Why you need to ditch vanity metrics today

Evelyn Wolf by Evelyn Wolf   20 Mar


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Vanity metrics have certain characteristics: they sound good on paper and they are rarely actionable. I’ve been blinded by vanity metrics in the past, focussing on looking good rather than finding the actionable (often more painful) truth about a campaign. Let me run through two of my pet peeve vanity metrics, why to avoid them and what to measure instead. You’ll see how the attributes of both apply across the board to vanity metrics.

Facebook Likes

Or for that matter most social media growth based on thumbs or follows. While I worked in the NGO sector we had a word called “clicktivism”. It referred to those that clicked a like and associated it with becoming active for a cause. But, it wasn’t actual engagement and didn’t result in donations or true advocates for the cause. We can see this across industries outside of the NGO sector as well.

Why to avoid

People hand out likes but never actually engage with your brand. You can still buy likes and follows which results in creating volume. If you would try to attach a quality element to the volume you’d need to measure how many of the likes actually engage with your brand on a deeper level such as following website visits, comments, shares & comments and ultimately leads.

You will have heard about the 2018 algorithm change. This means less posts will be shown from businesses, regardless of the number of likes they have. What will count is community engagement. Some believe that if you can facilitate conversations within your comment section, then you will start seeing your brand more again on timelines.

What to measure instead

When it comes to social media you should measure KPIs based on reach, engagement and leads. Reach while quantitative does show you how large your potential audience is. The important thing is to tie it into engagement levels. Looking at your reach, how many are actually engaging by commenting, clicking, sharing? Now add the qualitative piece: how many are turning into leads? This will show you whether you are reaching the right audience (aka your buyer persona) or just a high volume of people that will not buy from you.

Database Size

Just like all vanity metrics, a large database looks good on paper. Having thousands of contacts at your disposal shows opportunity, right? Not necessarily so. Only if your database is updated regularly and the contacts are active are they valuable. Old contacts (bounced, disengaged, unsubscribed), tire kickers that will never buy and lists never used inflate a database and decrease your conversion rate.

Why to avoid

It’s about conversion in the end. How many of your leads / contacts can you convert to customers, repeat customers, promoters? If your database is inflated with contacts that are never going to convert, you are harming your chances. Instead of making the most of your valuable time and focussing on leads likely to convert and understanding what they care about, you are spending time on serving contacts that simply don’t care about you.

Especially when it comes to emailing an old database you might be doing yourself more damage than good. Consistently using your mailing domain to bounced and unengaged addresses leads to your sender score dropping. This reputation measurement influences how likely your emails will be marked as spam. Clean email addresses and engagement are the only way to keep it up there.

And, of course, the GDPR is coming and you won’t be allowed to hold on to data forever. If you ask me, it makes sense. Why would you want to be responsible for the security and maintenance of data that is not going to benefit your business?

What to measure instead

The size of your database alone will not bring your closer to reaching your lead conversion and customer goals. It is all about conversion rates and quality contacts. A well maintained database should be cleaned regularly (removal of bounces, old addresses, tire kickers etc) and you should be able to see conversion rates from lead to customer based on your sales cycle analysis.

A lead that has not closed within a reasonable timeframe following the end of your average sales cycle length should be removed. This helps you become GDPR compliant and focusses your efforts on those who are likely to convert.

Quality not quantity, actionable not pretty

Regardless of what you measure, visits, email opens, database size, social reach, whatever it is, quantity alone does not stand. To turn these metrics from vanity into actionable metrics, they have to be tied to your goals. The easiest way to check whether you are looking at quality and not quantity is to check on your conversion rate (to lead and to customer).

If your conversion rates are low, it might be time to review your personas and whether the messaging you are producing actually speaks to their pain points. Should this be the case, it could be time to update your personas. However, if you find your messaging needs adjustment, do this now by reworking your keywords, content strategy, conversion content and social plan.

We are so busy as marketers. It seems a new channel gets added to our already jam-packed remit every other month, never mind having to prep for GDPR! We don’t believe in measuring for the sake of vanity and simply focus on actionable KPIs. This helps us focus on what matters: creating value for our leads and conversions.

For each number we pull at BusinessBrew we ask ourselves what it actually means. What action must we take based on the result? Is it “do more”, “change tack” or “learn, dump and move on”? At the very basics we focus on conversion rates: visit > lead, lead > customer. When we see a number that is unexpected we deep dive into the reasons behind it and make necessary adjustments (here’s an article that describes how we do it).

Any metric that doesn’t give you an action is likely to be a vanity metric and won’t bring value to your efforts.


Topics: Inbound Marketing, GDPR

Evelyn Wolf

Written by Evelyn Wolf

Inbound strategy specialist and content creator. She will turn your web presence into a magnet and always has wind in her sails.