Hit Counter? Hits Vs Page Views Vs Visits

Updated on 09-Jan-2012

Hit counters can be set up on each of your web pages to show you (and optionally), other people how many times your page has been visited. Hit counters really are things of the past. Nowadays you are more likely to install a proper analytics or stats package on your site.

However, when checking website visitor statistics (provided by whatever package) to measure traffic to your site, what you see can be very misleading.

Take visitor stats in WordPress for example. With WordPress you can add Site Stats via JetPack. (I actually prefer JetPack Lite as it does not include a bunch of features that I have no need for. If you only want the stats, then use JetPack Lite.)And if you do you’ll get graphs like this one :

Website Statistics

Not many visits there? But do be clear that the graph does not show visitor numbers, it shows how many page views the site received. Where the graph above shows a low but steady number of visitors (section of the graph highlighted in yellow), being page views, they are possibly from the same person. In reality there was probably only one visitor each day, (if that). This is a new website and I plan to increase visitor numbers dramatically . . . but that is a story for another day.

What Are Page Views?

Page views refer to the number of different pages that were viewed on your site. So one visitor might visit 20 pages, in which case you had one visitor who stayed a while.

What Are Hits?

Hits are a little more odd. You know that a web page is made up of different parts? There is the HTML of the page itself, then all the images on the page (that includes the logo, any decorative images such as background images, icons, header images and such as well as photos of real things), and also all the files associated with the page. So one web page may in fact involve the use of a large number of individual files. Additionally, some hits can result from items that you cannot see or that do not get downloaded. For example, when you go to a page and you get a 404 Page not found error, this is also a hit as are all pages that are already in the visitor’s cache.

In the old days (the 1990s) a page was just HTML. Now a web page consists of HTML with extra files referred to at the top, the bottom and sometimes in the middle too.

Typically, included in each HTML web page there will be other types of file such as JavaScript files, Flash files, video files, sound files, PDF files etc.

In the very old days a web page was made of HTML code. Now a web page is still made of HTML, but with extra files referred to at the top, the bottom and sometimes in the middle of that HTML.

Each time you visit a single web page you hit a number of files. You might hit 10 image files, 1 PDF file, 4 javascript files, 1 audio file and the HTML page itself. That is a total of 17 files – therefore 17 hits. 17 hits with one visit from one visitor on a single page view. You can appreciate that those who talk about how many hits they got, are over-stating their popularity. Hits do not equate to visits.

Human Visitors?

One point to note before we talk about visits, is that some stats packages – especially the ones that come standard with your web host – don’t differentiate between human and robot visitors to your site. Programs called bots (robots) visit your site often to index your pages in the search engines. You really don’t want to count their visits, so make sure you’re using a package like Google Analytics which ignores bots. It’s free and it’s easy to install on WordPress.

If you rely on stats from your web host you may find that those 300 visits per day were all in fact hits, and came anyway from bots. How disappointing!

What Are Visits?

Visitors numbers are hard to figure out. But the stats packages do their best. Remember that a visitor is someone who stays on your site for 1 second, for over an hour, or for 2 minutes. They may visit 2 pages, 15 pages or 200 pages, or visit the same page multiple times. They might visit one page, decide your site is boring and go make a cup of coffee with your page still open on their browser.

A site visitor may remain entirely engrossed in your website content, and learn so much that they enthusiastically notify their followers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. Or they man take the time to add content to your site by commenting on your information. We call these unique visitors and they are an important metric. You can see that one visitor may be responsible for scores of page views and thousands of hits. But he is still one visitor.

Imagine you had 200 visitors to your site today. But further imagine your pages views were also 200. Now imagine your friend’s website has only 50 visitors, but her page views numbered 1000. That would mean that your 200 visitors took one look at your site (1 page) and left! But your friend with fewer visitors was able to keep her visitors engaged and they stayed around to view on average, 20 pages each. Which is better? Once again, the answer to that question may not be entirely obvious. But we’ll tackle it on another day.

This article was updated on January 9, 2012

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is an experienced web developer and WordPress SEO Coach. Connect with her on Google+ and Twitter

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