Using Vanity Metrics to Create Real, Actionable Metrics

December 8, 2017

whole brain marketing blog author

Posted by Jonathan Stanis


The data you can gather from inbound marketing is, in a word, remarkable. You have all this information at your disposal any time someone visits a page on your site, downloads content, subscribes to your blog, opens an email, watches a video, interacts with you on social media...the list just goes on and on. In the mess of all that beautiful data, however, it’s not always obvious which metrics provide real insights, and which just paint a general picture of success. There are certainly metrics that will make you and your boss happy, and great to see grow month over month, but when it comes to determining how you can improve your marketing results using that information, they kind of leave you empty handed. These are what we call vanity metrics.

Some of the most popular vanity metrics that receive too much emphasis are metrics like traffic, page views, new followers, time on site, and even conversions. At face value, these are all good indicators of how well your site (or social media) is doing, and you shouldn’t feel bad for tracking these metrics. After all, Google Analytics and other tools make it impossible to miss these whenever you log in, and you do want to see traffic growth, new followers, and visitors downloading your content. That said, if you really want to glean some information on what’s working and what isn’t—why your site spiked 5,000 visits lasts month, for example—you have to take a deeper look at what’s driving those numbers.

Turning Vanity Metrics into Actionable Metrics

When you can dig into the data behind vanity metrics, you’ll find that there’s a lot of actionable information you can use to improve your website and content. Information like where the traffic came from, what their conversion rate is, and how they often bounce from your page can be analyzed and used to help direct your marketing efforts. If you’re wondering which vanity metrics to start with, here are a few quick examples below:

Traffic → Sources

Everyone wants to see traffic growth on their site. However, what you really want to know is what’s driving that traffic, and where it’s coming from. If you notice a huge spike in traffic, find out if it came from a social media post going viral or being featured on another website. Maybe you just started sending a weekly blog in review email that has been a huge success in driving additional traffic. Whatever the case, analyzing the source of your website traffic will provide much more useful insights than simply tracking it’s growth month-by-month, and measuring success that way.

Average Time on Page → Bounce Rate

While average time on page is a good indicator of how long visitors are staying on your site and its particular pages, it doesn’t tell you how many people are bouncing from your site altogether—which is an equally important metric when it comes to SEO. If you notice a page has a particularly low time on page and high bounce rate, you need to look deeper to see why people are bouncing. Does it have a long load time? Is it a confusing layout? Is there a problem with the link? These are the things you can’t find out by simply looking at the time on page.

Conversions → Conversion Rate & Lead Quality

Let’s say you ran an ad last month on LinkedIn that generated a ton of traffic for your site and led to over 100 downloads of your new eBook. Sounds pretty successful, right? Well, what if we told you the audience selection for the campaign was terrible, and the conversion rate on the content offer was less than 10%? The campaign ended up costing more than $10,000 to generate those numbers, and worse yet, 90% of the leads came from a foreign country or used fake information on the download form. Still happy with those vanity metrics? When it comes to analyzing the success of your campaigns and content, metrics like conversion rate and lead quality are much more important than the total number of conversions.

What Defines an Actionable Metric?

If a vanity metric is a metric that doesn’t show the true impact or provide deep enough insights to help make a change to your marketing, an actionable metric could be defined as any metric in which its context can be used to help make an impactful change to your marketing. For example, 100,000 new visitors to your website means nothing if they all bounce from your page within 5 seconds. By focusing on the bounce rate instead of overall traffic, you’ll analyze the different reasons people are bouncing from your site, and make the necessary adjustments to resolve those issues. That’s what separates a vanity metric from a real, actionable metric.

Furthermore, actionable metrics are precise and help assess progress, as the context it provides helps establish obtainable goals and objectives. For example, you can’t set a realizable conversion goal for your new content offer, if you don’t know the typical conversion rate of your landing pages.

At the end of the day, your metrics aren’t there to make you feel good about your website; they’re there to make you think and help you improve. There are hundreds of different data points you can use to analyze social media, website traffic, user experience, and much more, and it’s important that you’re taking advantage of that information and using it to make your website and other marketing efforts better. If you need some help getting started, our eBook “Marketing Metrics Your Boss Needs to Know” can help you dig deeper into the metrics that matter most!

The 6 marketing metrics your boss needs to know

Topics: Inbound Marketing

whole brain marketing blog author
Written by Jonathan Stanis

An engineer by training, Jon focuses on the technical delivery of an effective inbound marketing program. He builds client website plans that solve for conversion potential and utilize smart user experiences. He is also responsible for analyzing and monitoring the success of inbound projects. Jon fits the definition of being a "whole brain marketer" because he is both a strong writer-designer and a deeply analytical thinker.

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