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There is no such thing as a vanity metric

Vanity metrics don’t exist.  Don’t be a vain marketer surrounded by metrics

Don’t pay attention to impressions, they’re just a vanity metric.  So are sessions or likes or page views or time on site or…. well, just about anything.  Don’t look at that, you’re told, it’s a vanity metric.  Don’t pay attention to that, it’s not any use to you.  Look at your goals, your conversions, your ROAs.

Vanity metrics aren’t real.  They’re the analytic version of cards with bent corners in a heavily weighted game of three card monte.  By telling you not to look at those metrics and focus on the ones that matter, you’re being pushed away from taking a complete view of your activity, progress and real performance.

The birth of vanity metrics

I am old enough to remember when website performance analysis was entirely about server log files and clients who were obsessed with hits.  Once we properly understood that hits were linked to the number of assets on a page and therefore were not as useful a way of understanding performance, they soon came to be known as ‘How Idiots Track Success’.

Hits weren’t a vanity metric.  They were simply a bad one.  They lacked accuracy or real meaning.  A page with lots of images on it would achieve lots of hits while a page with lots of users may well achieve fewer.  So, understanding and tools evolved.  Page views became a popular measure, along with visits, sessions, unique and returning visitors.

Analytics shifted into more Javascript and cookie based systems and with it a focus on goals, events, funnels and conversions.  Tracking sales real-time and comparing campaigns and performance on the fly.  So, the narrative of analytics shifted.  We all became obsessed with outcomes and percentages and revenue and that’s when the idea of the vanity metric took hold.

It became the default to say that the numbers which weren’t directly linked to a customer transaction didn’t matter.  That they were about vanity – specifically dear client – your vanity.  They made you look and feel better while the smart people with their charts and spreadsheets and initialisms and a conviction in their divine right to being right were focused on the metrics that matter.

They were wrong.  They were wrong to push that message and they were wrong to patronise you and tell you that the things that mattered to you were not important.

There is no vanity in a metric

To label something as a vanity metric is to label that metric as empty and worthless.  So many people will have had the suggestion that the number of social media followers they’ve gained doesn’t matter because they don’t link to directly to a conversion funnel.  Or more usually, can’t be linked to one.  It’s just a vanity metric.  But to believe that would be to disregard the point of social media marketing.  There, the whole point is to reach as wide an audience as possible, so there’s no vanity in growing that figure: it’s the channel’s primary measure.

If you’re engaged in content marketing and producing blog posts and pages for specific campaigns and activities, then pageviews are not a vanity metric.  They’re an integral part of measuring how well your activity is performing.

If you’re doing any sort of search engine marketing, your impression count is not a vanity metric.  It’s an important way of measuring and understanding the growth that the activity is delivering.

Looking at those metrics isn’t vanity, it’s knowledge.  Knowledge is empowerment and when we’re empowered, we can act.  We can learn, question, change and improve.  It’s not vanity, it’s marketing.

Have vanity metrics, but don’t be vain

When you’re looking at your digital performance, the data you acquire and value, should be actionable.  The actionability of data has less to do with the numbers you’re collecting and a lot more to do with your mindset.  If you hoover up numbers for the sake of having them then you’ll learn nothing, change nothing and achieve little.

If you approach every metric and piece of information with a ‘what next?’ mindset, every metric and measure is useful.  “We’ve added 10,000 Instagram followers this month” is a valid metric but a vain statement.  “We’ve added 10,000 Instagram followers this month, identified the content and activity that acquired them and have launched a storefront to harness this growth” is turning vanity into activity.

“This was the first month when we achieved 1m page views” is vain.  “This was the first month when we achieved 1m page views.  We’ve looked at the pages that have the highest exit rates and amended those page templates to encourage users to stay a little longer and make a purchase.  Oh, and we’ve added the Facebook pixel to add a retargeting component there too, just to maximise this growth” is making data actionable.

If you’re vain, then all of your metrics are vanity metrics.  If you’re looking to optimise, improve and grow then there’s no such thing.  There’s greater understanding and opportunities to do more with your audience and user base.

Here, our analytic focus is on performance, trends and growth.  We want the performance data we work on with our clients to make them feel amazing and show how that data is supporting their business growth and goals.  We want them to feel good because a bit of positive energy helps to harness a desire to do more, do bigger, do better.  But we always want them to ask why and say ‘so what, what’s next?’  We want the challenges this brings, and we want them to get into that mindset too.  If you want that sort of support and drive, then give us a call.

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