Avoid the Vanity Metric Trap: Focus On Search Metrics That Matter

A person leaning on a kitchen counter while looking at vanity metrics on a laptop

Vanity metrics can make marketing efforts appear more successful than they are in reality.  

They give you a false sense of achievement and take your eyes off the true goal of a marketing campaign. 

At the end of the day, your main goal is to focus on real business outcomes, such as driving sales. By focusing on vanity metrics, you don’t fully understand what is and isn’t contributing to your brand’s success and bottom line.

This guide will help you identify vanity metrics and how they harm your campaigns. We’ll also share tips on what to track instead of vanity metrics.

Table of contents 

  • What Are Vanity Metrics?
  • What Is an Example of a Vanity Metric?
  • How to Identify Vanity Metrics
  • How to Avoid Vanity Metrics 

What Are Vanity Metrics?

Vanity metrics are measurements that look good but don’t actually indicate success or help you plan future strategies. Vanity metrics are easy to pull but not as important or useful as they may appear. 

Simply put, they do not help you understand whether your marketing is effective or just a waste of money. In some cases, vanity metrics can even mislead you to invest more money and time into strategies that don’t work. 

What Is an Example of a Vanity Metric?

Any metric can be a vanity metric without enough context to support it. For instance, if you only measure active users for a mobile app, it’s a vanity metric.

Instead, you should assess your app’s performance by also looking at retention rate, in-app actions, and purchases. This way, you don’t just look at the number of app downloads, but the quality of those new users. What actions are they taking? What products get the most visits or drive the most revenue? 

To give you a better perspective, here are some common vanity metrics examples.

Page Views or Impressions

Page views tell you the total number of pages viewed by your website visitors. More page views look impressive because it can look like more people have discovered your brand through organic or paid search campaigns.

Impressions are similar to page views, but it is usually the number of times your ad has been shown on an ad platform. Whether you are advertising on Google, Facebook, or somewhere else—impressions don’t mean that people engaged or even took notice of your ad. It just means that it has appeared on the screen. 

If you focus on tracking page views and impressions alone, you’re missing the full picture. Instead, look at your entire marketing funnel. Analyze metrics like clicks, conversions, and actions that are tied to generating revenue. Consider which stage of the funnel customers are in, and how to move them through the funnel towards making a purchase. 

Social Media Followers 

Your social media follower count is another commonly tracked vanity metric—and it’s easy to see why. We associate more followers with recognition and popularity. However, an increase in social media followers is not always a win for businesses. 

The problem with vanity metrics is that they don’t provide context or actionable insights. For instance, let’s say you gain 10,000 followers in the last month on your Instagram. However, you didn’t have an increase in revenue or even visits to your site. In addition, a third of those followers are from bot accounts. You can easily identify bot accounts if they have these tell-tale signs.

  • The account follows many accounts but has few followers or posts of its own
  • It has many followers, but the accounts seem new or inactive (likely the followers are also bot accounts).
  • It posts the same comments on multiple accounts, often with poor grammar and wording

On the surface,10,000 new followers sound good, but if none of those accounts are engaging with your brand or making a purchase, how successful is it? 

Social media followers can be considered a vanity metric if you are not pairing it with other measurements that tie into your business objectives. 

For example, if 500 of those 10,000 new followers made a purchase, then you could quantify its success in an actual dollar amount. However, you would be measuring the conversion rate instead of followers alone. In this case, you could say that 5% of your new followers became customers. 

This is true for any social media platform. If you have 2 million followers, it looks good on the surface. However, follower count is not always reliable. Social media is rampant with fake and bot accounts that inflate follower count. It also doesn’t indicate how likely those followers are to take actions that really matter like buying your product or service. 

Social metrics to use

On the upside, you can transform social media follower count into a real and helpful metric to measure brand awareness. However, to do this, you’ll need to involve other metrics like engagement.

According to Hootsuite, only 1 in 19 followers see your organic social media posts. If you analyze engagement in light of your followers, would pursuing more followers be beneficial? Or, would it be better to increase the engagement rates of your existing followers? Focusing on increasing engagement would probably work better for your brand awareness campaign. 

How to Identify Vanity Metrics

There are a few tell-tale signs that the performance metrics you’re tracking are vanity metrics. Here are some of the most obvious ones.

  • It’s misleading and doesn’t represent your overall performance
  • It feels over simplified
  • It’s not connected to tangible results like sales 
  • It doesn’t provide insights into how you are or are not meeting your goals

To get a deeper understanding of your campaigns, you should focus on actionable metrics.

Vanity Metrics vs. Actionable Metrics

Unlike vanity metrics, actionable metrics measure tangible results. They reveal how you’re marketing campaign is performing and are tied to meeting business goals. 

Actionable metrics are also commonly referred to as real metrics, and they help you track how close you are to the ultimate end goal, which is sales. 

The difference between actionable and vanity metrics is that actionable metrics give you valuable data to make sense of your marketing performance. Examples of actionable metrics include: 

  • Conversion rate
  • Click-through-rate
  • Sales and revenue

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t look at one metric in a silo—that leads to a vanity metric. Looking at multiple data points together will help you better understand what is happening and what it means for your business.

How to Avoid Vanity Metrics 

Avoiding vanity metrics is a matter of adding relevant context to whichever metric you track. If you have the relevant context, you can use it to inform your future campaigns and optimize the present ones.

Let’s break down how you can avoid the trap of vanity metrics. 

Set Measurable Goals

Identify your primary goal and objectives at the start. When you clearly understand your objectives, you can determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) that most align with your goal.  

Turn Vanity Metrics Into Actionable Ones

As we have already hinted, vanity metrics are vain because they are tracked without context. Take page views, for instance. On its own, the page views metric does not offer you much actionable data or insights into the performance of your search campaigns. However, by pairing pageviews with other key metrics, you can transform a vanity metric into an actionable metric. 

You just don’t want to measure how many people visit your website. You’ll also want to measure the quality of your website traffic. More importantly, you want to know whether your target audience finds your content helpful enough to become a customer. Here’s how you can turn a vanity metric into an actionable metric:

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors who navigate away from your website without interacting. This can be an actionable metric if you are using it to assess if you’re site visitors are high quality. Or in other words, if they took an action. If your bounce rate is high (over 75%), it suggests that users aren’t converting, and you might want to investigate why. 

Bounce rate is also a vital indicator of the user experience. Typically, a higher bounce rate might mean that your website content is not fulfilling users’ search intent. On the other hand, a high bounce rate could be an indication of technical issues such as slow loading elements. 

However, a lower bounce rate can mean your content meets search intent and is engaging. There’s no typical bounce rate, but according to Semrush, the average bounce rate is between 41%- 51%. 

Conversion rate

The conversion rate shows the ratio of visitors who took the desired action compared to the total number of visitors. The desired action can be purchasing a product, downloading an ebook, or signing up for the newsletter. 

For PPC and paid search, you’ll also want to track several performance metrics. If you track ROAS, CPC, CTR, and CAC alongside impressions, you’ll have more actionable metrics to determine your marketing impact and next steps.

Cost-per-click (CPC)

CPC helps you determine how much each click in a pay-per-click campaign costs your business. CPC is affected by many factors, including the ad platform, type of keyword, industry, and more. If the CPC is high but the returns are low, you might be targeting the wrong keywords. It could also be a matter of irrelevant messaging on the ad copy. Either way, it signals that something isn’t working. 

Return on ad spend (ROAS)

ROAS or return on ad spend tells you how much revenue you earned for every dollar you spent. To calculate ROAS, you divide revenue generated from ads by the advertisement cost. 

When you track ROAS, you get a clearer picture of whether your campaign reached a justifiable amount of people based on what you invested. That said, ROAS and impressions data are not enough. You’ll need to track the click-through rate (CTR) as well. 

Click-through rate (CTR)

CTR is a ratio between the number of people who clicked on your ads and the amount of time it was shown. CTR will measure the efficiency and effectiveness of your ad, the relevancy of your keyword, and the traffic driver. 

Optimization and performance management can directly impact CTR, while impressions and clicks rely primarily on the searcher’s behavior and the budget. However, it’s crucial to note CTR may not be ideal for advertisers with small or strict budgeting parameters, as low click volume can skew the percentage-based metric. 

Customer acquisition costs (CAC)

The final metric to keep tabs on is the customer acquisition cost(CAC). This metric tells you how much it costs your company to acquire a customer. CAC combines your marketing and sales efforts, including money spent, personnel, and equipment. It’s a vital metric because it helps you determine whether you are getting an ROI from spending on advertising. CAC also helps you determine the value a customer brings to your business. 

No matter which metrics you use, you should align them with your specific campaign and business goals. 

To avoid the vanity metric trap, intentionally set meaningful goals and pay attention to the metrics that matter most. This will keep you on track and focused on what’s truly important so you can make the most significant positive impact on your overall marketing program’s quality and performance. 
If you are wondering if your marketing includes vanity metrics, Goodway can help assess your current campaigns and develop a strategy to improve performance. Feel free to reach out for a consult today. Sign up for our newsletter to get digital media news and ad tech insights delivered biweekly.