The Problem with Hits (Still)

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It would appear that the age-old confusion concerning the use of the word ‘hits’ is as prevalent as ever, perhaps more so due to the increased, and now, ever-constant coverage of the web in the media. How often do we hear on the radio or in a TV interview a reference to how many hits a particular site has received? I can say that it’s almost a daily occurrence for me.

I’m going to assume that readers are more than familiar with the basics of web analytics, and the point of this piece is not necessarily to educate in this regard but rather to encourage that we do as much as we can to help clarify the situation. Each time I work with a new client I make a specific point of talking them through analytics and explicitly defining the difference between hits, visits (uniques & recurring) and views.

Without fail, each one has mentioned that they had misunderstood the term ‘hits’ and were glad to be informed (although often a little disappointed) that they should ignore it as a representation of a site’s popularity.

A Quick Recap

A a hit is a request received by a web server for a single file. Thus, a page load may result in a number of hits, for example: one for the page itself, another for the stylesheet, another for a JavaScript file and a further hit for each image. See the Wikipedia web analytics article for a more in-depth look at the key definitions.

Why is it important to make the distinction between a hit and a page view? The problem is that the figure represented in the monthly hit count for a site really has no bearing on the number of page views and visits. Of course, there’s a linear relationship between page views and hits, assuming that each page has a similar number of hits per view (which often shouldn’t be the case if client-side caching is on and has been correctly configured).

Counting Hits

If a page has for example 20 external resources to be loaded, one view will of course generate 20 hits. Another page may have only 5 resources and so 5 hits are generated per view. This clearly indicates a huge discrepancy if a sole reliance on hits is used for judging the popularity of the page. The figure could naturally be far more extreme.

Help Your Clients Understand

So I’d like to encourage everyone to, at the very least, insist on making the above distinctions clear with their clients. Hopefully this will help clear up the confusion to some extent.

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9 comments on “The Problem with Hits (Still)

  1. “Hits” as “resource requests” is a travesty of language. Who ever did that should be soundly beaten with a soggy leather bound dictionary, or perhaps a metal studded thesaurus.

    Everyone wants to see “hits” as “page views”, so why couldn’t we have used the term that way? It was so freaking obviously the right way to go. But no, some stupid nerd who couldn’t take his nose off his disk platters had to insist that each apache log entry was a “hit” and any suggestion otherwise was preposterous. How does that make any more sense than counting sectors read off disk, or the number of seek operations required to pull together a page, or something else equally useless?

    My approach is to use the word “hits” in casual conversation to mean page views, but only when I’m sure the person I’m talking to understands my convention. Anything in writing I stick to views or uniques or whatever. And under no circumstances do I ever use “hits” to mean “resource requests.” That was stupid the first time it was used that way, and it will be stupid until the end of the web. I refuse to aid and abet such forehead-slappingly obvious stupidity.

  2. Well… It is like everything in this world, ignorance is bliss, but once you learn something, if wrong or conflicting… well then you’re stuffed.

    The problem being that there were and are too many people selling fake S.E.O. advice to plug P.P.P. or Social Media Advise or whatever other flavour of the month they are trying to plug just to make a quick and dirty buck (just take a look at this great page over at 😉 get the picture). So… no wonder there is so much confusion!

    So how to simplify the confusion, well give it a K.I.S.S. you know keep it simple stupid and this will stop the confusion, I usually say to clients…

    A hit is walking on the pavements of Oxford Street just before Christmas, a thousand people bump into you, some saying “sorry!” but all just moving on.

    A visitor, well they will at least come over and have a cup of tea and chew the cud before they move on.

    So… what you’re after are visitors and not hitters, as they are the ones that leave and offer the best impression.

    Well that’s my 2p worth, hope it’s a hit over and out :)

  3. I can sense clients’ disappointment when I explain why the tens of thousands of “hits” they saw in their stats isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Not their fault, they hear everyone else using the word and assume it’s meaningful. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

  4. I can sense clients’ disappointment when I explain why the tens of thousands of “hits” they saw in their stats isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Not their fault, they hear everyone else using the word and assume it’s meaningful. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

  5. This is a great way to explain the basics of Hits vs Views. We recently ran into this with a client when her new site had received 50,000 Hits. She was of course ecstatic until we discussed what that really meant.

    I think where this article missed a bit is it could have shed some more light on the importance of Hits and how we can better use that data. David touched on this a little but a follow up to this would be how we can use that data to make our sites more efficient.

    RE: Aardfark, The point of this article is to help clarify the meaning of hits and to stop the use of hits to replace page views. Your “resource request” is exactly that, a request for contents from the server that are needed to make up a page – resources. Hits vs page views should be clear to those who work with search on a daily basis, but our job is to clarify it for those who don’t, our clients. We don’t help anyone but using the terms interchangeably and adding to the confusion.