4 September 2010

This original article was first published in The Dot Connector Magazine, Issue #10.

When it comes to web sites and the amount of traffic they claim to have, what is the difference between unique visits, page views, and hits per day? Which measure is the most honest?

A unique visit is when one person accesses content on a particular web site in a given time period, whether we’re talking about one image or 300 different web pages.

A page view is when a person views one particular web page on a web site.

Hits, on the other hand, are when any “user agent”, such as a web browser or search engine crawler, sends a request for some kind of data to a web site. One page load may consist of multiple hits: one hit for the main HTML page, one hit for the style sheet, and multiple hits for each image on the page.

Most web sites boast of the number of hits they receive each day – and with good reason! The number of hits will always be higher than unique visits or page views.

Using hits to compare traffic is not as unsavory as it may seem, however. An individual’s IP address, which is often used by common web stats software to track unique visits, may change during the course of any given day. Not only that, but multiple people may share the same IP address when they are accessing the internet. So, when 10 different people access your web site from the same IP simultaneously, they may get counted as only one unique visitor that did a lot of surfing.

Or, when someone’s IP address changes over the course of a day (which is surprisingly common on certain ISPs), that one person will count as 2 unique visitors! Oops.

Page views are a better indicator of popularity, since they simply count the number of times that a given page is loaded.  However, what constitutes a “page”? Some web sites are highly interactive, and use Web 2.0 goodness that reloads only small parts of a whole web page. Does that count as a page view, or not? Such a web site might have a lot more traffic than another site with only static web pages, and yet its page views could technically be much lower than the static site’s page view total!

If 10,000 people view an article on your web site, and each of those 10,000 people each write 5 comments, should that count as only 10,000 views, or more?? The web isn’t static any more – it’s interactive.

In the end, hits are where it’s at. It doesn’t matter what kind of web site you have, or what kind of content you have. When any person, search engine, or anything else loads any data from your site, it counts as a hit.

Just keep in mind that caching performed by modern web browsers speeds up your surfing – and also actually reduces the number of hits to your server. Even hits aren’t entirely accurate.

So go ahead and boast away about the number of hits your web site receives!

Hits, Unique Vists, and Page Views: Which is best?
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