Hitting publish on a blog post or sending a large email campaign can be daunting for any marketer, but there is no better feeling when you see positive results after putting in considerable time and effort. Whether it’s increased revenue, engagement, conversion or MQLs, there is certainly no shortage of data available to measure throughout your campaign. That being said, the problem many marketers face is that it can be tempting to measure data that doesn’t actually give any real insight into the overall performance of the campaign.
Many of the analytics tools available to marketers will have dashboards with various graphs, metrics and reports, but just because it’s on the dashboard doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the data you need. Goals and objectives may differ between campaigns, so you will need to be selective and might need to drill down a little further into the data to obtain what actually matters - the figures that will provide actionable insights and give a more rounded picture of campaign performance. While it’s still useful to know how many people read your blog, liked your Facebook post or opened your email, do these metrics actually tell you enough about your campaign’s performance, or are they simply vanity metrics?
What is a vanity metric?
Vanity metrics are the KPIs or metrics that look good at a glance, but they don't provide much of an impact on any of your future marketing decisions, or shape your strategy. A vanity metric initially seems impressive but can be misleading as it lacks the context needed to actually measure performance and provides little insight into how your activities influence your overall business goals and objectives. Often, vanity metrics reflect the effort of a team or department and highlight that those efforts are making a difference, but it’s difficult to actually see what the difference is, and will often have virtually no impact on the success of the business as a whole.
Source: Nielson Norman Group
How to identify vanity metrics
It’s important to be able to identify vanity metrics so that you don’t waste time tracking values that are meaningless. It can be easy to focus on vanity metrics because they are usually easier to obtain and measure, and make you feel like your hard work is paying off. Vanity metrics will differ between companies and industries, and will change depending on your goals and objectives. To ensure you are measuring the data that is most relevant, it’s important to make sure your overall marketing goals and KPIs are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
You can read more about how to create SMART KPIs here. While using the SMART technique to create your goals and KPIs is a great method to ensure the data you measure is actually important, it’s not always a guarantee that vanity metrics won’t slip their way back into your marketing reports. When deciding what metrics to measure, ask yourself the following questions:
- Will the metric lead to a decision or a course of action?
If the answer to this question is ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure’ then it’s probably not useful to spend time tracking it. If a metric doesn’t inform decisions, then what is the point in tracking it? This being said, if the values you are considering answer the above question with a ‘no’, this doesn’t necessarily mean they should be disregarded completely, it just means that they shouldn’t be reported alone and others should be taken into account to provide more context for a more thorough understanding.
Say you have created a landing page to encourage downloads of your new ebook. While it’s encouraging to see lots of page views, this data doesn’t provide enough information to make any future decisions or take action. Rather, it would be more useful to look at where the views are coming from, allowing you to make decisions on your promotion strategy for the ebook. If you see no traffic coming from your social channels, then you might update your strategy to include more promotion on social media, either by paid ads or more frequent posts.
- Can the results of this metric be easily reproduced in future?
Using the example above, say you notice your landing page has had a huge increase in views. While this could be down to the SEO efforts of your marketing team, it could also be because you got lucky and your page was shared by someone with a large following. So while this is good news for that landing page, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the next landing page you create will receive the same success in terms of the large volume of traffic. If you have little control over the metrics you are measuring or if the results cannot be easily repeated (without relying on luck), then it’s difficult to depend on those metrics to improve your future results. Unlike a vanity metric, a quality, actionable metric will provide tried-and-tested methods that can be replicated in the future.
- Is the metric accurate and does it tell the full story?
It’s important to consider whether or not your metric is consistent and reliable, or if there are other factors out of your control. Let’s say you assess the traffic to your website on a month by month basis and notice that after a successful few months, your traffic drops significantly from October onwards. While this may indicate that your marketing efforts are no longer performing well, it can be as simple as seasonality that has affected your traffic. Your product or service may be more popular in the summer months e.g swimwear, outdoor fitness classes or garden furniture, so it’s natural that page visits slow down in winter. In this case, it would be better to compare year on year results so that you can get a more accurate view of how you have performed against the previous same period.
Examples of vanity metrics
1. Number of newsletter subscribers
Obviously, it’s a good sign when you see the number increasing, but bigger doesn’t always mean better. Having a large number of subscribers doesn’t necessarily mean they have any intention of buying from your company. Instead of solely focusing on the number of subscribers, measure the number of quality leads generated from your email list. Depending on your business type, you might need to nurture your subscribers with well-planned workflows to educate and provide value, with an end goal of that subscriber converting to a customer.
Ensure there are clear CTAs within each email and the frequency of the emails is right - too many and you may pester your subscribers, too little and you might risk losing their interest.
Another metric to keep in mind here, and one that inspires action is looking at where the subscribers have come from. Keep track of the most popular pages and channels that convert, and the ones that aren’t doing as well. You can use this information to update the less successful pages to try to increase conversion.
2. Social media followers
Marketers often like to celebrate when they hit a certain number of followers. While having a large following is a great achievement, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those following you are willing to buy. This can be a deceiving figure and doesn’t reflect the quality or value of your social presence. Think about the number of competitions you see on Instagram or Facebook asking you to follow a page to be in with a chance of winning. The winning prize is often unrelated to the brand itself, so chances are, the people that have entered the contest and followed the page don’t have any intention of buying from the company. A better alternative is to track engagement.
Rather than just tracking follower count, engagement rate considers the total number of likes, comments, shares and general interactions that your posts receive and highlights what content resonates best with your following. Having a large number of followers is pointless if they aren’t regularly interacting with your content. Keep quality over quantity in mind here. Generally, it is better to have 1,000 followers who actively engage with your content than to have 1 million followers that never like, comment, or share your content.
3. Blog post page views
Blog post views are the type of metric that will only ever increase over time as it’s impossible to decrease overall page views. While it’s still good to have a growing number of page views, the number however doesn’t mean much by itself. You may have a lot of visitors to your blog post, but can this number really give you any actionable insights that you can improve on? Instead, consider the behaviour and quality of visitors on your blog page such as conversion rate, bounce rate and time spent per page. Are readers following your calls to action by signing up to your newsletter, downloading an e-book or buying a product? By looking at the behaviour of users on your pages, you can see what works well and what doesn't and use that information to shape your future blogging strategy.
4. Email open rate
Open rate does have its own merits, but it isn’t one to spend a lot of time on. While it does highlight the effectiveness of your subject lines and timing, in isolation it isn’t enough to report on to really highlight the effectiveness of your campaigns. Just like page views to your blog and followers on your social media pages, having a high open rate doesn’t mean there is any intention of buying from you. With recent updates to email clients, open rates are now much less accurate. Instead, take a closer look at the click-through rate (CTR) of your email campaigns. Having a high CTR highlights that your followers are interested in the content you are promoting within each email, whereas a low CTR indicates that you’re targeting the wrong audience or that your CTA is not compelling enough to click.
5. Number of customers
Similarly to page views, the number of customers is a value that cannot decrease, so in theory, it is always improving. Yes, customers may purchase from you less and less or stop purchasing from you altogether, but the total number of customers cannot decrease. A better alternative to measure is the average order value and the number of repeat customers. This will give you a better understanding of your customer behaviour and how well your upsell and cross-sell strategies are working. It might also be useful to measure the number of ‘active users’. If you typically see that your customers buy from you once every 3 months, then you can use this as a benchmark to determine that those who have purchased from you at least once in a 3-month period can be classed as an active customer. Obviously, as time goes on, you want this figure to increase, highlighting that your customers are becoming more loyal and are receiving value from your product or service.
It’s easy to get caught up measuring vanity metrics because they are often the easiest to calculate, but really, they don’t provide enough value to warrant reporting on. While the metrics listed above have their drawbacks, there is nothing wrong with keeping an eye on them. You can still take pride in them and use them as motivators for the team, but they should not be reported in isolation without any other values or data to provide context and help in decision making. If a metric doesn’t have any actionable outcome when it changes, then it’s likely to be a vanity metric and not worth spending too much time on. Make sure that the metrics you focus on give real insight on how your marketing efforts are performing and how the business can move forward.
What KPIs should marketers be tracking to really make an impact? Our guide breaks down the 40 best KPIs that marketers should measure to maximise their efforts. Download your free copy today and discover the KPIs that will help you measure the true value of your marketing activities.
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