Geek Question: Hits Versus Visits

A brief question on Web stats. For my corporate clients, we usually use visitors as a metric for evaluating marketing campaigns and Web site growth. Now, definitions vary, but for Webalizer (a popular and free stats engine), a visit occurs when:

Some remote site makes a request for a page on your server for the first time. As long as the same site keeps making requests within a given timeout period, they will all be considered part of the same Visit. If the site makes a request to your server, and the length of time since the last request is greater than the specified timeout period (default is 30 minutes).

Conversely, hits “represent the total number of requests [for files] made to the server during the given time period”.

I usually choose visitors because I figured that’s a more meaningful and comprehensible value. Each visitor represents one human, more or less. Hits are less meaningful, in part because I haven’t bothered to exclude non-pages from the file list (though I do apparently exclude images). So, I assume that every time ‘styles-site.css’ or ‘favicon.ico’ get loaded, that’s a hit.

However, on other sites, people mostly discuss hits, not visits. Is this because hits are a bigger number? Or because visits are not a consistently-measurable metric? What’s the typical relationship between the two?

For example, when I got my butt Slashdotted last fall, I had 62,262 visitors in a day, which registered as 1,060,065 hits. So that’s about 16 hits per visitor. If I compare that with, say, February, 2004, I’m averaging about the same–18 hits per visitor. What does this tell me? I’ve got no idea. Maybe you do?


  1. There is no clear definition of what a visit is. Each log reader will have its own idea on how to interpret a string of hits as a visit. I think the fact that the number of hits per visitor is consistent means that people regularly browse through other parts of your site, not just the article in question that is linked (if it is indeed an article).

  2. I don’t know how it is now, but a few years back when I had to deal with advertisers, they were only interested in “unique impressions” which basically means visitors (tracked both by IP & browser).

    Hits were considered useless information only meant to impress the naive, they are so skewed.

  3. it’s my impression that uniques and visitors are generally considered one in the same. again we must consider that all stats packages have different methods for determining a visit.

    i often here people refer to how many “hits” they get, but when looking at their stats, it seems they are actually referring to the number of visitors. just simply a misuse of the term.

    in every corporate situation i have been in where web stats have been calculated, the number of hits has always been disregarded as useless information. in some senses i agree, because, yes, every time your header include is loaded it’s considered a hit. but at the same time, would it not make sense to track how many users are going beyond your home page and actually using the website? Thus helping you determine if your content and or design is doing it’s job.

  4. Each bit of information is important in their own ways.

    For example, it’s good to know how many unique visitors you have.

    It’s also good to know how many pages each user is hitting per “visit” (whatever you define a visit as.)

    And it’s interesting to know how many repeat visitors you’re getting.

    Most people focus on the “big one” — unique impressions. But I wouldn’t discard the others, either.

    – As far as usability goes, the path that a user takes to get from point a to point b is also vital.
    – My old job at Telus involved parts of the site that were only important as far as getting customers to come back. So while unique visitors was important, repeat visitors was more vital to whether or not my sections were doing what was intended.

    So, it depends on what you’re looking for statistics for. 🙂

  5. Thanks for that. I’m familiar with the importance of click-through in a corporate setting. I guess I hear a lot of bloggers (and others) discuss hits, and I’ve always figured that they were a pretty useless stat.

  6. A “hit” is any request from a visitor for any file, such as a web page, CGI, or header request. For example, to view a web page containing two images a visitor must make three hits: one hit for the page, and two for the image files.

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