One Thing Leads to Another: From Hits to Events in Google Analytics

by Joy Brazelle

One thing leads to another… Sure, a catchy 80’s song, but how does it relate to analytics? There are many, many ways. But probably the most relevant, recent example is the evolution of counting hits to counting events.

A bit of (boring) history. Back in the day when web analytics were based on analyzing web server log files, ‘hits’ was a metric that counted every interaction with a web server to load each element of a web page. So in the 90’s when web pages were generally static, it may be the page contained the html file and a few images. If a page a had 3 images, there was a call to the web server to load the page (.html file) and then each individual image (3). So, it you looked at the ‘hits’ for that page it would be 4. Back in the day, we trained people to ignore this metric as it was meaningless.

But then when web analytics evolved from analyzing web server log files to log files that were generated by a java script snippet on the page (back in the day referred to as a ‘pixel’ for reasons I won’t go into now – but did make sense at the time), a hit became a different type of server call. It was now a call to the server where the web analytics ‘software’ was hosted. For example, if you had your site tagged for WebTrends, when the pixel loaded it sent a ‘message’ to the WebTrends’ server to record each interaction. Back then, one page load (page view) generally meant one ‘hit’.

Now hits were becoming more meaningful – almost synonymous with page views. BUT as web analytics became more sophisticated, people realized they could tag interactions that occurred not only when the page loaded, but also things that happened on the page, scrolling, downloads and exit links. All of a sudden a hit was not aligned with a page load (page view). One page often had multiple hits.

Confusing. I know. But the world adapted. And most enterprise web analytics charged monthly/annual fees based on these hits (their server calls).

Could it get any more confusing?

Why, yes. It could. And it did. Enter GA4. Don’t get me wrong. GA4 is awesome and no one could say more nice things about it than I do, have, and will. BUT GA4 is not hit-based or hit-based. It is event-based. What in the world?

Events represent every interaction a visitor has with your website or app, just like hits. But events are more deliberate. There are Automatic Events – call them default events, like page views, session starts and new visits. There are Enhanced Measurement options that can be enabled that don’t require additional tagging (e.g. Site Search). There are Recommended Events by category. And, of course, you can create custom events.

Yup – confusing, and a lot to digest, but it is not the most confusing aspect of measurement these days. Don’t get me started on measuring display..

Or, as The Fixx says ‘The impression that you sell – Passes in and out like a scent’. But more on that later!

Learn more about Google Analytics 4, download the dual deploy checklist.

Joy Brazelle

Solutions Lead

I’ve spent over 18 years helping clients use analytics to improve the performance of their websites , SEO, paid search and other marketing programs, with a brief detour to the FinTech worlds to see how alternative payment options impact the very, very bottom of the funnel.

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