Start free trial
Share this post

What Are Vanity Metrics & Why You Should Avoid Them

What Are Vanity Metrics & Why You Should Avoid Them

Home Blog Digital Marketing What Are Vanity Metrics & Why You Should Avoid Them

As a marketing agency, you’re often tasked with proving the marketing ROI of your clients’ efforts. After all, it’s why they’ve invested in your services. They’re most concerned about keeping their businesses lucrative and need your agency’s expert help to achieve marketing results.

If we’re being specific, it’s even a common challenge across the broader marketing landscape (as cited by 39% of marketers in a recent study).

number one challenge graph
Source

That said, how does your agency determine what’s worth reporting on and which metrics contribute to clients’ goals? In an effort to provide value, many agencies get caught in the vanity metric trap–reporting on surface-level data insights that don’t tie into tangible results.

While those pretty metrics look impressive on paper, they’re often inflated and deceptive on their own. And relying on them to prove ROI only results in distorted recommendations, confused clients, and even doubts about your agency’s capabilities.

If you’re wondering how to avoid reporting on misleading vanity metrics, read on to learn about:

What Are Vanity Metrics?

Simply put, vanity metrics are superficial data insights that provide limited insights into your clients’ marketing performance. Ironically, clients often focus on these glittery, visually appealing metrics (such as social media likes), but they merely scratch the surface of campaign performance and shouldn’t be the sole basis for business decisions.

And oftentimes, your clients are tasked with important decision-making (as we can see from the research below). Whether it’s mapping the customer journey or creating effective email marketing strategies, they’ll need the correct data to pivot in the right direction.

areas of use of data driven marketing
Source

Do you really want your clients to develop business forecasting or ad campaigns based on the wrong marketing insights? Definitely not! Vanity metrics have the potential to affect your clients’ decisions which could cost them (quite literally).

While vanity metrics can enhance the narrative by adding context to other data points, rarely should they be used in isolation due to their lack of direct correlation to business performance.

Beware the Illusion: 6 Examples of Vanity Metrics

Even with the most care and best intentions, it’s still possible to end up with a digital marketing report full of vanity metrics.

Knowledge is power, though! Here are some common vanity metrics to be aware of.

1. Impressions


Impressions refer to the number of times your clients’ content was displayed (e.g., a social media post or ad). And after their content has gone live, it’s only natural you’ll want to know things are progressing.

1 million impressions may look good on paper, but it doesn’t indicate whether your clients’ ad or content was seen by the target audience, engaged with, or received well. And what if your clients want more than just racking up impressions (such as website clicks, app downloads, or purchases)?

Relying on impressions alone won’t give you much-needed context to adjust your clients’ marketing strategies and achieve results that matter.

2. Delivery Rate

Once you’ve sent out your clients’ email marketing campaigns, it’s exciting and reassuring to see that their newsletters have been successfully delivered.

Don’t get us wrong–it’s essential to monitor email deliverability which could indicate any potential issues. For example, sending a mass newsletter to 3,000 subscribers and seeing it was successfully delivered to 10% of that mailing list is undoubtedly a cause for concern. In this scenario, perhaps your client’s domain needs verification so their emails don’t end up in spam folders.

That said, delivery rate alone won’t provide any insight into whether emails had their intended impact on the recipients. Think about it–a successfully delivered email doesn’t count for much if it isn’t opened, read, or clicked on.

3. Open Rate

As we’re on the topic of email marketing, here’s another vanity metric when taken in isolation–open rate. While open rate goes a step beyond email deliverability, it doesn’t give more significant insight into subscriber behavior.

Email open rate may even present a false flag for engagement success. A captivating subject line could attract indiscriminate clicks, potentially drawing in untargeted or irrelevant audiences instead of those genuinely interested in your client’s content or product.

For example, if 10,000 recipients out of 15,000 subscribers opened your client’s newsletter, but only ten subscribers took a desired action (such as clicking on a website link or filling out a form), was that email a success?

And while open rate gives more insight into the effectiveness of email subject lines, it’s not a solid basis to overhaul marketing strategies or content.

If email traffic and conversion rates are low in these scenarios, open rate may be used as part of the troubleshooting process. However, it should not be the only email metric you should include in client reports.

4. Likes

Ah, social media likes. How often have you gotten a call that goes along the lines of, “How many likes did my last Facebook post get?” Probably more times than you can remember.

While a multitude of likes looks great on your clients’ social media posts, let’s be honest–they don’t pay the bills or contribute to more impactful outcomes. After all, likes won’t automatically transmute to dollars and cents, qualified leads, or whatever your clients aspire towards.

Of course, likes may give you _some _idea of what type of social media content resonates with the target audiences. But on their own, they aren’t a solid basis to making impactful business decisions.

5. Number of Followers

When it comes to your clients’ social media followings, it’s understandable you don’t want your clients to have 0 followers! How else will their content be seen or engaged with, right?

Though this may be true, looks can be deceiving. A high number of followers doesn’t necessarily indicate that their content is gaining traction or being engaged with.

For example, your client can have 100 highly engaged Facebook followers that frequently follow through on actions (such as downloading their e-books and responding to their social media polls).

On the other hand, having 10,000 followers looks impressive, but it won’t matter if there’s no social media engagement or zero conversions.

Pro-Tip: Don’t get caught up in the follower popularity contest–quality matters more than quantity when it comes to followers. Resorting to black hat methods (such as buying followers) won’t result in fruitful interactions and may even harm your clients’ brands in the long run. Instead, focus on creating valuable content over time.

6. Page Views

Speaking of quality over quantity, page views is another vanity metric when considered as a standalone insight. That’s because it solely focuses on the number of views a webpage receives without considering user interaction, time on page, or follow through on CTAs.

For example, let’s say a client’s webpage gets a high number of page views–it looks promising on the surface. However, an accompanying high bounce rate suggests otherwise. In fact, it suggests their website content may be in dire need of reworking and improvement.

Website page views can be a deceptive success metric, as Google may index the page for a search term with a different keyword search intent, leading to high traffic from users seeking different information or services, thereby compromising the relevance and quality of the audience.

And so, solely focusing on page views leads to a false sense of success and doesn’t provide enough impactful details to optimize web pages.

Actionable Metrics: The Results That Actually Matter

Now that we know about the dangers of vanity metrics, how do you measure success? That’s where actionable metrics come in to save the day.

Generally speaking, these valuable insights are:

  • Directly related to your clients’ business objectives. For example, say your client has a revenue goal of $50K for the quarter. In this case, eCommerce conversion rate, conversion value, and total revenue would be actionable metrics directly affecting their bottom line
  • Focused on long-term, sustainable goals. Rather than getting caught up in the short-term win (e.g., getting a bunch of likes on a social post), what metrics will drive long-term gains for the client (e.g., increasing search rankings over time)
  • In addition to being ‘actionable,’ these metrics are also directional, accurate, and measurable. After all, you can’t improve what you can’t track!
Source

4 Examples of Actionable Metrics That Drive Results

Wondering what actionable marketing metrics look like in real life? Here are a few examples to consider.

1. Conversions


More often than not, your clients are most interested in conversion-driven results; after all, it keeps their business wheels turning. In a nutshell, conversions refer to any desired action that a user may take, such as:

  • Downloading an app or e-book,
  • Making an online purchase,
  • Filling out an event form signup,
  • Subscribing to an e-newsletter
    Whatever the case may be, conversions directly contribute to your clients’ business objectives (e.g., generating revenue) and make a notable difference in the bigger scheme of things.

2. Clickthrough Rate

When evaluating your clients’ marketing performance, it’s all about understanding user intent. Clickthrough rate is an effective measure of:

  • How compelling your clients’ content comes across
  • What type of messaging or imagery resonates with their target audiences
  • Whether further optimization is needed to drive user engagement (e.g., improving ad copy)

And by comparing clickthrough rates across different channels, you’ll have more context to create marketing strategies that contribute to your clients’ key objectives.

3. Bounce Rate

An actionable metric like bounce rate gives you more insight into how many users have exited your client’s website after visiting one page. A high bounce rate lets you pinpoint:

  • The effectiveness of their website content (e.g., catchy copy, content that can be skimmed for quick reading)
  • Whether there are any possible user experience (UX) issues (e.g., long image loading times, content that isn’t mobile optimized)
  • If there are sufficient CTAs to drive user action

And so, use it to evaluate your clients’ website performance and make any adjustments where necessary.

4. Quality Score

When it comes to your clients’ advertising campaigns, quality score assesses the effectiveness of their ads and landing pages. A good quality score indicates that their ads are performing well and should be ranking favorably (which is what any client wants, really).

On the other hand, a dip in quality score may imply that further action is needed, such as:

  • Experimenting with different headlines to improve clickthrough rates
  • Infusing more search and user-relevant keywords
  • Adjusting ad copy so it’s more compelling or driving a sense of urgency
  • Adding more CTAs to drive conversions

And so, quality score is an actionable metric that signals whether improvements are needed to achieve advertising success.

Actionable Metric Alternatives to Common Vanity Metrics

As a quick reference, here’s a table illustrating some vanity metrics and their more actionable counterparts across major marketing channels.

ChannelCommon Vanity MetricActionable Metric Alternative
Social MediaNumber of followersEngagement rate (likes, comments, shares)
Email MarketingNumber of subscribersOpen rate, click-through rate, conversion rate
WebsitePage viewsBounce rate, average session duration, pages per session
SEONumber of keywords rankedOrganic traffic, conversion rate, click-through rate from SERPs
Content MarketingNumber of blog viewsTime on page, bounce rate, leads generated
Paid AdvertisingImpressionsClick-through rate, conversion rate, return on ad spend
Video MarketingNumber of viewsWatch time, completion rate, clicks on CTA
Public RelationsPress release pickupsWebsite referral traffic, mentions in key publications

Remember that while the actionable metric alternatives provide deeper insight, the context, objectives, and unique situation of each campaign or organization will ultimately determine the best metrics to focus on.

How to Differentiate Between Vanity and Actionable Metrics

Now that we understand what vanity and actionable metrics mean, how do you differentiate between them? Here’s a quick overview to keep in mind.

Vanity MetricsActionable Metrics
Surface-level insights that may seem impressive but don’t give deeper insights into overall marketing performanceUseful insights that are directly tied to your clients’ business goals
Variable and unpredictable–there’s often no clear-cut way to replicate results (e.g., a spike in impressions may not have a specific reason)More predictable and better suited for strategic decision-making (e.g., increasing ad spend may lead to a scalable uptick in online sales. In turn, this directly ties into revenue goals)
Often focused on short-term results or superficial success (e.g., a one-time viral social media post)May take a longer time to generate results (e.g., steadily improving keyword rankings over a few months)

Context, Context, Context: 3 Use Cases of Vanity Metrics

Given the prevalence of vanity metrics and their ready availability on marketing platforms, you may wonder why they exist in the first place.

So the burning question remains–do vanity metrics have any use? The answer is: it depends.

Here are some instances where they may be worth mentioning:

  • As additional support for actionable metrics. For example, switching up a client’s inbound marketing strategy may have increased social media impressions and conversions. A data storytelling approach paints the bigger picture and shows how all the moving parts are related
  • When a vanity metric is a measure of success. Take a client that recently launched a restaurant or who desperately wants to become an influencer in their niche. In this case, increasing their social media following may be the sole priority for a brief period. Eventually, this will become a vanity metric for them as well.
  • Clients have specifically asked to see vanity metrics on their reports. Even after explaining why these metrics are misleading, your clients may still want to keep tabs on them. In these scenarios, include them but also provide context and reiterate your stance.
Digital marketing campaign

Avoid the Vanity Metric Trap: Stick To Meaningful, Tangible Results

In summary, vanity metrics are surface-level insights that don’t show the bigger picture of what’s happening when considered in isolation.

While they provide some insights, especially when combined with another data point, they don’t give a complete overview of marketing performance and should be avoided entirely or contextualized where possible.

To wrap things up, remember to:

  • Evaluate your clients’ overall business objectives
  • Create a marketing strategy that aligns with their long-term goals
  • Decide on actionable KPIs that are actionable, directional, accurate, and measurable
  • Contextualize vanity metrics if you’re mentioning them in client reports
  • Regularly monitor your clients’ performance by using a custom marketing dashboard that automates data retrieval and saves billable hours

Put in the groundwork to determine actionable metrics beforehand. That way, you’ll deliver results that push the needle and contribute to your clients’ long-term success.

Share this post
Faryal Khan

Faryal Khan is a storyteller, visual artist, and digital marketer with years of experience in crafting content to capture an audience's attention.

Content Marketing Specialist @AgencyAnalytics