It used to be common to track web site ‘hits’. But this is not a valuable metric, and relying on it could lead you astray. In this article we’ll explain the difference between hits, pageviews and visits.
A web page is made up of lots of different pieces. When you watch a page load – especially on a slow connection – you’ll often be able to see this quite clearly. The page builds bit by bit: first the structure, then text, then other elements. Large images often take longer to load than the rest.
Each piece of the site is a separate file, and every request to each file generates a new ‘hit’ on the web server. Loading a single page could generate anywhere from 1 to 50 (or more) hits.
A pageview is a much more useful metric. As the name suggests, it tracks the number of times a page is viewed.
If your site works well, you will find users visiting multiple pages. This is why, although valuable, a pageview metric is not a true indication of your web site’s traffic. A high pageview count is great, but a high visitor count is even better.
A visit is the most useful metric of all. Each number of visits tells you the number of single people spending time on your site in one sitting.
For example, let’s say I visit your web site in the morning, and look at 5 different pages. This represents one visit, five pageviews and a large number of hits. But, unless I count how many images and other assets are on the page, I’m not going to be able to easily estimate the number of hits.
Later that day, I fire up my browser and return to your site, looking at 3 different pages. This represents a second visit, three more pageviews and again, a large number of hits. My activity on your site has generated two visits, eight pageviews and a lot of hits.
Unique and returning visits
Visitor statistics are split between unique visitors and returning visitors.
What is the difference? A unique visitor is one that has never been to your web site before. A returning visitor is someone who has come back to your site.
A high number of unique visitors and a low number of returning visitors may indicate that your web site’s content is not engaging enough to keep bringing people back.
Conversely, if your unique visitors’ rate is low, you might want to think about ways of bringing more people to your site.
The best visitor metrics have high number of both unique and returning visitors. That would tell you that you are not only drawing people in, but you are good at keeping them coming back.
Measure it, improve it
It is good to keep an eye on each part of your web site statistics. Whatever you can measure, you can improve! Knowing the difference between hits, pageviews and visits is the first step towards better understanding your web site visitors.