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Recently, I read an article on the BBC News site titled, “Civil servants’ web habits revealed”. The article was about the recent report released by the British Department for Transport on the thousand sites most visited by staff while at work.

Even though I was psychologically prepared by my friend Brian Clifton to see some non-sense in the report, I have to say that I was shocked to find out that the ranking criteria was the number of hits to the site.

My first hope was that their definition of “hits” is not the one we teach in Analytics 101 and hoped that at least they actually meant “visit” instead of “hit”, but after reading the attached notes to the report I found them clearly stating that the number of hits, “does not indicate the number of times a particular page on a website has been visited, but in many instances will include multiple components (e.g. text, images, videos) each of which are counted.”!

What is wrong with “Hits”?

I still remember my first personal website back in the days where “hits” was the only metric that I could use to measure the success of my site. At that time we knew that the hits report is like a garbage bin for all file requests from the web server [html, CSS, JavaScript, images, PDFs,…], but we were still happy for the small piece of information about our sites.

It is important to know that if two sites are visited the same number of times and the same number of pages are viewed in each site and one of the sites has more images, CSS/JS calls, and file downloads, the site with more server hits will rank higher in the Department for Transport’s report!

The use of hits may have been acceptable 10-15 years ago as the industry was not equipped with the right tools nor educated enough on what to measure and analyze, but now as we have advanced in the digital analytics sphere there is no excuse to use these outdated metrics in our analysis. The hits report is so useless that in reality it does not tell you anything about your site and visitors and certainly deserves the acronym that Katie Delahaye Paine gave to “hit”: How Idiots Track Success.

The example above illustrates the uselessness of the “Hits” report. By looking only at the number of “Hits”, Site A is doing much better than Site B and that is probably due to different factors that have nothing to do with the user experience (i.e. more CSS and JS calls). Once you look at other more relevant metrics like Visits and Pageviews, you will clearly see how bad Site A is doing compared to Site B. The numbers show more visits and pageviews, more time on site per visit, less bounced visits and more importantly higher conversion.

Good news!

I am happy to see the Google Analytics site [second in the list] being visited by some government employees (Civil servants as they are called in the report), which gives me some hope that next year’s report will be based on more meaningful metrics rather than the useless number of Hits report.

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