Monday, July 17, 2006

Are we really still measuring things in hits?

I get so annoyed with this, yet somehow someone started this "hits" thing and it's stuck like a bad tan.

I was reading a fascinating article in The Toronto Star regarding an online video campaign that a few companies are clamouring to be a part of.

Well, the person who wrote the article, a lawyer by the name of Michael Geist, said this:

"Less than two months after it was first posted, the video has attracted millions of Internet hits and has become a commercial success story."
You're kidding me. "Internet hits" for a video? That's sooooooo circa 1999.

Do you know what hits are? According to Wikipedia, a hit is "a request for a file from the web server; available only in log analysis." But it's not just the webpage, but it's everything on it as well, such as images, the CSS file, any javascript and so on.

So, let's just say you go to one of my podcasts, When that page pops up, there will be my picture, some text, some links, the MP3 file, the cascading style sheet, the online player. Although you opened only 1 page, the number of hits counted will be 5 or more.

It's like going to a restaurant. You sit down and order chicken. When it arrives, it's garnished with oregano, chives, pepper, salt, onions, garlic and it sits on a bed of basmati rice. Now, you didn't say "I wanted chicked with oregano, chives, pepper, salt, etc." did you? No. It's a given that if you're ordering chicken off the menu, you'll also get the corresponding garnishes and side dish without having to specifically request it. Otherwise, you'd get the raw chicken on a platter.

It's similar to a webpage. You go to a website, but when you get there, you don't type in, "Oh, and by the way, throw in the images and moving text and files as well." No. It's a given that when you go to a website, that you'll get the corresponding pictures and text without having to specifically request it. Otherwise, you'd just get a blank page.

That's why measuring anything online using hits is inaccurate. One person can create 10, 20 even 50 hits just by typing in one webpage into a browser. Therefore, the best way to measure anything online is through a combination of downloads, unique visits or subscribers and session length (how long they stick around).
  • When it comes to a website, measure your results by unique visitors, length of time spent on your site and repeat visitors.
  • When it comes to podcasts, measure using downloads, subscribers (see this post for more tips).

And lastly, don't forget to survey your audience. Sometimes your stats won't tell you everything, so asking your target market will. Magazines do this very well with a reader's survey, so develop something similar for your website or podcast.

Update: Michael sent me an email directing me to the original article on his website. As you can see, there's no mention of Internet hits in his original article. Very good.

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