Audience” section under “Behavior.”

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Now you can see if your new visitors are bouncing at a higher rate than your returning visitors.

google analytics new vs returning user

I would expect your new visitors to have a higher rate.

So, to get more value out of this segment, you can view the acquisition source as a secondary dimension.

Just click on the “Secondary Dimension” drop-down list at the top of the table and select “Source” from the list that appears below.

We’ll talk more about acquisition in a minute.

Segment by browser

The browser breakdown report is a good way to see if you have any technical issues that are causing your visitors to bounce.

In the “Audience” section under “Technology,” select “Browser & OS.”

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The report should look like this:

google analytics broswer breakdown

If one browser has a higher bounce rate than the others, that might indicate that you haven’t configured your site well for that browser.

You also need to consider versions of browsers. For example, don’t just check Internet Explorer. Check across versions 8.0, 9.0, and 11.0.

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If one has a noticeably higher bounce rate, your site might have bugs or UX issues with that browser.

Even if it’s an outdated browser, you will want to fix the issue if the browser is still bringing you traffic.

Segment by device

Underneath the “Technology” section, you can find the “Mobile” section. Select “Overview” to see your bounce rate across devices.

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This will give you a bounce rate comparison between desktop, mobile, and tablet.

google analytics mobile devices breakdown

If you find out that your bounce rate is significantly higher on mobile or tablet, it may indicate that you haven’t properly optimized your site for those devices.

You can also view the “Devices” report. This further breaks it down by mobile brand and operating system.

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If you find, for example, that Apple users are bouncing at a higher rate than Android users, you might have some design issues.

Pay attention to individual device models as well.

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Focus on trends and device release dates. For example, you might discover that your bounce rate is fine for Apple devices in general, but it’s too high for the latest models.

This may indicate that your website isn’t compatible with the newest Apple OS.

Segment by acquisition

Now, let’s look at segmentation by acquisition rather than by audience.

Go to “Acquisition,” then “All Traffic,” and then “Source/Medium” in the left-hand menu.

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The table at the bottom of your screen should look like this.

google analytics traffic source

It will show you a breakdown of where all of your traffic is coming from and the associated bounce rates.

Take a look at the sources that have the highest bounce rates to see if there’s a trend.

Here’s an example where you can see that the paid advertising campaigns have a much higher bounce rate:

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Either your advertising targeting is too broad, or your landing pages are not lining up very well with your ads, resulting in a higher bounce rate.

Segment by landing page

The final option we’ll discuss is segmentation by landing pages.

In the left-hand menu under “Behavior,” click on “Site Content” and then “Landing Pages.”

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The resulting table shows you a breakdown of your landing pages and their average bounce rates.

You might find that one page has a much higher bounce rate than the others.

Visit that page and look for any design problems or issues that might be making it less effective than the others.

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Make sure you haven’t forgotten any key steps to optimize your landing pages for conversions.

Now that you know the different ways that you can segment your site traffic, I’ll show you how you can create adjusted bounce rates.

You can adjust what Google Analytics considers an interaction. This will directly impact your bounce rate.

For example, you might feel that a visitor has interacted on your site if they watched a video.

In Google Analytics, you have the option to set an event like playing a video, clicking a button, or completing a download as an interaction.

Then, users who complete these “events” will no longer count toward your bounce rate.

However, you need to careful with this. Make sure that automated events don’t skew your results.

If you’ve set up your videos to play automatically, you need don’t want to count video views as interactions.

The simple way to modify how Google records interactions is by sending events into your Google Analytics that tell you when a user spends a certain amount of time on a page, scrolls through a certain percentage of a page, or sees a specific element a the page.

You can send events from Google Tag Manager:

1. Adjust your bounce rate through scroll percentage events

The “Scroll Depth” trigger allows you to create custom events based on how far a visitor scrolls down a page.

First, you need to create a new tag.

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Then, name your tag, select “Universal Analytics” for tag type and choose “Event” for the track type.

Next, you need to type in the event category and event action.

To get the action, simply click the small plus sign beside the field and select “Page Path.”

For the event label, pick “Scroll Depth Threshold.”

If you don’t see this option available, go to your “Built-In Variables” screen and enable the scrolling variables:

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Now, select “Non-interaction Event” as “False,” and add in your UA tracking ID .

If you’ve completed all of those fields, it should look like this:

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For this tag, I recommend setting the scroll to 75% of the page. That means that Google will consider a visitor to have interacted on your site if they scroll 75% of the way through the page.

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Make sure you’ve selected “Scroll Depth” as the trigger type. Then, in percentages, put down “75 percent”.

Once done, you can save, preview, debug, and then publish.

2. Adjust your bounce rate through the timer function

You can also decide that Google should consider a visitor to have interacted on a page if they spend a minimum amount of time on it.

Create a new tag and give it a name, such as “UA — Adjusted Bounce Rate — Timer.”

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You can choose the length of time that you want to start with. I suggest trying 30 seconds.

To do this, add a new trigger and name it “Timer — 30 seconds”.

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The interval is in milliseconds. So, for 30 seconds, you need to put enter “30000.”

Select a limit of one. Then, in the conditions section, set it for “Page URL matches RegEx*.”

This will make it so that Google Analytics includes all of your pages in the tracking.

Make sure you save, preview, and debug before publishing.

Other methods for decreasing bounce rate

Here are some more ways to see where visitors are bouncing and how you can use that information to boost conversions.

Review top exit pages

Another report you should check out is your top exit page report.

You can find it right below the landing pages report in the left-hand menu.

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This report will show you which pages people most often abandon your website from.

Take a look at your top traffic pages and compare your bounce rate and your exit rate.

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This will show you who’s landing directly on that page and bouncing versus who’s arriving there from an internal link and exiting.

It can help you narrow down where you should spend your time testing and making improvements on your site.

Review in-page analytics

Another great report within Google Analytics is the in-page analytics report.

This is only available now via a Chrome plugin, but it is still very useful.

As you can see below, the report allows you to see the click-through rate for every link on a web page. Page Analytics by Google

This is a great way to evaluate a landing page, but it can be useful for any content on your site, including your homepage.

It will allow you to see which links in your content people are clicking on and which ones they skip right over.

This will help you determine which anchor texts you should reword or which calls-to-action you need to improve.

View Page Timings

Your pages may have high abandonment because they’re too slow.

You can check this with the Page Timings report.

In the “Behavior” section of the left-hand menu, click “Site Speed” and then “Page Timings.”

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The report will tell you how fast each page on your site is loading.

google analytics site speed

You can sort by number of page views and average page speed. That way, you can start improving your pages with the highest traffic yet slowest load times first.

It also shows you your overall site average speed.

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In light of Google’s Speed Update that’s coming in July, site speed is becoming increasingly important. But even apart from that, it’s critical for improving bounce rates.

For example, the average page speed above means that our bounce rate is 123% higher than it could be.

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Google Analytics Site Speed reports

You can check out the other Site Speed reports for further analysis and options for improving your site speed.

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The Speed Suggestions report will not only indicate potential issues but also give you useful advice on how to resolve them, such as prioritizing visible content.

Utilize A/B testing

Throughout all of these report checks, you are hopefully pinpointing some specific areas you need to target for improvements.

It’s difficult to guarantee which changes will improve your bounce rate the most.

For instance, you may have identified a weak landing page. But what do you need to do to improve it?

Do you need to make it longer? Do you need a different call-to-action? What will increase your conversion rate?

A/B testing is a great way to test your improvement strategies.

It allows you to test things like different call-to-action wording, different landing page designs, and different target audiences.

A/B testing will make it easy to see what’s working and what isn’t since it allows you to show one version of your website to half of your visitors and another version to the other half.

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Just make sure you set a clear goal for your testing and follow the correct steps.

To better understand your A/B test results, you can also use a significance calculator.

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Make your pages easy to read

It’s easy to forget such a simple aspect of your pages, but readability is important.

There are lots of free tools that allow you to check the readability of your content and your website like the Yoast plugin for WordPress.

Be mindful of your font size and type, your sentence and paragraph length, and the amount of white space on the page.

Use subheadings and break your content up into chunks.

Also, consider other elements on your page that might be distracting like your color choices and ad placements.

Include clear CTAs and consider their placements

A great way to get people to engage and convert is by using compelling calls-to-action.

A call-to-action should compel someone to do something such as sign up for a newsletter or purchase a product.

There are many ways to improve your call-to-action buttons. Consider your copy, color, button size, placement on the page, and so much more.

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Apple suggests making sure that all CTA buttons are at least 44 pixels tall.

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Use videos and images to engage your audience

Humans are visual creatures.

We love imagery. We also retain it better.

If you hear something or read something, the chances are good that you’ll only remember 10% of it three days later. However, if you see a picture, you’re likely to remember 65% of it.

Adding images and videos is a great way to get your audience engaged with your content.

Short, catchy videos are increasing in popularity, and they can boost engagement.

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Infographics are also effective at drawing your visitors in.

In fact, over 41% of marketers said that infographics were their most engaging form of visual content.

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If you find that your audience isn’t engaging with a certain page, you may simply need to add more images, videos, and infographics.

Offer live chat support

Live chat is the fastest method for offering customer service support.

If people come to your page and don’t immediately find exactly what they want, live chat can help engage them before they give up and try the next site.

There are lots platforms out there today that can help you set up live chat services, such as Intercom.

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Live chat is one of the best tools you can implement on your website this year to decrease bounce and boost conversions.

Conclusion

Analyzing and improving your bounce rate can be intimidating.

But improving your bounce rate means a more engaged audience and more conversions.

If you follow the steps I’ve outlined in this post, you should see your bounce rate decrease in no time.

First, understand what a “good” bounce rate really is and narrow down your analysis to pinpoint exactly what your bounce rate metrics are telling you.

Remember that a site-wide bounce rate is simply a vanity metric. It’s too broad to provide actionable information.

Focus on the different segment reports and your other analytics tools to dive into the data.

Check out your top exit pages, page timings, and speed reports to understand what might be causing your bounce rates to be high.

To help people engage with your content, be sure to improve your site’s readability, add imagery, optimize your CTAs, and use live chat.

Do some A/B testing to see what works best for you and your audience.

Monitor your reports with each change to see where and how you’re improving

Remember: There is no magic number that you’re trying to hit.

The goal is to simply keep improving and offering your customers a better, more engaging experience.

What tools and tricks do you use to monitor and improve your bounce rate?

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