How to spot and avoid vanity metrics

improve business blogLet’s start with the obvious question: What the heck is a vanity metric?

In simple terms, it’s a number that makes you feel good about your digital marketing efforts but doesn’t actually offer much insight into your strategy.

Tim Ferris, author of the ‘4 Hour Work Week’, offers a neat definition:

“Vanity metrics: Good for feeling awesome, bad for action.”

One of the great things about digital marketing is that we can study analytics for everything we do. This applies whether building a website, sending an email, or making a social media announcement. But how do we know which numbers are important, and which are just vanity metrics?


Vanity metric: Facebook fans

It’s easy to count how many people have ‘liked’ your Facebook page, but in reality, there’s so much competition within the newsfeed that many of your fans won’t actually see much of your content unless they have a reason to go and look for it. [Unless you invest in social media advertising, of course.]

The level of visibility your page receives has little to do with how many fans it has. It’s all about its EdgeRank score, which is essentially Facebook’s version of SEO. The EdgeRank algorithm means that the more engaged your fans are, the more content from your page they’ll see in their newsfeeds.

Which brings us nicely to…

Meaningful metric: Facebook engagement

Use Facebook Insights to get the data that really matters about your Facebook page. How often are your posts liked, commented on, and shared? What are the demographics of your audience (e.g. age, gender, location, and interests)?

Intelligent use of Facebook Insights can help you target your content more effectively so that your fans enjoy and engage with your business’s presence on Facebook, which in turn helps to raise the profile of your page.

Plus, once you’ve got to grips with your audience and you’re consistently posting the sort of content they like, you’ll find you soon start attracting more fans just like them. Bonus!

How to spot a vanity metric

Vanity metrics often involve superficially impressive numbers, but we should ask ourselves whether these numbers are actionable.

Here are some common vanity metrics, and their actionable alternatives:

Vanity metricActionable metric
Website trafficTime on page
Blog page viewsSocial shares and comments
Number of salesCustomer lifetime value
Registered usersActive users
Free trial sign-upsUpgrades to paid service

We can see that while website traffic might generate a pleasing number, it’s the time the visitors actually spend on each page that will really tell us whether the content is what they’re looking for. Website hits (aka How Idiots Track Success 😉) is another meaningless vanity metric that’s given too much attention! Likewise, gaining one million registered users for your subscription site isn’t much good if only 100 of them are active.

The bottom line for spotting a vanity metric is whether it reveals anything that can help move your business forward. If we know a blog had 1,000 people visitors last month, we might be happy that people are reading our content. However, we can’t use that data to make a business decision. If, on the other hand, we know that of ten pieces that were published, two of them sparked a discussion on social media, that gives us a much better clue about the sort of content our audience finds interesting. We can then use this information to create other similar pieces in the future.

So, boot those vanity metrics out of your digital marketing analysis, and substitute actionable metrics that can help you better understand your audience.


Need more help with digital marketing for your business? Contact the expert NS Design team today.

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