Data is key to every digital business, but some data is more valuable than others. What data, aka vanity metrics, should you avoid relying on as it can damage revenue and prospects? Read on to find out.
What are Vanity Metrics, and Why are They Bad News?
From page views to open support tickets and the number of social media followers, there are plenty of data points out there that a business can use to make itself look good. They might be notoriously simple to achieve as a productive goal or have little real meaning on the company’s performance. Either way, vanity metrics and not good news and create risks for teams and businesses.
A simple vanity metric definition is “any data point that fails to deliver value for the business, no matter how impressive it might seem.”
The problem with vanity metrics is that they fail to provide context on wider business performance. They provide a very narrow view of one function of the business, like a sailor only looking through a telescope and missing the huge rocks or safe harbour either side of their focus.
Vanity metrics also lack intent, the “what can we do next?” factor. What you need is to compare the vanity metrics vs actionable metrics that provide more insight and value for the business.
Also, typically, there is no guide as to how to repeat any fluke or outlier success that might have created a specific vanity metric. Even in this highly analytical age, some shining-bright metrics can happen for a reason you cannot identify, making repeating it impossible.
Some Added Complexity Around Vanity Metrics
Beware of some people in your business dismissing many figures as “vanity metrics.” They might be scornful of numbers that are not relevant to their team, or make them look bad. Or, the metric could be complex to establish a fact base for, creating unwanted work. So, if you think there might be value in a metric, a cursory examination may be warranted.
There are also some metrics that create great argument about their value. A contested example is Domain Authority (DA), which many class as a vanity metric, often because there are many other statistics and factors involved.
Domain authority is easy to rate in niche markets or by buying a well-rated site, and it can vary thanks to the dark arts of Google. But DA can still have great value in marketing and is a useful signpost among other metrics, so is certainly not worthless.
The Top 6 Vanity Metrics to Avoid
Each team or department within a business will have its key north star metrics and goals (link to previous north star piece) and a battery of typical metrics that help measure key operational and strategic performance.
But among them, it is easy, especially for startups, and SMBs striving to stand out in a chaotic market to follow the wrong ones. Or those led or working with the internet’s generation of snake oil types, who want to look good while underperforming or not being up to the job. These vanity metric examples are the typical ones that appear in poor reporting, but there are many more.
Metric 1: Social Media Followers
Anyone can grow a decent social media following, or buy their way to big numbers, but that can mean absolutely zero value for the business. Firms can grow followers through a single meme or sharing trending articles, but gain no value.
Or, If your accounts are followed by an army of bots or Russian sex workers, you get no engagement and actual prospects will rightly ignore you. Similarly, you might have a passive audience of genuine followers who are simply in the wrong roles or market for your business.
As a vanity metric, this is the biggest and instant alarm bell for investors or product buyers if you use it in marketing.
Metric 2: Page Views
As with X (Twitter) or Facebook followers, page views is a meaningless metric. You may have had that one blog post that got a million views or a pillar page with strong hits but zero engagement. The figure is meaningless unless there is an impact from it.
True value might include starting a conversation with respected individuals or prospects, driving interest in a product or promoting a positive business story. Without it, those page views will soon be a meaningless dot on a dashboard or spreadsheet graph.
Worse can come if someone only quotes metrics like all time page views, but fails to focus on more recent activity, which can show a marked decline in numbers. Or that figure can be hugely distorted by that one million-view article.
Metric 3: Huge Numbers of Downloads
Downloads are a more positive sign among the mass of metrics, but they are not the be-all-and-end-all of any digital story. Many terrible apps have scored huge numbers of downloads, proving that point.
A business app, digital store app or similar must provide value, preferably repeat value for the business and its customers. If the app is only opened once and then swiftly forgotten about, the download metric is pointless.
Metric 4: Email Open Rates
Forgive the conversational tone here, but “yay, 10,000 people opened our marketing email” is nothing to shout about. Perhaps if 10% of those people responded to an invite or special offer, you can pop the Prosecco corks. But until then, the metric only means someone on your team can write an attractive email header to get people to open it.
Below the headline you need compelling offers, calls to action and insightful information to get your audience to take the next step, and the next one after that. That is a sign of success, but you might want to ask your email header writer for some insights.
Metric 5: Number of Impressions
Page impressions are a key part of figuring out the cost per mille (CPA) for web advertisers, but for your business, they are a small part of the overall metrics puzzle. As with page views and downloads, you can have some huge numbers, but if there is no value that emerges from them, impressions are just another vanity metrics.
Metric 6: Ghost Leads
Lots of SaaS and sales businesses have a dashboard or page that updates whenever they get a lead through their website or email. It shows everyone in the business that prospects are paying attention.
The trouble is, so many leads can be from the wrong type of audience (evidenced by temporary, gmail or other random accounts). Or from the wrong person within a business (a user trying to find a solution or seeking a product might have zero impact on buying decisions).
Similarly, even big-brand business leads can be misleading. Someone from Mcdonald’s (Greece or Mauritius) has way less business clout than someone from any of the brand’s larger territories.
The Impact of Relying on Vanity Metrics
On its own, a vanity metric might look big and impressive. But any well-managed business and its leadership looking to drive growth will hunt for the detail that comes from activity following that metric. You can’t do that with vanity metrics, creating a waste of time and analytic effort that could be better spent elsewhere.
If your business leadership is shouting these types of metrics as a point of success, then it is not a mature company and that should raise concerns. If someone within the team keeps bigging up those numbers, again – they may not be the person to drive an organisation forward.
Ultimately, while they might sound good, vanity metrics are purely a useless distraction and all parts of the business should focus on high-value metrics that can be broken down to identify where the value comes from and how it can benefit the business.
Even if, by some analytical ninja work, you can gain some short-term value by following up a vanity metric, businesses need a longer-term approach to drive growth. That’s why north star goals, performance targets and other efforts are typically rooted in provable, repeatable and fact-based metrics.
When to Shout About Vanity Metrics
With all the talking down about vanity metrics, if you do come across a nice big number, you are within your rights to promote it, as long as you do with clarity. Such as this example, it shows momentum for a business, but is not being taken too seriously by the poster.
That example might trigger some further interest or start a conversation, so do not dismiss all vanity metrics as totally pointless. And the larger the number, compared to competitors within your market, the more it can be worth shouting about.
Similarly, a string of vanity metrics can show signs of a trend, and that can have value for the business. So it might be worth revisiting something that was dismissed as vanity during a previous discussion.
Focus on Numbers for Business Decisions and Growth
Instead, your team(s) should focus on accepted numbers that will drive the business forward. For example, retaining customers is often seen as a more valuable strategy than winning new ones. To do so, focus on the metrics around value and retention rather than charging into an expensive race to win new customers against all other objectives. 15 Best Customer Retention Strategies [Tested & Proven]
Using the right numbers means you can also avoid misallocating resources on sales or marketing efforts that could lead to a dead end and a waste of that money. Typical examples include conversion rates and engagement metrics, where you can easily measure the return on investment and positive value, or the cost of winning new business like the Customer acquisition cost formula.
Finally, perhaps the biggest metric you need to measure is customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers can give all those other metrics some meaning (like downloads and open rates), but a weak satisfaction score means those other numbers are having little impact on improving your business.
Similarly, businesses that are 100% sales-metric focused can look to satisfaction, retention or adoption to broaden their focus, and not get tied up chasing a single, potentially less valuable target.
Using Kleene’s Decision Intelligence Platform
What can help put these numbers in their place is using a decision intelligence platform like Kleene.ai to help your leadership and managers better understand the figures that will underpin company growth.
Decision intelligence takes the hard work of creating the metrics you need to focus on, and providing business leaders with the data to make the right decisions, with key data points to follow.
With decision intelligence you can focus on the metrics that meet your business goals and work as part of a joined-up effort to deliver results. That can include marketing outreach that is focused on conversions, not plain views or openings. Link that to sales that deliver a high customer satisfaction score, and re-engagement to deliver repeat business and you have a more sustainable set of metrics to work with.