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Hits Explained

If you think the term hits means the number of people who visit a website, you're wrong.

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You're not alone. Most people have no idea that hits are meaningless. A "million hits" does not mean that a million people visited a website. It doesn't actually tell you anything at all about the volume of traffic — the real number of visitors could be close to a million or it could be less than a thousand. There's just no way of knowing.

This page explains in simple language what "hits" really mean. See the links on the right for more detailed information about web statistics.

What Are Hits?

A hit is a request for one file from a web server. For example, if you request (i.e. visit) a single web page which contains only text, the web server will send you that page as a file. This process is called a hit.

1 File Request = 1 Hit
File request and transfer

In the early days of the Internet, hits were a reasonable way of tracking how many pages were viewed. Each page was one file, so hits equalled page views (more or less).

The problem is that in today's Internet, each page is typically made up of multiple files. Each time you request a page you receive a whole bunch of responses — each of which counts as a separate hit.

1 Page Request = Multiple Hits
Request for a web page

It is quite common for one visitor to generate dozens or even hundreds of hits during a single visit.

Clearly hits are a gross exaggeration of the number of visits, but it gets worse. Because websites are designed so differently, there is no common baseline for determining how many hits an average visitor generates. If a website uses 25 icons in their navigation menu, it will generate a lot more hits than a site which uses a single image file. This makes hits absolutely useless when it comes to reporting traffic volume.

How Can Visits Be Measured Properly?

Unfortunately there is no accurate way to measure visits but there are certainly much better ways than hits. The standard method is to use a software application which analyses lots of different statistics and makes an estimate of the number of individual visitors.

The number of visitors is called "visits", "unique visits", "uniques" or "sessions". There are other terms as well but these are the most common. We recommend using the term "visits" as it is intuitive and descriptive, and more likely to be accepted by the general public.

Why Use Hits if They Are Inaccurate?

It's a legacy problem. As hits slowly became less accurate, no-one wanted to stop using them because everyone else was still using them. It is hard for one webmaster to say they get 100 visits when another webmaster with the same traffic is reporting 10,000 hits.

There are three types of people who still use the term hits:

  1. People who don't know what it means.
  2. People who want to make their website seem busier than it really is.
  3. Server administrators, who actually do have genuine reasons for knowing the number of hits (it's technical).
Author: ,  Originally published: 2007-09-04