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HIT or MISS – Do you know your statistics

If you were asked today how is your website doing, could you give an informed, statistical answer (or even just a broad, general statement)? Most websites come with lots of statistics and you could actually easily spend hours (daily) analyzing these stats. But what are the important statistics and what should you focus on?

One of the largest misnomers that exists today with webmasters, owners and advertisers is the classic “hits” statistic, which is used to very misleadingly describe website visitation. 

Evidently this has really struck a chord – What exactly is a HIT?

A “hit” is a retrieval of any item, like a page or a graphic, from a Web server. For example, when a visitor looks at one web page with six graphics (photos, logos, graphical buttons, even a tiny arrow or other icon – these are all examples of graphics), that’s seven hits, one for the page itself and six for the graphics. For this reason, hits are never a clear indication of Web traffic. In other words – hits are based on the number of times a graphic is viewed (or another file, such as audio, video, or a document, is accessed). For instance, a website owner may have noticed, or been told, that the new photo gallery added to his/her site had increased the site’s “hits” tenfold. “Wow,” he or she thinks. “That must mean I’m getting 10 times more web traffic now!” Unfortunately, this is NOT SO. It simply means that the pages viewed are more graphic (or photo) heavy, thereby driving up that misleading “hits” statistic.

In a nutshell, a hit has no meaningful correlation with your website’s results.

But I have been quoted hits by my webmaster, by the radio station that sells advertising, and even by some very large and reputable business. Don’t lots of hits mean a very busy website?

A great analogy was given to me by my hairdresser (“Bubba”) when discussing this exact topic. He stated that hits would be equivalent to how many hairs he cut in a day (not how many heads). If he wanted to impress an associate he could claim to have cut 10,000 hairs on a given day – but in reality it would be the number of heads (people) that paid for a hair cut that would produce his bottom line results. I have to say to this very day I cringe when someone tells me how great their website is doing and uses hits as their statistic! Sadly, I know immediately they don’t actually understand their website.

So enough with HITS – lets get some real statistics on the table…

Here are some key statistics that can help you better analyze your website:

  • Website Session 
  • Unique Visitors
  • Number of Visits
  • Number of Viewed Pages
  • Website Conversions
  • Visits Duration
  • Frequently Viewed Pages
  • Referring Search Engines
  • Referring Web Sites
  • Key Phrases & Words

Here is a brief summary of these statistics:

Website Session:

A website session is the period of time between a visitor coming to your website and then leaving your website. The website session parameters are set by your website statistics package – so you can find variance in different packages – but generally, a session is a person coming to your website, browsing around, and then leaving your website.

Unique Visitor:

A “Unique Visitor” is the primary measuring unit you will want to focus on. Website owners care about visitors, because having lots of visitors is the target of nearly all websites. A visitor can buy a product, review a service, become a prospect, follow up with a call to your organization, or even simply view an advertisement. Most stats packages give you hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly unique visitors stats. This is your bottom line – no matter what outcomes you want from your website. 

Number of Visits:

The number of visits is the actual recording of each time ANY visitor comes to the site for a session – he or she may be a new visitor or a repeat visitor. You should pay attention to the difference between the number of visits and unique visits. If you are getting lots of new, unique visitors but only slightly higher numbers in overall visits, that means your visitors aren’t finding much on your site to bring them back. The overall number of visits is a great indication of levels of interest or progressions to an outcome on your site.

Number of Pages Viewed: 

Another very valuable stat is pages viewed. A page – any page that is browsed to on your website -records a page view (for that particular page). When people go to websites, they view pages, and this is always one of the most meaningful statistics on your website. Pages viewed always reminds me to make sure that a site’s content is kept up to date and accurate across the entire website.

Website Conversions:

The term “conversion” does not mean a recorded statistics as such, but it is the bottom line outcome you desire fom your website. When you develop your website these desired outcomes should be clearly identified. If you have a retail shop – your conversion is the actual sale of a product. If you are a realtor, your conversion may be an inquiry form being filled out, a house tracking account being opened up, or an e-mail inquiry being sent. For BeareWare, our conversions result in either a new web design inquiry or e-news subscriber. If the website has led a visitor to take some action according to the actual purpose of the site, then a conversion has been created.

Visits Duration:

Visit duration tells you how long a visitor actually stayed on your website. Time measurements are 0-30 seconds, 2-5 minutes, 5-15 minutes, 15-30 minutes, 30 minutes-1 hour, and then 1 hour plus. This statistic is an absolute eye-opener about the general behavior of visitors to your site. If your website’s current information (its “content”) is not up-to-date, or it is difficult for a visitor to find that information on your site, chances are the visits will be in the 0-30 second range. Good sites with rich information should experience 2-5 minutes or above. Either way, understanding visitation duration can really help you make adjustments and enhancements to your site.

Frequently Viewed Pages:

This statistic tells you what specific pages are being viewed by visitors to your website. It also tells you the amount of times a particular page is visited, so you can establish what your key pages are on your  site, as well as what pages you have that people are not visiting (and appropriately analyze why.). Obviously, you want your conversion pages (ones that lead to conversion-specific actions) to be way up there on visitation. Viewed pages also includes entry page statistics (the first page a visitor goes to – which is quite often not your home page if they are taken there via a search engine), and also the page on which they exited your Web site (which can sometimes hint at a page that is out of date or lacks any key information).

Referring Search Engines:

Search engines are a great opportunity for getting new visitors to your website. There are many things that can be done to ensure that you have a prominent listing on a search engine – but knowing which search engines are producing the most referrals can help with your search engine strategy. Of course, there are lots of other methods to get visitors to your site (word of mouth, general advertising, links,) but this stat really is about people not knowing you and finding you by key words on a search engine. Search engines have robots that search the Internet continuously and establish key phrases and words that describe your site. This is how the search engine establishes an index on your website. You can also submit these phrases and words directly to the search engine to improve your chances of appearing on a search (this is one aspect of what is known as SEO – Search Engine Optimization). Google Word ads and search engine advertising will also help increase search engine traffic, but at a price. 

Referring Website:

Referring websites are what I consider “word of mouth” online.  This is the stat that shows you which specific website the visitor found out about you on (and actually took the link on that site to get to you). Online advertising is the primary method that sends visitors to other websites, but key links are also a good way to get additional traffic. Usually there will have to be a key relationship or benefit to have your organization linked on another site, but there is no doubt that getting your website’s link on other sites can help grow your business and also increase your positioning on search engines. This is a great statistic to use to monitor how well your outside advertising or link exchanges are working, for instance, and may help in your future marketing decisions.  

Key Phrases & Words:

Being listed on a search engine is not enough to ensure that people will find you through key phrases and word searches. Your website will also need “meta tags” which are tags that the web robots will look for that describe your site for search engine indexing. Adding these phrases and key words to the search engine directly, and also in your title line on each page, will also help in searching. This statistic tells you which are the primary key phrases and words visitors used to search for your website. They are the words people type into a search engine to find you when they don’t know your company’s name. If your website is missing obvious key words or phrases, then you should make sure your webmaster adds them to your meta tags and search engines submissions to optimize your results.

As can be seen by statistics explanations I have listed here, developing your statistical understanding of your website will take some dedicated time and effort. If you have a good web company that works with you on hosting, support and management – they should be your key contact in terms of reviewing these statistics periodically. Besides your hosting statistics package there are also statistical packages known as “web analytics” which are offered by leading search engines. Statistics reinforce your investment in your website, identify results, and give you a clear path to adjustments for future results. They also are extremely valuable when developing a new website – by knowing what the results are from your existing site, you will be much more in tune with the changes and improvements you will need in a new site.

Take the time to understand your website statistics. It will be time well-invested!


  • Peter Beare

    Peter founded Bear Web Design in Nashville, Tennessee in May of 2000 and has been actively involved in web design & development, web content management & education, web hosting & management as well as internet marketing. His experience gained by working with clients from the sales cycle to launching a new website to overseeing a client’ s second generation redevelopment has given him a unique understanding and perspective of the internet. This allows him to serve our client base with expert leadership & service with a completely hands on approach.

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Peter Beare

Peter founded Bear Web Design in Nashville, Tennessee in May of 2000 and has been actively involved in web design & development, web content management & education, web hosting & management as well as internet marketing. His experience gained by working with clients from the sales cycle to launching a new website to overseeing a client’ s second generation redevelopment has given him a unique understanding and perspective of the internet. This allows him to serve our client base with expert leadership & service with a completely hands on approach.