Vanity Metrics: Marketers in Wonderland

Vanity metrics. It’s so easy to get lost in them. Google Analytics, especially, is a Wonderland full of them. But how do you navigate through the “Tulgey Wood” forest of data to get the metrics that you should be tracking to get to where you want to go? Will you forever be chasing the elusive White Rabbit without ever really knowing why?

White Rabbit

What are vanity metrics?

We’re a generation of data junkies, it’s true. This is why it’s so easy to become fixated with growing numbers that make us feel like we’re doing a good job. And once you get lost in vanity metrics, it can be hard to find your way back to why you started tracking them in the first place…

Different businesses, or different websites, have different goals. Different goals require different core metrics to measure. Many articles on vanity metrics, I’ve personally noticed, immediately dismiss things like social media followers and page views as being vanity metrics. But for many websites, page views and social media followers directly correlate with the website’s revenue. So before you decide to follow word-for-word the recommendations of an article detailing which metrics to completely abandon, take a moment to consider the purpose of the numbers you’re tracking.

Who are you?

"Who are you?"

“I – I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

To know your purpose, you must first know yourself. So who are you? What do you do, and what do you want to achieve? Once you have a clear idea of your own goals, you can start figuring out the best way of measuring your success. Many of us try to play the role of the social media marketer, the content marketer and the SEO simultaneously, juggling between hats whenever a different one is required. Though there is nothing wrong with being well-rounded, it can often have us measuring the wrong things in attempt to making something out of nothing by using whatever skills or resources we have available.

"Which road do I take?"

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where -” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“- so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Once you know what success looks like, you can start working out a path on how to get there. The trouble with focusing on vanity metrics is that they give you a false sense of direction, and make you feel as if you’re making progress in your journey. You’ll pass so many different milestones that work to re-assure you that you’re on the right path. 1000 followers… 5000 followers… 10,000 followers… Eventually the path may even lead to revenue, but was it the most time-efficient or cost-efficient way of getting there for you.

How do you make sure that you’re measuring the right metrics?

Consider what sorts of activities lead to sales or customer acquisitions. These activities should shape your objectives. If your data shows that social media increases brand visibility of your local flower shop business, then of course social media is something worth investing time and effort into. However, if the most engagement you’ve ever received is 50 retweets on a gif of a dancing cat but Twitter isn’t really where your customers are, then maybe you should direct your focus elsewhere. That isn’t to say that you should be ignoring Twitter completely; it just may not necessarily be something you should obsessively be tracking.

Page views are another metric that many seem so keen to deter others from tracking. An increase in page views may be a great signal of successful growth in business, but you also need to know why it is that you want more page views and who you want these page views from. Potential customers? Potential influencers? Potential bloggers wanting to link to an external reference? Instead of just believing that more page views is unquestionably a good thing, ask yourself what you gain from those page views. Is it qualified traffic or vanity traffic? You may get 5000 visits a day for this awesome blog post you wrote once, but none of them convert. Meanwhile, your biggest competitor may be sitting on no more than 30 visits a day, but 1 in 3 of those visitors will convert.

Vanity metrics can be confusing…

Mad Hatter - More Tea

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone,
“so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter:
“it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

This is why sites plagued with ads make navigation so damn difficult. Or, to the annoyance of the user, break a single article into ten separate pages or a “gallery” (scoff!). Page views for them isn’t just a vanity metric; every page view is an ad impression and is therefore monetarily valuable. In contrast, if your main goal is optimising your landing page for a high conversion rate, then you don’t really want people to be navigating off the page and getting lost or distracted. You want them to convert as quickly as possible! Every page view away from the landing page may be another page view away from the end goal. This is why professionals in CRO (conversion rate optimisation) attempt to answer every potential question on the single page, to prevent users from slipping through the cracks of the landing page and seeking those answers elsewhere.

Purpose before content: Find goal-based metrics

Is there a point to reaching #1 for a search term that’s not actually going to convert? Maybe. Maybe you want to raise brand awareness, and eventually attract sales and conversions through that.

What is the purpose of blogging every week? Maybe none whatsoever. Maybe you just figured that’s what everyone else is doing, or maybe you read somewhere that it’s good for SEO. But if you’re blindly posting and no one’s reading, what’s the point? You need to blog with purpose, whatever that purpose may be. Maybe it’s to encourage relevant traffic to your website, offering your solution to a problem that people are actively Googling in order to acquire customers. Or maybe your blogging goal is to acquire backlinks in order to build up your domain authority to help the website’s organic ranking.

If you feel like you’re just throwing content at the wall and seeing what sticks, we’ve all been there…


But the problem seems to always stem from producing content and then finding its purpose. It becomes a bad habit with marketers. We come up with crazy good ideas for content before we’ve given thought to its purpose. Purpose should always come before content.

There is nothing wrong with so-called “vanity metrics” so long as they have a purpose and you can justify why it is that you’re tracking them and how they align with your business goals. But it all has to boil back down to your goals. Whatever they are…

Through the looking glass…

Once you learn to differentiate which of your metrics are vanity and which ones are actionable, you’ll be seeing your strategies with much more clarity.

And remember… Don’t get lost in Wonderland. Online marketing is a caucus race.

Wonderland Caucus Race

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”