Hits, page views and visits

Jun 28, 2012 by
Hits, page views and visits

I recently read The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. The core message is spot on (always be testing!), and, in many ways, it is a re-statement of my own personal business-bible, The E-Myth by Michael Gerber.

Close-up of a ruler showing the number four.However, I did notice one small flaw. In his ongoing discussion of vanity metrics, Ries states that:

No one knows the difference between a hit, a page view and a visit.

This is clearly untrue, although it’s fair to say that a lot of confusion still abounds. Let’s try to clarify things.

So what is the difference?

These three terms are, in fact, clearly defined. They each relate to web site usage and stats:

  • Hits
    A hit is a request for an asset, made by your web browser to a web server. That asset could be an image, a script file, a video or something else entirely. Typically, a single page view consists of many hits, as the browser requests all the different resources required by one web page. There might be 10 or 20 hits per page view. Hits, therefore, are not of interest when calculating the traffic your site gets, and tools such as Google Analytics do not report on them.
  • Page views
    A page view is just that – when a visitor to your site looks at one page. A page view is of more interest than a hit, but is still not an important metric in it’s own right. Fifty page views could mean one very keen visitor or 50 disinterested ones (or, more likely, something in between). We have to dig a bit deeper to find out what’s really going on.
  • Visits
    A single visit corresponds to one person actually looking at your site. A visit will, with any luck, consist of many page views and even more hits. There is some ambiguity with its measurement, however. Unlike page views and hits, there is a little bit of guess work involved in calculating the number of visits over a given time period, and different stats packages work it out in different ways. Visits are held to be of core importance to any marketing campaign… but, as Eric Reis says, should they be?

As you can see, these three figures actually form a hierarchy of data and are perfectly clear cut.

Vanity metrics?

The idea of a vanity metric is that it is a seemingly important figure for measuring the performance of your business or campaign, but that in reality tells you very little. Vanity metrics are typically not actionable.

One thing that Ries is correct about is that both page views and visitsare vanity metrics. They might look nice on a graph (especially if they’re going up), but it is not possible to take actions based on them. We’ll dive deeper into actionable metrics in other posts on this blog, but very quickly, the way to get something actionable is often just to divide one thing by another. In this instance, we can divide page views by visits to come up with the average number of pages viewed by each person who visited the site. This is a typical measure of engagement, and can be optimised by running tests on your site’s design and content and watching how the metric changes.

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