March 12, 2014

Hit or miss: measuring clicks, visits, visitors and pageviews

Please take “hit” out of your vocabulary when you’re asking about campaign performance. We never measure by hits, but instead a variety of other metrics.

Please take “hit” out of your vocabulary when you’re asking about campaign performance. We never measure by hits, but instead a variety of other metrics.

In the world of analytics, there’s this one, single dirty word that never fails to grate on an analyst’s nerves: “hit.”

As in:

“How many hits did we get?”

“Did we get any hits on our landing page?”

“Can you check the hits for me on that campaign?”

I’ll let you in on a secret: There’s no such thing as a hit. There are clicks, visits, visitors and pageviews, and each of those are different measurements.

Clicks indicate how many people have clicked on an ad. A user can click on an ad multiple times, but only be counted as one visitor. Similarly, a user can click on an ad just once and come back to the website in multiple visits. Usually, we only measure clicks when we’re analyzing ad performance. The number of clicks per the number of impressions equals the click-through rate (CTR).

Visits count the individual sessions of all visitors to the website. If a visitor is inactive for 30 minutes, the session is considered over. If the visitor returns to the site again later, it counts as a new session.

Visitors are users who come back to the website within a selected time period (e.g., a week, a month, a quarter). The same user is counted as a visitor only once, but the return visit is counted as a second visit.

Pageviews are simply the number of times a page is viewed. If a user navigates around a site and clicks on a webpage three times, that is counted as three pageviews.

Confused? Try looking at it like this:

Let’s pretend I break my leg and need to get to a hospital stat. I hobble into my car and, in between my screams of pain, Google the nearest hospital from my iPhone. I click on a CPC (cost per click) ad at the top of my browser for a nearby hospital and land on its webpage, then click on the link to its Locations page.

Clicks 1

I’ve clicked one ad, made one visit to the website and am one visitor. I’ve made two pageviews (the Homepage and the Locations page) on the website.

Then I get to the hospital, and I can’t figure out where the Emergency Department is (remember, I am in pain and possibly not on my A-game). Luckily, I remember the address to the website and can type it back into my iPhone’s browser. I navigate from the Homepage to the Locations page and then to the specific Emergency Department Locations page.  Now my count looks like this:

Clicks 2

The click on the ad is from my original search. Even though I have made two visits to the site, I am only counted as a visitor once. I have made five pageviews — two in my original session and three additional pageviews in this new session.

So then John Hawkins, CEO of ab+c, hears that I have broken my leg and wants to visit me in the hospital (and possibly bring me candy, because who doesn’t like candy after they have broken their leg?). He Googles the hospital, clicks an organic search link (not a CPC ad) and lands on the Homepage. He clicks to the Locations page, then the Emergency Room Locations page and then the Visitation Information page. Here’s what our updated numbers look like in Google Analytics:

Clicks 3

Because John didn’t click on a CPC ad, he was never counted as a click. He was one visitor who made one visit (in addition to my two visits), which gives us a count of three visits total. He made four pageviews, which, when tacked onto my five, made the final count nine.

(P.S.: Just so you aren’t left hanging on the candy story, he brought me gummy bears. They were delicious.)

So which measurement do we use to determine if the hospital’s website is performing well? Each measurement is different.

For CPC ads, I look at the number of clicks, but also how long those visitors stayed on the page and how many pages of content they viewed.

For a redemption-based campaign, I’d want to weed out multiple visits so I can have a single count of each individual user. I’d look at visits.

For something like a blog post, I’d want to know how many times that page was accessed, regardless of whether it was multiple times by the same user.

Then, if I wanted to evaluate how the hospital’s Locations page is performing, I’d couple a large number of visits with a high bounce rate (those coming into the site and leaving once they reach that page). This indicates that people are finding the information they need quickly and efficiently.

So, please take “hit” out of your vocabulary when you’re asking about campaign performance. We never measure by hits, but instead a variety of other metrics. And, when in doubt, your trusty analyst will know which measurement is best to look at.

And please don’t drive with a broken leg.

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