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.