Web Success hasn’t been Measured in Hits for over 10 Years, Time to Update the News Style Manual


Dear New York Times, I really do appreciate your attempt, day in, day out, to bring clarity to a complex world. I know it isn’t easy, especially with the disruptions the Internet has brought to your sector (and many others). While you may have enjoyed a historical role as a paper of record, the Internet has positioned agile alternatives just one click away from you. Identifying successful funding models in such an environment hasn’t been exactly easy, especially when it seems to easy to view your product/service as a commodity, at least when it comes to national and international news.

The Embarrassing Misuse of Hits

In it in this context that I implore you to update the Internet section of your editorial style guide so that you avoid making an embarrassing mistake, day in, day out, when describing Internet sites. The problem revolves around the use of the 1990’s expression “hits”. Your Journalists continue to misuse this term in an attempt to describe the success of a website or web content. Hits, as many will know, is a web measure which has appeared in free website measurement reports provided since the mid-1990s by inexpensive web hosting companies. Thanks to the widespread exposure to these reports, and the relative newness of the medium, the term hits has indisputably assumed popular currency. Hits refers to the measurement all of the files a web server has to deliver to a browser, like Firefox, when a user requests a page. In a modern web page, the webserver must supply the text rich html, each image included in the page, an external style sheet (css) which determines the fonts and colors to apply to the page and, more often that not, at least one JavaScript file to added greater interactivity to the page. The net result is that one page, as perceived by the end user, requires multiple calls, or hits, to the site’s webserver.

Certainly the measurement of hits can be useful to the technical staff who have to perform server capacity planning or improve page loading times.

But the term hits is completely useless as a measure to indicate the success of a web initiative.

Indeed, when most people, including Journals, banter about the term hits, they usually are really referring to a different measure, such as pages viewed by users or to the number of visitors a site received in a specific time frame. The problem is that we, the poor reader, don’t really know which measure the Journalist is really referring to. I sadly suspect the Journalist doesn’t know, either.

hits: How Idiots Track Success (But it doesn’t have to be this way!)

Fortunately, the solution is rather simple. Just add the layman’s definition of hits, how idots track success, to the paper’s editorial style book. That should force the hard question: what we really mean to communicate with this statistic? As for the definitions of pages, visits and other digital measurement terminology? The Web Analytics Association has a guide for that, and is working on definitions for social media measurement.

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About Sean Carlos

Sean Carlos is a digital marketing consultant & teacher, assisting companies with their Search (SEO + SEA = SEM), Social Media & Digital Media Analytics strategies. Sean first worked with text indexing in 1990 in a project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since then he worked for Hewlett-Packard Consulting and later as IT Manager of a real estate website before founding Antezeta in 2006. Sean is an official instructor of the Digital Analytics Association and collaborates with the Bocconi University. He is Chairman of the SMX Search and Social Media Conference, 12 & 13 November in Milan. He is also a co-author of the Treccani encyclopedic dictionary of computer science, ICT & digital media. Born in Providence, RI, USA, Sean received Honors in Physics from Bates College, Maine. He speaks English, Italian and German.