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Dynamic Chiropractic – July 14, 1997, Vol. 15, Issue 15

The Web's Numbers Game

By Editorial Staff
ESPN, the sports network, boasts that its website averages three million hits each day. You'll also hear companies talk about getting thousands of web visits or "impressions." The numbers may sound impressive, but what do they really mean?

A hit is a single file request for the transfer of information recorded in the access log of a Web server.

An access log lists all the requests for individual files that people have requested from a website, including HTML files and their imbedded graphic images (pictures or banners), and any other associated files (text or sound) that get transmitted.

While a hit is a meaningful measurement of how much traffic a server handles, it can be misleading. If a user goes to a page that has three graphic images, the log record four hits: one for the HTML page, and one for each of the graphic images.

An access log can analyze:

  • the number of users who visited a particular web page;
  • the origin of users who visited the website in terms of their associated servers domain name (e.g., .com, .edu, or .org, and from the online services (America Online, etc.);
  • how many times each page on a website is requested, which can be presented with the most requested pages listed first;
  • usage patterns (time of day, date, and seasonal averages).

For the week of April 13-19, Chiroweb had one of its busiest weeks, receiving a total of 25,744 hits. Chiroweb's access log sorted the hits: nearly 42% (10,754) came from users with a domain name ending in .com; another 33% (8,460 hits) came from domain names ending in .net. The users who explored Chiroweb weren't just limited to the U.S. The site was visited from people in six of the world's seven continents (we didn't hear from Antarctica).

Be aware that the number of hits a site receives can be artificially raised quite easily. If a webmaster creates an HTML page with 30 graphic files imbedded on the page, and the page is accessed once a minute for 12 hours, the site would record more than 22,000 hits, even though only one page was being accessed.
This is nothing more than boosting numbers to make a website appear that it gets a lot of traffic.

A much better way to measure activity on a website is the number of visits. A visit means just that; a user starts at a particular page on the website, spends time visiting a number of pages, and then leaves the site to browse somewhere else on the Web. For the week of April 13-19, there were a total of 2,047 visits to Chiroweb. Each visit averaged 2 minutes and 41 seconds; the longest visit lasted 77 minutes.

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