Vanity (metrics) that matter - Looking good for all the right reasons

Vanity is my favourite sin.” Al Pacino

Over the last 13 years we've run a lot of paid advertising and taken a look at the media kits of a whole slate of businesses and it is incredible to us that headline click and view figures are something people waste their time looking at. We get brand. We get wanting to reach a big audience. But you have to make sure you are reaching the right audience, not just any audience.

So what is a vanity metric & how to tell if numbers matter

A vanity metric is a number that shows the popularity or success (...) of something without considering core business goals. We're talking blog clicks over how much is it to register a new user, Instagram Ad likes over the conversion rate and cost per conversion, and tens of other surface-level numbers that without all the bottom of the iceberg context really don't mean anything.

Vanity metrics are numbers that make you feel good, largely irrespective of their real world application. Most of the time, people feel comfortable with vanity metrics because they have no idea what actual metrics do matter and it is always better to feel good right?

Numbers mean different things to different people, so it's tough to create hard and fast rules. However there are some clear signs that something is a vanity metric that won't help you now or in the future.

Context is everything, just because a piece of data seems good doesn't mean it has any real benefit.

Some typical vanity metric examples:

  • Follower count

  • Likes & Engagement rate

  • Blog clicks

  • Cost per click (CPC)

Now all of these metrics can be super useful and we'd definitely recommend implementing your own method for tracking them. However, to actually be useful you can't just say 'I've seen a lot of blog clicks off the back of this Facebook advert, I'll just rinse and repeat that!', it needs to be a lot more strategic and specific to your particular business if you're going to see a good ROI.

Are you doing something for your brand or something for a short term return?

Both have their merits, and there's nothing wrong with a bit of vanity for a perceived ROI on brand in the short term, but to build your long term branding success, it's time to get stuck in and unearth the real metrics you should be looking at.

Look at applying it to the actual product or goal you're aiming to achieve. For instance, the Facebook Advert may have given you an increase in blog clicks at a fairly low CPC, however, what percentage of them stayed on your site and what percentage of them viewed a sales page. You might see a big spike in web traffic off the back of one article but does that automatically mean you'll get the same if you replicate it? Does it mean more people bought your widget? Does it mean someone random just tweeted one article but will never do it again?

The problem is companies end up putting their brand in a position where they're making decisions (advertising, content, etc.) based on these metrics instead of things that actually matter.

Dig into your Google Analytics and find out the nitty gritty! Did they leave immediately? Did they look at three different pages for programs? Is that blog post converting as well as it should be or does it need to be tweaked? Can you add in a call to action (CTA) at the end? Are the ones sprinkled artfully throughout your post working?

On its own the data doesn't mean a lot, although in the right context it can. For instance, perhaps what happened was because of something you did, which you can replicate and learn from, making that metric useful.

Some simple ways to look at it:

  1. Does the metric help you make a decision in your business?

  2. When you see the metric, can you use it to do something?

Obviously reaching a bigger audience is great, it builds your awareness and let's people know you exist. The problem with vanity metrics is that by themselves they don't let you know if that audience is the one you even want to engage.

What are some examples?

Numbers without sales context aka. thousands of “views” from people who may never engage or be interested in your product or service.

  • Followers

    1. Reach

    2. Engagement Rate

Numbers are great- but to really hone in on your marketing efforts and spend it's important to know the difference between those who will like an image on Instagram and tag their friends and who will actually convert (plus how to reach them!).

Blog clicks that don't convert to leads. Blog clicks are wonderful, we all love them, but again, 100% of the people clicking your blog are not going to convert and be a profitable stream of engagement (however, if you ever have 100% conversion please call us, gloat, and then tell us your glorious ways- our number is 1800-YOU'RE-HIRED).

Advertising clicks that don't convert to leads. Consider BB as an example here- there are people who won't think twice about your product, those that are partially within your target and those that identify with you quite strongly. Advertising gives us the ability to attract visitors where we usually can't reach them, but to really leverage this you need to identify where your warm and hot leads typically hang out and stop feeding money to a brick wall.

Going for pure click numbers without knowing engagement/conversion rates. Followers and clicks are the most common vanity metrics and it's crazy how many people base the success of their marketing off these. For instance, our Facebook following grows by 100 followers a week and now we have over 3000 from our first 6 months. Now that is 3000 people who have engaged with us, who might chose to be updated on our posted content, or who at least have a passing interest.

Sounds good right??

Well it is for some things and means nothing for others. The follower number by itself doesn't feed us any information to help us build qualified leads and generate sales. But add this in with the context of all the other data and we know that our Facebook followers download our free stuff, they engage with our content, and they have heard our story. We know what % of people our ads are served up to will listen to our podcast, what % will download a free ebook, and what % will leave a comment. All of this provides us with a context-rich history that helps us identify where our qualified leads hang out before they meet us, who to nurture a little more, and where not to bother too much.

So which metrics should I use?

Metrics that help you make decisions and take action! These are going to be different for everyone but some standard ones include:

  • Cost per conversion/registration

  • Number of sales

  • Retention rate

  • Time per conversion

  • Revenue per customer

  • Metrics that are aligned with your goals

  • Numbers with context.

You can find hundreds of detailed articles on which metrics to track that are specific to your goal online.

How to not fall for the trap

At the heart of all of this is first knowing what you want to achieve, and creating a plan on that basis. Then look at the metrics that can demonstrate success. So for brand building it might just be X amount of new email subscribers (who you know will convert to business). For getting client work maybe it is X amount of inquiries. Whatever it is, your goal dictates the metric (and therefore strategy) that you will use to track your success.

The other part about metrics is that it is easier to assess those you control, than what third parties tell you. It's absolutely the case that an owned audience whether followers or subscribers, who have put their hand up as interested in your business is way more powerful than someone else's audience. The opportunity to speak directly to these people without paying a media platform for the privilege is not to be underestimated.

That's why part of what we are creating for clients with their own company page is the opportunity to not only reach our audience, but to capture and create their own. Yes we know that we reach an engaged audience in the legal profession, but for some clients there is even more goodness they can distill from this by capturing their own audience from ours.

We made the pages all about connection, so they can easily build their own lists of supporters/followers whether they are interested in working for them or just following their content. This is targeting upon targeting, and we think it can be hugely powerful as they grow. Rather than “vanity” we can help them create lists of people actually interested, who want to hear more, and actually interact with them.

Whether the goal is to convert at a higher percentage or to increase brand awareness, there's specific metrics to help you see what's really working, and where you're wasting your time and money.