Don't be fooled by vanity metrics

Vanity Metrics: Stats that Just Make You Feel Good

Imagine a blog post you’ve created has received 1,000 views and dozens of comments. Also, it got “liked” on social medias a couple of hundred times or more. That’s a good sign, right? But what if I am to tell you that these impressions, comments, likes and such don’t amount to much and are, at best, telling you only half the story? You wouldn’t like that, I know. Which is why I want to discuss “vanity metrics” in this post and help you understand why you shouldn’t rely on them so much.

What are Vanity Metrics?

So, what are vanity metrics? Well, first of all, it’s not so easy to define them. What is a vanity metric for one business or website, may not be for another. For example, the number of subscribers on YouTube is directly tied to your revenue. The more subscribers you have, the more revenue you earn. But on the other hand, the number of likes you’ve got on Twitter won’t necessarily correlate with how many people has actually seen your post or how much revenue you’ve received from it.

But, if we are talking in general terms, we can say that vanity metrics are:

  • Likes
  • Shares
  • Comments (both on the blog post itself and on social media)
  • Views
  • Impressions
  • Bounce rate
  • Followers

Of course, this isn’t the complete list, but I think it is sufficient to give you a good idea of what these metrics are.

What is the Problem with Vanity Metrics?

Problem with vanity metrics

All these metrics are really nice nice to look at, especially if we are talking about high numbers (except for bounce rate, of course). Content marketers often use them to measure the performance of their content and the success of their marketing efforts. One of the reasons for this is that they are so easy to obtain and therefore an easy way out. All you need is Google Analytics and most of these metrics (page views, impressions, bounce rate and more) are made available to you.

But what these vanity metrics really do is just massage your ego. Sure, you might be able to impress someone in a business meeting and the numbers look nice on paper, but they are only telling half the story. And that half isn’t about your business, but your marketing and audience.

If you try to use vanity metrics to explain the actually important business goals such as the return on investment (ROI), customer lifetime value (CLTV) or conversions, you’ll find that these metrics are not at all that useful. Eventually, over-reliance on these metrics and the lack of true value they bring from a business perspective, will leave you frustrated and believing your content marketing efforts are not working.

What to Look for Instead?

If not vanity metrics, then what should you be looking for when determining the success of your digital marketing campaigns? Well, this actually depends on your business. Focus on those numbers that are actually important to your business. These will be your “key performance indicators” or KPI.

For instance, a dentist office might measure the performance of their resident dentists based on how many patients they see every day. One dentist might be working very fast and see 5-6 or more patients per day, while another might see only one or two. Does this mean that the first dentist is better than the other? Not if the other one is more focused on providing proper dental care to their patients (even at the cost of spending more time with them) and the other is not. The result is that most patients are more satisfied with the later than the former dentist.

But what KPIs to measure? This is what bugs most content marketers, I’m sure. What KPI you are going to look at depends on your business goals. For instance, you might look at email open rates and click-through rates, but to another business, these might not be important (especially if they don’t drive any sales from emails).

Without going into what specific KPI you might measure (again,  don’t know your business or your goals), here are a few things that you should focus on with your key performance indicators:

  1. Relevancy

Are you looking at the right metrics? Remember, KPIs need to be connected with your overall business strategy and goals. Just because some data is easily available and looks important, doesn’t mean it actually is.

  1. Up to date

A KPI needs to reflect the current state of your business, not the previous state. Otherwise you won’t be able to make informed decisions. So make sure you always use up to date information for your KPIs.

  1. Easy to understand

KPIs aren’t meant to confuse. Make it easy for however will look at KPIs to tie them to a specific context. That way, your KPIs will be easier to understand and as a result more valuable.

The Real Purpose of Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics vs actionable metrics

Let’s get back to vanity metrics and what this all means for them. Does it mean that they are completely useless and that you should stop using them? No, because while you shouldn’t tie them to your business goals and ROI, they are still valuable for gauging brand awareness and understanding your audience better.

When you look at a metric like email CTR for instance, on its own it won’t tell you much. But if you give it context, say sales via email, that metric suddenly bears a lot more meaning to your business.

Or, if we talk about engagement, you might get more likes and shares on Facebook, but LinkedIn is actually much more effective at engaging audiences at 82%. In comparison, Facebook is at 41%, according to LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community.

Vanity metrics can especially be valuable in optimizing your content for audience for a specific channel. Audiences are different on Facebook than they are on LinkedIn and what works for one audience will probably not work for the other. Vanity metrics such as likes or shares for instance, can help you better understand how your message resonates with your audience. Do you get more reach with long form or short form content? What type of visuals does your audience react to better? Do you need a different CTA or headline?

What vanity metrics can show you is how your target audience engages with your content and their search intent. They can help you gain crucial insights that you can later use evaluating your business goals.

Conclusion

There’s a movement in content marketing today that advocates abandoning vanity metrics completely. Personally, I think they are looking at it the wrong way. Vanity metrics are only half the story, the other half is determining what key performance indicators you should focus on.

What vanity metrics do you think are worth following and why? Let me know in the comments below and if you found this post useful, please share it on social media.

Vladimir Covic
covic.v1ad@gmail.com
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