Basic Web Measurement Terms Defined

Far too many people still seem to consider ‘hits’ a useful measure of web statistics so I thought I take a little time to define a few basic website measurements. Web analytics are an important of running a successful website. Being able to track visitors to your web pages and what they do once on your site is an essential part of SEO and PPC advertising. You really can’t do either effectively without knowing something about the traffic your site is or isn’t getting.

This isn’t meant to be an all inclusive post on web measurements. No single post could hope to do that. The field of web measurement and analytics is growing rapidly and anyone that can master it can easily draw a six figure salary in today’s market. We all need to start somewhere though, so here are a few of the more important terms.

Page Views

A page view can be defined as any time a document on your site successfully loads due to a request by a visitor. If someone sees a page on your site a page view should be recorded. Page views are perhaps the most fundamental unit of web measurements. They can be used to determine the most popular pages and sections of your site and are used as a building block for many other measurements.

By following the pages someone views while on your site you can track their clickstream or the sequence of pages they visit. In knowing a person’s clickstream you can determine things like click through rate (CTR), a highly useful measurement for knowing whether or not your copy and calls to action are leading people where you want them to go.

Why Hits Are Meaningless

Hits used to be the favored statistic, though in truth it’s always been rather meaningless. A hit is any time a request is made on the server. When a browser requests a page that page often makes many requests on the server. The html file is one request, an external css or javascript is another. Any image on the page will also be a request on the server. Each of those requests is recorded as a hit. If you create a page with five images on it then you’ll have at least six hits when anyone visits the page. One for the html and five more for the images. Adding five more images to the page ups the hits to eleven. It’s easy to see why hits are meaningless since they rely so much on things outside the realm of people actually viewing your pages. You can easily record hundreds of hits on a single page by adding code to that page that makes additional requests on the server. Hits can’t really compared across pages because of this.

Visits

Visits are generally defined as the collection of pages someone views when browsing your site. You may also see them called user sessions, but visits is the most common term. It’s easy to understand when a visit starts. You browse to a page on your site and it starts. When it ends can be a little subjective though. If you were to browse some pages over the course of a few minutes, do what you came to do, and them leave to browse another site it’s pretty clear your visit is over. But what happens when you land on a site, click around and then the phone rings. You take the call and maybe go off to make lunch. After you finish eating you come back to the site and continue to click around more. Was that really one visit? Maybe two, one before the call and one after lunch?

It’s really hard to know, so a visit is defined as ending when a certain amount of time passes between clicks on the site. The time frame can really be anything, but the standard is 30 minutes. So a visit is better defined as the collection of pages someone views as long as the period of inactivity between page views is less than 30 minutes. Your visit itself can last more than 30 minutes, but if after viewing a page you don’t do anything on the site for 30 minutes your visit has ended.

Unique Visitors

Unique visitors are about people. A unique visitor is recorded when a person uses a web browser to visit a website. They can view one page or 1000 pages. Obviously a single person can visit your site more than once, so unique visitors are only considered unique over a given time frame. Usually the time frame is a day. If I visit your site in the morning and come back later in the evening I am one unique visitor for that day. If I come back again the next day I will be seen as one unique visitor on the first day and one unique visitor on the second day.

Referrers

Referrers are anything online that sends traffic to your site. It can be another website, a search engine, a banner ad, a contextual ad, an email, etc. Referrers are obviously important since you want to know where your traffic is coming from. You want to know if an add you placed is working or if the link in your newsletter is effective in driving traffic to your site. If you want to know if your seo efforts are paying off you want to see more referrals from the different search engines.

Knowing where visitors come from can tell you a lot about where to concentrate future marketing. If you’re paying good money for a text link on a site and no one ever visits through that link you probably want to use that money elsewhere.

That’s a quick walk through of basic web measurements. It’s far from everything you’ll want to measure, but these are the building blocks from which many other statistics are born. Lets all stop talking about how many hits we get on our sites and instead compare page views, visits, and visitors. Let’s all pay attention to who’s referring the traffic as well.

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One comment

  1. Good post steve. Far too often people look solely at hits when judging how well thier site is doing. Users should definately look at every web statistic they can get thier hands on.
    I tend to use awstats and google analytics to get an all round view of what people do on my site, how long they spend there and how often they come back.

    And if they run adsense, channels are thier best friend. It makes it easy to see what adverts are being used and which are just taking up space.

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