As the editor of PF Online, some of the questions I hear most often have to do with the importance of various statistics on the Internet: "How many hits should my web site get this year?," "What's the difference between a hit and a page view?," and "How many unique visitors should I have in a given month?"
Your wait is over. At long last, I'm going to put an end to all of the speculation about Internet traffic statistics. My best advice is to...
FUGGEDABOUTIT! (apologies to the producers of "Donnie Brasco.")
The fact of the matter is that most people tend to overvalue Internet traffic statistics. Using hits and page views as a measurement of your site's success tells only a small-and oftentimes erroneous-part of the story. I cringe whenever I hear somebody make a claim like "our web site received over one million hits last year!" Okay, so you got a million hits . . . how nice for you. But what does this actually mean?
Because the web is such a young medium, hits and other units of measurement are still very poorly defined and subject to more interpretation than a hanging chad in Florida. Additionally, many tracking software programs have very different ideas of what exactly constitutes a hit. For this reason, it's nearly impossible to compare your site's traffic to that of a competitor.
A greater issue is that hits and page views are strictly a quantitative analysis of a web site's performance. Sure, they might give you a rough idea of how much traffic your site is getting, but they do not answer many of the really important questions: Are users finding the information they need on your site or are they walking away frustrated? Is your site playing any kind of a role in the user's buying cycle? Are your visitors even legitimate prospects, or just some schmucks who stumbled on to your site while looking for sexycoeds.com?
For me, the single most important indicator of a site's success is user feedback. The handful of e-mails that PF Online receives each month tendering kudos, offering suggestions or describing a usability problem speaks volumes more to me than any set of numbers ever could.
That said, do I think that statistics are inherently bad? Of course not. When used responsibly and in conjunction with other factors such as user feedback, numbers can help tell a powerful story about your site. The point is to make sure that you are citing the right numbers, and to keep in mind that they are just one factor to be considered when gaging a web site's success.