A key component to every web site is traffic analysis. When analyzing traffic, it is important to understand the difference between hits and visitors...and why both are important.
Be One With The Log
To analyze traffic to a site, you should be looking at your server logs. Server logs come in very raw data, but most hosting companies have interpreting programs that summarize the information into readable form. From these programs, you should be able to analyze who is sending you traffic, the number of hits and visitors among other information.
Hits v. Visitors - The Game Is On...
Many people, myself included, are lazy when it comes to discussing traffic results. We tend to use hits as a catch phrase for traffic hitting a web site. This isnt entirely true. Traffic should always be analyzed in two categories, hits and visitors.
A visitor is a click from someplace on the net to your site. In your server logs, a visitor will be credited with visiting the site one time regardless of the number of pages the visitor views. For example, a person entering a brick n mortar bookstore is only one potential customer regardless of the number of books the person looks at.
A hit is a click on any page of the site and represents a multiple of the visitors. When you review server logs, the hits represent how many times visitors clicked site pages. Going back to our bookstore example, every book viewed by the person in the bookstore would be a hit. So, which information is more important?
Hits v. Visitors - An The Winner Is...
The simple fact is both visitors and hits are important statistics to analyze in your server logs. Obviously, the information on the number of visitors is important because you want to know how many potential customers are coming to your site. That being said, you should never focus on visitors without contemplating hits as well.
Hits are important because the number of hits tells you very important information about your site. Since hits represent the total number of pages viewed by all visitors, you can use the information to determine the effectiveness of your site. I call this by the very original and sophisticated name hits to visitors ratio. Lets go back to our bookstore example.
Assume a person walks into a bookstore and only looks at one book. This may mean the person knew what they wanted, found it and bought it. Obviously, this is an ideal result. But what if a thousand people walk into the bookstore and only look at one book each? The bookstore would have a problem and start trying to figure out what it is. The hits statistics on your server tell you the same thing.
If your site has multiple pages, you need to find out if visitors are clicking into the internal pages. This is generally known as determining the depth of your site. The simplest way to do this is to divide the number of hits by the number of visitors for a particular time period. This figure will tell you if people are seeing one book or taking a look around.
Analyzing your server stats can be a real eye-opening experience. The information can be good or bad, but at minimum you will know if any corrective steps need to be taken.