Hits vs Visits, or “How to ask for website stats without sounding old”

“How many hits do we get?”

This question is almost as prevalent as the “How do I make a site” thing, but it’s a lot more dated. If uttered by a marketer, it instantly shows their age as nobody actually asks about ‘hits’ anymore if they know what they’re talking about.

I’ll break down the terms first so you know what I’m talking about, if you don’t already.

Hits

Hits are page refreshes, so every internal link someone follows on your site is a hit. Hits are completely useless in terms of stats because there is no way to know how many people actually came to your site. If you have 12,000 hits it could be 12,000 separate people that looked at one page and left, or it could be one kid who’s clicked around your site and seen 12,000 pages (or a handful of pages multiple times).

Hits. Are. Useless. Don’t ask anyone how many hits their site gets unless you’re in the 1990’s, because thats where people will think you are. In the early to mid 90’s when the internet was still a pretty new thing for marketing and business, there weren’t any good statistics tracking tools like Google Analytics, so everyone had to rely on server logs (or the very basic graphical charts based on those logs), and quite often it would only track the hits. Even if it did track more meaningful data, everyone talked in hits for a few reasons; a) it was the lowest common denominator that everyone had data on, b) marketers love little words with impact, and c) it was always the biggest number on any statistics report. Some people still use it because of that actually, 80,000 hits is a much better marketing statistic than 2500 visitors, even if it actually means a lot less.

Okay so you know what not to say… what do you ask about instead of hits?

Visits

Visits are what you want now, because they will actually tell you how many PEOPLE looked at your site. Already I can see you nodding your head at how much more sense this unit of traffic measurement makes! It’s much more valuable to have something like this when talking about statistics, because it actually gives you something tangible to count rather than (like so much on the internet) something meaningless, useless, and undefined.

Visits can sometimes be trickier to accurately get though, unless you’re using stats software that tracks “Unique Visits”, or “Absolute Unique Visits”. Google Analytics does this, as will some default server stats packages you can buy with your hosting. The difference is that Visits uses something called a ‘session’ to track its data – imagine you need to do some banking; you go to the bank site, log in, click around, log out and go somewhere else. The time you spent on the bank’s site is all counted as one ‘session’ or ‘visit’. An absolute visit however, is usually tracked by the IP address (like your house address, but only useful to computers and it won’t help anyone stalk you or steal your identity unless they can also get into your internet providers encrypted and legally-required-to-be-high-security log files). So a Unique Visit will be worth more than a normal Visit, but they can both still be useful, for example comparing the two values will tell you what kind of repeat traffic you get which may be good or bad depending on your business. Usually good.

There’s some other more technical ways to calculate Visits and Unique Visits, but the above is by far the easiest and most common. I’ll save a rant about Sockets, NAT Spoofing and Multiple Entry Corporate Networks for later.

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