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Hits, Clickthroughs, or Unique Visitors?

by Michel Fortin

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding web site traffic. Tracking visitors is often done with many different yardsticks, which vary tremendously from person to person, site to site, and marketing effort to marketing effort. However, these differences can often be quite misleading, especially for the would-be advertiser and aspiring Internet marketer. And today there is far more involved in the process than that to which most would tend to give credence.

The web is evolving at breakneck speeds along with the way we measure it. First, it is not enough to know how many hits, clickthroughs, or unique visitors a site receives. For instance, banner ads that draw a lot of clicks are no longer considered important -- at least not as important as those from which these clicks are translatable into sales. What's important is the quality of those clicks -- or the number of qualified "interactive visitors" a site receives.

A case in point is an interesting article published in a recent issue of Business 2.0 magazine (see http://business2.com). Titled "Web Metrics," writer Steven Vonder Haar provides some
fascinating insights into the erroneous perceptions of Internet traffic. He points out that the most common one is the fact that hits were (and still are) considered as the measurement of choice. However, with the super-explosive Internet population along with the dramatic increase of online business competition, added to the fact that netizens are now drowning in an impetuous sea of promotional messages, traffic measurement has significantly evolved.

According to Vonder Haar, "Some banners that draw downright horrible click numbers can actually wind up with more sales than vague online ad messages that get users to click but not buy." Rosa Aguilar, a news anchor at C|Net Radio (see http://radio.com), concurs. As she explained in a recent piece on "Banner Blindness," "While statistics have shown that click-rates overall are decreasing, clickthroughs are however becoming higher in quality."

In essence, visitors are no longer measured by quantity but by their quality. Although traffic has been long touted to be the key to Internet marketing success, today that's no longer true. What's more important is the conversion rate. In other words, today's Internet marketer must focus more on the percentage of curious browsers that turn into serious, long-term buyers.

Consequently, basing one's web site traffic upon mere hits is really a "hit-and-miss" approach -- and definitely no longer enough. According to Vonder Haar, "Once users click, you want to know where they go." And that's what needs to be measured. Less than five years ago for instance, hits, pageviews, and clickthroughs were the popular measure of web site activity. But today the tracking process has shifted to include audience activity and behavior.

In other words, webmasters are slowly realizing the importance of isolating the more important interested prospect who is looking at developing a relationship from the typical surfer. And subsequently, they are realizing the necessity in tracking their visitors' level of interest, loyalty, and activity. Simply put, all pageviews and clickthroughs are not created equal.

For example, if one web site is geared toward financial investments and has 1,000 visitors, that number can be made up of teenagers looking for the latest gimmick versus prospective investors requesting stock quotes for a $10,000 trade. Thus, the goal is not to simply advertise but "to reach those would-be investors," says Vonder Haar.

It is no longer important to advertise anywhere and everywhere but to advertise in specific places where targeted, prospective, long-term customers are -- that's the key. The successful Internet marketer's bottom-line is to get the biggest bang for every marketing dollar -- let alone every droplet of blood, sweat, and tears -- invested. If you're only counting the number of hits your site receives as well as the number of eyeballs in front of which your site or ad appears, and not the quality of the people behind them, you're wasting both money and energy.

Niche marketing is the latest buzzword -- and with reason. People are now drowning in data and their resources (including this rare commodity called "time") have been cut short. Finding a web site that caters to the needs of a specific group is vastly more efficient than searching the entire Internet. Therefore, targeting, qualifying, converting web site visitors into customers, as well as relationship marketing are now essential to the traffic measurement process.

Here's a mini-lexicon of web site traffic terms, including a quick look at its evolution:

1) Hits
Hits are pieces of data (or files) requested from a web host's server. However, this primitive measurement includes not only the web page but also every other file that makes it possible (such as graphics, plug-ins, scripts, text files, style sheets, and so on). In other words, a single web page can easily translate into multiple hits. When one says that one has received over 1,000 hits, that could very well mean that the site received only 100 actual visitors.

2) Pageviews
Similar to hits, pageviews are files requested from the server but are limited to the web pages themselves (i.e., HTM or HTML files, or Hyper Text Markup Language files). While a little more concrete than hits, pageviews do not give specific information about surfers or their behavior -- as, for example, the length of time that they remained on a specific page.

3) Clickthroughs
Clickthroughs are the number of clicks (or responses) to an online advertisement -- often the measurement of choice for online advertisers. Again, while it's definitely a better measurement than the previous two, clicks do not provide in and of themselves enough information regarding the quality, the subsequent activity, as well as the level of interest of the people responding.

4) Unique Visitors
Unique visitors are tracked not according to the files they have requested but by their unique IP (or Internet Protocol) addresses, which are much like online fingerprints. However, not only does this process fail to include specific data about the visitors but it can also be very misleading. For example, many Internet service providers use DHCP (or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) -- like AOL, WebTV, and cable modem providers. DHCP uses a different IP address for every file requested, thus making one visitor look like many. In other words, a single IP address may not necessarily reflect a single and truly "unique" visitor.

5) Reach
A site is said to have a certain reach, which is the percentage of visitors randomly surveyed that have visited a specific page in a given month. Similar to the TV's Neilsen ratings, this measurement is very broad and nonspecific. If 50% of randomly sampled netizens have visited a specific page for example, the site is then said to have a 50% reach. It is much like a poll where the numbers are extrapolated and speculative. This vague measurement, however, is often used as a tool for selling advertising space, particularly with the larger portal sites.

6) Interactive Visitors -- The New Breed
This is the type of web site traffic in which surfers are measured multifariously to determine their quality and not just their quantity, which at the same time helps to measure the quality of one's marketing efforts. Elements such as length of stay, conversation rates, registrations, subscribers, repeat visits, referrals made, and so on are now part of the tracking process.

Interactive visitors give better clues to their demographic data as well as a site's return on investment. Items tracked include visitor loyalty, site behavior, and online registrations (such as with ezines and contests). While defining specific tactics on how to increase the number of interactive site visitors is far too complex, there are however two important key areas.

First, niche marketing is definitely at the top rung. As Ludwig Van Der Rohe once said, "Less is more." The more competitive the Internet becomes, the narrower your focus should be. And the more specialized your online business becomes, the more visitors let alone the more pre-qualified, loyal, long-term prospective customers your site will receive.

Second, you must enter into a relationship with your visitors. If you plan to increase your sales, you must provide your visitors a way to subscribe themselves to your mailing list -- be it an online community, an announcement list, a discussion board, a contest, or the commonest method, an ezine (newsletter). In essence, you have to start thinking in terms of being interactive with your visitors instead of merely being a silent billboard in cyberspace.

About the Author
Michel Fortin is a consultant dedicated to helping businesses turn into powerful magnets. Visit http://SuccessDoctor.com to receive a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning." He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 90,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at http://SuccessDoctor.com/IMC/.

Tags: E-commerce and Internet



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