Old school hit counters on websites just don’t mean a thing when it comes to understanding how many people are actually visiting. Surprised? Well, you should be! Website statistics say a lot about your web activity, popularity and success, but if you can’t read the numbers properly, you might find yourself greatly misinformed.
Often, people think that the term “hits” refers to the number of individuals that are visiting a website. This is NOT true. “Hits” actually refers to the number of files that a website has to request. And, a file can be anything from an image to a video on a page. So, if you have an HTML page that contains 3 images and a video, all of these files will be requested from the server upon page load. That means the hit counter will add 5 hits for the one visit.
Hits statistics are a great resource for webmasters when analyzing attributes such as server load, page load errors and website speed.
A visit refers to a visitor’s session with your website. During the session, the user can view any number of pages, but the visit as a whole will count as one. The session ends when the visitor navigates to a new website, closes the browser or is inactive for a certain period of time (i.e. 30 minutes). If the visitor returns to the website later in the day, this will count as the second visit.
Visits, when compared with the next term – unique visitors, can help a webmaster understand the number of times visitors repeatedly enter a website.
Unique visitors refers to the number of unique individuals that visit a website within a specific timeframe. The time period set can vary depending on the tracking system in use, but it can be a week or month, for example. There are usually two ways to track unique visitors, and this may be through a tracking cookie or by unique IP addresses. So, if your tracking method uses a month long tracking cookie, one web user can visit the website as many times as they want during that time and only have it counted as one visit.
The unique visitor tracking method is good because it shows a business website how many potential customers they have browsing the site. This number is much more beneficial to a business, as opposed to hits.
Page Impressions / Page Views
Tracking page impressions can tell a webmaster which pages have interesting content, as well as indicating the overall site popularity. A page impression is literally the number of times a page is loaded. So, if you have one unique visitor, but 20 page impressions, this tells us that the site was interesting enough for the visitor to click around and explore. On the other hand, if you have one unique visitor, but 2 page impressions, this shows that the content, navigation or other aspect of the website was not sufficient enough for the visitor to browse around.
Page impressions can also tell you how to better target content for web visitors. Let’s say you have a blog article that gets hundreds more page impressions per day than others. Apparently, that information was more intriguing and interesting to your web visitors than others, thus giving you a better idea of what future content is better suited for that audience.
A while back, we did an article on Google Analytics and how it can be used for traffic analysis. This FREE tool is amazing and can help you track your unique visitors and page impressions… and a whole lot more.
Since bringing up Google Analytics in this blog post, we’ve received a few phone calls about how to actually install the script they provide. Well, after signing up, Google gives you a handy little block of code that you have to insert in the code for EVERY page you want to track.
Installing Google Analytics
• For normal website installation, you will want to include the script just before the tag on all the necessary pages.
• For a PHP or CMS driven website, you can place the code at the bottom of the index.php page (or equivalent), or in an included file that will pull into each page.
• If your website uses frames, it is suggested to put the tracking code in the page containing the frame, and in the content that goes in the frame.
Just to Reiterate
The moral of the story here is that the term “hits” doesn’t mean much for website traffic tracking. If you want to get a true idea of how your site is operating, you will need to look at more: visits, unique visitors, page impressions, and bounce rates. All of these can be tracked using Google Analytics, which is free and easy to install. Don’t spend any more time being misinformed about your website’s activity, especially when it’s this simple to get the full picture.