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Don't cite 'hits' as a measure of website traffic, warns advertising watchdog

An advert that claimed a website received over five million 'hits' every month has been banned because the metric is likely to mislead readers. The UK's advertising watchdog said that 'hits' is an unreliable measure of website popularity.06 Aug 2008

The national press advert for London-based diamond dealer CoolDiamonds.com stated: "With over 5 million hits each month this website has revolutionised the way we buy diamonds."

A rival diamond broker, H. Goldie & Company, complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the claim "over 5 million hits each month" misleadingly implied that more than five million people visited the website each month.

CoolDiamonds.com said that 'hits' were relevant to its business because they reflected the interest generated by their website.

A hit is a request to a web server for a file to be loaded in a visitor's browser. A typical web page comprises several files. If a page displays some text and five images, a single visit to that page would generate at least six hits. Some pages will generate many more hits than that – so a hit is not equivalent to the number of pages viewed by a user or the number of visitors.

The ASA noted that 'hits' has been discredited previously as a measure of site popularity.

"We understood that 'hits' was not recognised as a measurement of website traffic by the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards in the UK (JICWEBS); it only recognised measurements of unique users, page impressions or visits," wrote the ASA.

It also quoted the Institute of Direct Marketing website, which said that, from a marketing point of view, "the bottom line is that the hits are misleading – they are never synonymous with the number of site visitors or page-views."

"We considered that readers were likely to understand that the claim '5 million hits' was a reference to the websites popularity and that hits was a reliable measure of that popularity," said the ASA. "We considered that some readers might go so far as to infer that each month Cool Diamonds had five million visitors or that five million web pages had been viewed by visitors."

"Because the number of hits a website received was unlikely to reflect, or be a reliable measure of, the number of visitors to the site or pages viewed, we concluded that the claim was likely to mislead readers into thinking the website was more popular than it was," it ruled.

The advert was found to be in breach of the requirement for truthfulness and CoolDiamonds.com was ordered not to repeat the ad in its current form.

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