Getting Rid of Vanity Metrics and Finding Indicators of Success

August 26, 2015

whole brain marketing blog author

Posted by Reid Trier

person-examining-metrics As a marketer, the last thing you want to do at the end of each month is try to make sense of your company’s various digital metrics. Good monitoring involves a process—a way of interpreting the metrics month after month, so that you can assess progress. Unfortunately, many metrics cloud marketers' ability to effectively monitor and report on success. Enter: vanity metrics.

What are Vanity Metrics?

According to entrepreneur Eric Ries, vanity metrics are “off-the-shelf analytics packages” that make you feel good, but offer little guidance toward future action. You know, the feeling you get when you see a boom in website visitors in a given month.

Sure, you feel all fuzzy inside, but what do raw website visitors actually tell you? Are they quality visitors from referrals or quick-to-bounce visitors from paid search? Most importantly, what actionable steps does this number encourage you to take? 

These are the questions you need to start asking to turn vanity metrics into what Ries calls “actionable metrics.” In this blog, we’ll take a look at three examples of vanity metrics: content downloads, Twitter followers, and raw page views, and show you how to better interpret the numbers in context and create more informed plans of action.

Monthly Downloads: How to Mine for More Insights

Say your metrics reveal that 80 people downloaded content (e.g. eBooks and white papers) on your website the previous month. You compare this to your business goal of 65 and immediately believe the month was a success.

While it would be easy to rest on your laurels, the only way to accurately understand this metric is to gather information about what led to this increase. How was the download accessed? Was it gated (i.e. did a visitor need to submit a form to retrieve it)? Was the download made available with the click of a button?

For instance, if your landing pages are all gated and can only be accessed by clicking on calls-to-action (CTAs), then a successful month of downloads means that at least some of your CTAs are performing really well.

It's also important to note if you made any previous changes to landing pages, which could explain the increase in content downloads. When vanity metrics show success, your next step should be to dig into the numbers to identify real insights for even more improvement.

Total Twitter Followers: What Does It Mean for Social Engagement?

Too often, companies view number of Twitter followers as an indication of their success or failure on social media. This number, however, is dependent on too many variables (e.g. company size, brand recognition, and industry) to lead to any concrete conclusions.

It’s time to look past the number of Twitter followers you have and focus on what matters: delivering followers helpful advice and relevant content. This is especially critical if you’re in a small or mid-size niche industry (e.g. industrial distribution). Since your product is highly considered, chances are many of your followers have purchased from you in the past or are considering a purchase down the road.

Typically, we'd recommend that the number of interactions on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook is far more important than the raw number of followers, especially for B2B customers. Here are a few important actions you should take regardless of your following size:

  1. Share industry-related content that answers your buyer personas’ most pertinent questions. For example, share an article on new methods for improving distribution efficiency. This is sure to be a question of interest to individuals in all markets.
  2. If you have an active blog, promote your content! Your target audience (followers) will not only find the content useful, but could become promoters themselves. 
  3. Schedule your tweets. You want quality content to be viewed at the right time. HubSpot has an excellent feature that allows you to schedule posts in advance, but you can also create a calendar with posts scheduled for specific times each day.

By focusing your efforts on the followers you do have, you can share content that will engage followers—and setting standards for how much you promote your content should absolutely be part of your plan. Over time, a focus on engagement will improve your brand recognition and boost the number and quality of those individuals interested in your products or services.

Page Traffic Says Nothing about B2B Marketing Success

One of your site pages may have a lot of traffic, but traffic alone does not tell the whole story. Perhaps your bounce rate is high, or your click-through rate is low. These factors determine overall page performance, and reveal visitors' habits on your pages. A visit itself is not closely connected to an individual's interest in becoming a prospect.

You can convert this vanity metric into an action-oriented metric by reviewing visit rates in the context of pages with the highest bounce rate. Is the on-page information confusing? Is the page properly formatted?

If the click-through rate is very low on one of your CTAs, compare this to CTAs with a high click-through rate. Maybe the CTA was misplaced­—not related to the other on-page content—or it could be made clearer what people will be getting by clicking on the CTA.

Through a lot of trial and error, you will move beyond looking at page visitors and start focusing on what really matters—better visitor engagement and user experience.

Making Sense of Vanity Metrics

Despite the cons that come with vanity metrics, they can motivate you to see the bigger picture. The warm and fuzzy feelings that result from an increase in followers or page visitors gives way to action-oriented efforts that lead to real conclusions. You want to know what drives user engagement on pages and what promotes your brand, and action-oriented metrics (e.g. CTA click-through rates) are key to staying useful and relevant to your most important prospects.

How to prepare your website for inbound marketing

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Marketing Automation

whole brain marketing blog author
Written by Reid Trier

Reid is an Inbound Marketing Specialist responsible for the production and management of digital content for client programs. A strong writer with an in-depth knowledge of HubSpot, Reid plays an important role in meeting client needs. A graduate of Lawrence University, Reid majored in English and previously interned on Weidert Group's business development team.

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