Internet 101 - Hits are not people - understanding basic web stats

Magnus Woxen at the Onboard Media Station on Volvo Open 70 Ericsson. A facility such as this aboard the Volvo 70’s is transforming coverage of trans-oceanic racing events on the Internet. ©Rick Tomlinson
While the internet is now 20 years old, confusion still abounds about the basic recording of visits to web sites.

I just heard on the radio, a sports administrator talking about the great interest there was his sport online. It had almost a hundred thousand hits in the month and his radio interviewer asked why the new website had received such amazing interest, when the sport (which shall remain nameless) was so small in this country.

It was abundantly clear that both the sports administrator and the radio interviewer were confusing hits and people. It was not 100,000 visitors who had clicked onto the site but more likely around 5,000 – still a good number but not quite the same.

Here is a short explanation of the basic things you need to know, so you don’t get confused when you’re trying to get a handle on the relevance and status of a particular website.

HIT (internet): A request for a single website file from a website server.

The number of hits received by a website is frequently used to talk about it’s popularity, but this number is extremely misleading and dramatically over-estimates popularity. Many people confuse hits and visits. This is wrong - hits do NOT equal visits by people.

A single graphics rich web page typically consists of dozens of images and text files, each of which is counted as a hit as the page is downloaded.

A website like Sail-World receives between 20-25 million hits each month, that does not mean 25 million viewings of the site.

PAGE VIEW: Single website page download. This is a much more realistic and accurate assessment of the popularity of a site.

External auditing systems – place a tag at the bottom of a page so that when the page is downloaded, that is recorded. This provides an accurate measurement of pages read, because if online readers click away from a site, even after the start of a page download, then there is no page view recorded.

In contrast when a reader flicks through a magazine and bypasses articles (and all the ads surrounding them ) – no one knows.

Over the last three months Sail-World has averaged 1.6 million page views each month. Again that is not people, just pages.

UNIQUE VISITOR: The uniquely identified client generating requests on the website server (log analysis) or viewing pages (page tagging) within a defined time period (i.e. day, week or month). A Unique Visitor may make multiple visits, but counts only once within the timescale.

So when counting unique visitors in a day, a visitor on Boxing Day (December 26th) for example looking for the latest news on the Sydney to Hobart, might have visited Sail-World six times, but they are just recorded as one unique visitor on that day.

In the month of March 2009 Sail-world recorded 125, 841 unique visitors.

Many sailors go to the Sail-world site 2-3 times a day, every day of the month, but they are only recorded as one unique visitor.

Of course web site's like the Volvo Ocean Race www.volvooceanrace.org receive much larger world wide traffic and sites like www.CNN.com receive many many millions of visitors per month. These numbers are people not hits.

So when you are being told about the wonderful traffic a website receives, check to see if the claimant has been impressed by the hits, the page views or the unique visitors. In fact do they even know the difference?

Now YOU do!