Vanity metrics include data such as social media followers, page views, subscribers, and other flashy analytics that are satisfying on paper, but don’t move the needle for your business goals.”



The Treat

It’s true, vanity metrics look good.

You’ve reached 1,000 new followers after that paid ad campaign? Wow!

5,000 website visits during your campaign period? Great!

Trick or Treat
Image credit: Karolina Grabowska

These numbers are not only exciting, but they can even be addictive from a marketing perspective. A rapid increase with minimal investment looks good and compels us to follow the numbers eagerly due to the apparent and rapid ‘growth’.

Vanity metrics are the ‘shining stars’ in your business – they shine bright for you and for those on the outside looking in. Sometimes, when using them in company reporting, we hear ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ that make us feel like the work we’re doing is showing big results.

So what’s the harm in using them for reporting?

The Trick

All too often, these metrics can leave you feeling deflated when you dig into the actual success of your and conversion rates of your online presence. There are hard questions you need to ask when you do a deep analytics dive:

  • How many of those new followers purchased your product?
  • Did the website visits equate to as many new, unique customers, or were they multiple visits from only a few return customers?
  • Did they stay on the site for long or immediately close the browser session?

As you look into the real impact, you realize that these vanity metrics are just that – a vain reflection of your marketing efforts – and they aren’t reflecting actual growth. Does this mean you need to throw out these metrics and completely revamp your analytics tracking?

The simple answer is “No”.

It’s important to understand that any metric can be a vanity metric. It often depends on the business context and your company’s goals. As mentioned in this recent IABC blog post, “…One metric will be a vanity metric for one organization and not for another. The only way to avoid using metrics that don’t mean anything to you is to be purposeful.”

Even if you do track statistics that are considered ‘vanity’ metrics, you can use them as starting points to be more intentional about analysis. Next, you can push them to become more ‘actionable’ in nature.

 What are ‘actionable’ metrics?

Actionable metrics can be used to ‘help you pinpoint the actions that are yielding results – they tell you exactly what actions led to the results in performance. Unlike vanity metrics, actionable metrics are within your control and can be replicated to contribute directly to your company’s strategic growth. Some examples of actionable metrics are:

  • social media shares
  • engagement and conversion rates
  • traffic sources, bounce rate
  • click-through-rate,
  • return on investment of marketing spend

How can your company focus on actionable metrics?

 First, you need to understand your company’s unique goals and what ‘success’ means to you.

When you understand this, you’ll be able to identify the specific metrics to measure. It could be that those vanity metrics you’ve been using can help identify the actionable metrics that will be more strategically meaningful. Each vanity metric can be replaced with an actionable metric – you just need to dig deeper into the metric to understand how it connects to your goals.

To get a better idea of how vanity metrics can evolve into more actionable analytics, here is a list of some paired with their potential counterparts (more details in this Hubspot post.)

  1. Vanity: Facebook fans

Actionable: engagement rate

  1. Vanity: Twitter followers

Actionable: competitor followers

  1. Vanity: blog post page views

Actionable: bounce rate, social shares

  1. Vanity: email open rate

Actionable: click-through-rate

  1. Vanity: number of subscribers

Actionable: active users, conversion rates

Don’t worry if you rely heavily (or solely) on vanity metrics for your reporting – these numbers can still be useful!

If your goals are clearly defined and you know what successful growth looks like in your company, work backwards to determine the related, actionable metrics. You can even conduct a mini-audit of your analytics tracking to determine if the metrics you’re currently using are effective and worth recording.

Once you identify the more actionable metrics relevant to your needs, you should see that they are closely associated with your vanity metrics. This should help you to be more intentional in your analytics efforts when focusing on real returns in your marketing strategy.

We’d love to hear about the metrics you’re using to measure your business growth!

Leave a comment below to share what successful analytics tracking looks like at your company.

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