So your competitor tells you over a beer that they got 100,000 hits on their website last month.  You know that your numbers show just 5000 unique visitors.  Should you celebrate or commiserate?

You would be surprised how many times we are asked to help others answer this question.  So let’s get stuck into the measurement basics of website analytics especially when it relates to defending your stats at the bar.

Firstly, the concept of a “website hit”, also called a “page hit” is well outdated.  It is the count of a retrieval of any item of a graphic or a page from a web server.  Build a website containing a ton of small graphics and your “hit count” will skyrocket while your visitor count remains the same.

Some count page views instead of hits.  This is marginally better but still not ideal.  Page views are exactly that – individual views of the pages your website holds.  Own a website with lots of pages and if your navigation is good then your page view count should be higher than those with “skinnier”sites – even though the latter could be receiving more traffic.Nevertheless, tracking page views instead of hits is one step closer to the ideal measurement of measuring the real people who fire up their browsers and visit your site.

This leads us nicely to what Google Analytics (GA) focuses on tracking  ̶- real, live, website visitors.  Yep, the human biomass who clicks from page to page and hopefully does what you want them to do.It does this by setting a cookie on the person’s browser on their computer when they arrive.

The accuracy of this approach falls down if a) they use more than one browser on the same computer because then they are counted as two visitors; b) two people use the same browser on the same computer because then they are seen as one visitor; and/or c) either group clear their cookies or don’t allow them to be set.

Allowing for all this, once a person arrives they are marked with a cookie that tags them as visiting your website and a counter kicks off to measure the time of their visit.  If they come back tomorrow they are seen as a returning visitor.  (They have up to two years to come back before they are counted as a new visitor again.)  Their visit is finished when a) they leave your site; or b) stay on a page for more than 30 minutes.  (If they leave and come back within 30 minutes this is counted as part of the original visit.)

So just to recap, here are some of the core visitor, visit metrics GA reports on and what they mean.

Visitors – real people who visit your website.

New Visitors – those arriving for the first time.

Returning Visitors – those coming back to see more.

Unique Visitors – the total number of unique visitors to your website.  I may come to your website three times in a month – the first as a new visitor, the other two as returning visitors.However, I am only counted once as a unique visitor.  This last stat is a good one to use to compare site activity.

Visits – the time spent looking through your pages.

% New Visits – the % of visits of your site’s total that were generated by people visiting your site for the first time.

So when someone next tells you they had 100,000 hits on their website, tell them while that’s nice, how many actual people does that represent?