3 Times Vanity Metrics Aren’t Useless

Ahhhh, vanity metrics. The one thing everyone thinks they need, but are probably better off without.

TechCrunch defines vanity metrics as:

“Things like registered users, downloads, and raw pageviews. They are easily manipulated, and do not necessarily correlate to the numbers that really matter: active users, engagement, the cost of getting new customers, and ultimately revenues and profits. The latter are more actionable metrics.” TechCrunch 

There are a few reasons why people think vanity metrics are important:

  • Our email marketing software gives them to us, so there must be a reason.
  • They give us something to measure and prove we’re doing work.
  • They make us feel good. Because numbers give us something to talk about.

But they’re called “vanity metrics” for a reason – they make it look like we’re able to manipulate a ton of data (and we can), but don’t really give us much insight into what was done or how our activities contribute to pipeline.

That said, there are a few times when vanity metrics can help us do our jobs better. Here are three that I use all the time to make important decisions:

#1 Open and Click Metrics (use the rates, not the raw numbers)

Presented in a vacuum, opens and clicks don’t tell us anything other than, “Some people did stuff on this email.” That’s not exactly an answer you’d want to take back to your stakeholders if you want to earn their trust, nor can you glean actionable next steps. Instead, you can use open and click rates (ie: the percentage) to compare emails over time to see what’s performing as desired and why.

Basically, don’t try to measure something that’s not going to tell you what to do next.

For example:

  • Question: Why is the click-thru rate so high on these particular emails?
    Possible Answer: We put a single CTA in three places, one of which was a button, and eliminated links to any other content. It seems like focusing our target on this one activity helped improve conversions; we should do this again in other campaigns.
  • Question: Which of our target demographics is most active?
    Possible Answer: X demographic is most active, so we can either a) leave their campaigns as-is and focus on improving another demographic’s campaigns or b) potentially try to hard sell the highest engagers of X demographic.

Please don’t fall into the trap of solo opens and clicks. When reporting on and comparing emails, always use the rates. Rates allow you to compare any number of emails to each other, regardless of the number of recipients and how many people clicked. Want to see how your email campaigns have improved over the past year? Use the rates and you can.

#2 Download Insights (find out where people get stuck)

In an age where content is free and at our fingertips, downloads don’t really mean anything by themselves. Most people download content with the intent of reading it and leaving your site; imagine their surprise if you confuse that with a request for contact and start hounding them for a sale. Spoiler: that’s a good way to chase off a possible prospect.

Your raw number of downloads means nothing other than people are interested in the topic you’re discussing – the bonus being that if they’re paying attention, they might know what your logo looks like now. In most cases, you shouldn’t infer that they are interested in your company or your product(s). Instead, use these numbers to figure out where people are getting “stuck” between downloading your content and requesting contact.

Again, let’s ask questions whose answers will give us something to do:

  • Question: Are the people downloading our content qualified leads?
    Potential Answer: Looking at our data append service, three of the seventeen companies who downloaded this whitepaper fall into what we’d consider a target account; however, based on previous form fills, two of those companies don’t meet our BANT qualifiers. We should nurture the qualified accounts and consider a retargeting campaign for the remaining lead, who has a budget of $200k and well within our “whale” range.
  • Question: We need to cut something out of the marketing budget; is this type of content worth producing?
    Potential Answer: Based on my reports, we produced 10 whitepapers last year and our investment was $20k. From the resulting downloads, we acquired 200 leads, ten of whom have converted to opportunities over the past year, and one of which has closed/won at $50k. The remaining opportunity pipeline is well over $300k. Based on the conversion rates of that funnel, it is well worth continuing to invest in more content.

The only other reason to look at your raw number of downloads is to make sure your operational campaigns are working.

#3 Pageviews (block traffic that’s mucking up your reports)

I once ran a Twitter advertising campaign that looked like it was throwing loads of traffic my way. Before getting too excited, I switched from Marketo to Twitter to find out Twitter wasn’t recording nearly as much traffic as Marketo was.

Sad news: Marketo doesn’t block bots from its landing page reports. This can (and has) led to faulty reporting when trying to figure out whether or not an ad campaign “worked”.

But this isn’t just Marketo – it’s any software that tracks pageviews. Why? Because it’s not a perfect science. Plus, technology changes so rapidly that it’s nearly impossible to forever-suppress bots from your pages.

So, how can keeping track of pageviews be helpful if they’re not giving you an accurate number?

Going back to my original example of Twitter advertising, I was able to notice the discrepancy and use Google Analytics to suppress the additional traffic from my GA reports. If I recall correctly, I had to block the entirety of China from completely throwing off my conversion funnel.

Here are other questions where pageviews can give you something actionable:

  • Question: Why have our leads suddenly decreased this week?
    Potential Answer: After taking a look at our pageviews, there’s definitely a significant drop-off between our Contact Us page and its confirmation page. I was able to narrow down the issues to something wrong with the form’s javascript and it’s now been fixed.
  • Question: This report says 2,000 people have visited the page, but only two people have filled out the form. Did we publish content nobody wants?
    Potential Answer: I was able to look into the Anonymous IPs of people visiting our landing pages and discovered they were all coming from the same region. We’ve most likely been targeted by a bot, so I can suppress these guys from being counted in our Google Analytics reports. Luckily, our low conversion rate has nothing to do with the content itself and we should re-evaluate after another week of monitoring spam traffic.

Although I don’t recommend letting the buck stop here when it comes to website analytics, you can use these traffic spikes to diagnose potentially larger issues before they get out of hand.

Wrapping Up

There are probably more use cases, but these are three I use all the time. Your biggest takeaway should be: don’t use metrics to answer questions whose answers don’t have a next step. Always report for action!

How have you been able to spin vanity metrics into more useful data for your marketing team? Let us know in the comments.

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