Fifteen MEEL-yuhn Hits

On the Diane Rehm Show[1] the other day, the commentators were taking great pleasure in talking about the Kerry infidelity non-scandal, now that it’s over. It was yet another one of those media navel-gazing conversations, nothing special. One of the commentators trotted out a statistic that I’d heard several places before: “Matt Drudge’s site gets fifteen _million_ hits a day.”

It struck me that when traditional media types cite a number like that, they probably don’t have a good handle on what it means. Absent any further explanation, we’re left with the impression that Drudge’s site attracts fifteen million _readers_ a day. And — as all you fellow bloggers and other webstats addicts already know — that is far, far from the truth.

Polytropos has averaged 3400 hits per day so far this month. What I’m really interested in is how many _readers_ are stopping by, but that number is much smaller and harder to come by. For starters, I know that a whopping 35% of my traffic comes from search engines, thanks in large part to a “bizarre twist of Google fate”: I assume that the vast majority of these people didn’t find what they were looking for, and don’t stay long. “Hits” include every single little poke onto the site, including every time somebody’s news aggregator pops in for a split second to see if anything’s new. So if, say, my buddy “Ed”: has his set to check for new content every hour, then on any given day he accounts for at least 24 hits — more if he happens to stop by to actually read something. And for every person like Ed who accounts for ~30 hits and actually reads new material, there’s no doubt several more who only read things once in a while, if the titles or excerpts look intriguing. Long story short: if I’m really lucky then maybe 10% of those hits represent people actually coming by and doing some thoughtful reading. 5% is probably more realistic.

Now, even if Drudge gets 1.5 million thoughtful readers a day, that’s pretty darn impressive, but not on the same scale as 15 million. (One could easily debate the accuracy of calling Drudge’s readers “thoughtful,” but I won’t get into that right now.) My only point is that while “hits” are a useful way to compare and gauge site traffic, the raw stats don’t tell you a whole lot about actual visitors, and aren’t at all comparable to, say, the number of subscribers for a newspaper or magazine. Though it sure would be cool if they were!

fn1. I can’t stand Diane Rehm, but she gets good guests sometimes, and when you’re home alone all day with a baby, NPR is indispensable.