What are vanity metrics and how do you make them more meaningful?

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Published Jan 09, 2018 | Written by Katie Hughes

As content marketers, we’re getting better at measuring the effectiveness of our content.

57 per cent of bloggers now say they ‘usually’ or ‘always’ check their analytics, according to research by Orbit Media Studios.

But not all data is good data.

Ever heard the term 'vanity metrics'? Using them is easy, but determining their value to your business can be difficult.

In this blog post, we explain what vanity metrics are, and how you can make them more meaningful.

What are vanity metrics?

Vanity metrics refer to things you measure that might look good on paper, but quite frankly, don’t really matter.

They can include impressions such as the number of social media ‘likes’, shares, comments or followers. They can be email open rates, page views, traffic, time on site, and more.

Sure, numbers are easy. And when they go up, we feel good. But when used in isolation, these metrics just don’t tell us anything.

And it’s when they are used in isolation that they get labelled as ‘vanity’ metrics.

Let’s take some examples.

Your latest post has 20 likes on Twitter. If you’re a small or medium-sized business, I’d bet you’d feel pretty good about that, right? But your CEO isn’t interested in how many likes a post generated. They want to know whether or not your social media efforts are helping them achieve their business objectives. And the number of likes a blog post generates when shared on social media is irrelevant to the number of leads it captures.

Maybe that same post you wrote has been shared a load of times. This is great for brand awareness, but if your main goal is to convert leads, this is what you should be tracking. And let’s face it, we all know that much of social media is about appearances. There are the oversharers who just want to belong, and those who share articles on Twitter just to ‘look good’. Simply because someone’s shared your article doesn’t necessarily mean they have read it, let alone gone on to explore your website or converted to a lead. And that’s what really matters, isn’t it?

When it comes to email open rates, 80 per cent is pretty good by any standards. But are your audience clicking through to read your content? Are your email newsletters pushing them further down the sales funnel? Where’s the real proof that you (and they) are getting any value from them?

Giving meaning to vanity metrics

Social followers, email open rates, traffic… they don’t need to be ‘vanity’ metrics.

It’s how you use them that determines whether they are meaningful or not.

So how do you make these metrics meaningful?

With context.

The number of social media followers you have, your email open rates and traffic all need to be considered in the context of your business goals, targets, and other evidence.

If you can place these measures in context alongside other more meaningful measures, they become useful. 

They become actionable.

And why measure something if you can’t do anything to make it better?

Think about your goals.

If your objective is to raise brand awareness, then yes you may want to measure how many Twitter followers you have. But it would be more interesting to compare your Twitter following to those of your closest competitors. Tools like Followerwonk allow you to do that.

If your objective is to improve email newsletter engagement, looking at the open rate can give you a sense of how effective your subject line is, but it won’t give you the full picture. Measure the click-through-rate. Are your audience clicking through to read the articles you’re sharing with them? If they’re not, consider reassessing the type of content you send or reviewing your workflow to make sure your newsletters are as personalised as they can be.

If your objective is to convert more leads through your website, looking at traffic alone is useful, but again, only part of the story. Measuring traffic is always important. But it’s also important to look at where visitors are going on your site, and how long they are spending there, as well as which areas of the site are driving the traffic. If certain blog posts are pulling in more people, then you can do more to promote it on social media or through targeted email campaigns. The point is there is so much more you can learn if you look at more than just ‘number of visitors’.

If you’re using Hubspot, all these metrics are easy to track side-by-side within the platform so you can look at the picture as a whole. If not, there are several other tools you can use to measure performance. Here's some of them:

While vanity metrics can’t be used to directly measure your content marketing ROI, they do help you to better understand your progress and make decisions for getting more from your efforts. When put in the context of your business objectives and placed alongside other measures, vanity metrics can become meaningful.

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Published by Katie Hughes January 9, 2018
Katie Hughes