What are vanity metrics and how to avoid them

Vanity metrics are measurements that do not give any valuable insights into the health and success of a business, but look good on paper. In a worst case scenario it could be misleading and damaging to a business if vanity metrics are the only metrics used to measure performance.

In this time and age of digital marketing, obtaining data is quite easy. Everyone can just go to Google Analytics or Facebook and pull out a bunch of random numbers and percentages.

Vanity metrics are measurements that look good presented by themselves. It could be follower count on social media, amount of people visiting your site, or the amount of subscribers on your mailing list. Whatever the metric is, as long as it does not directly lead to revenue growth or other meaningful goals for a business, vanity metrics should be avoided at all cost.

Examples of vanity metrics

Often used vanity metric

Example 1: social media

Let's say you're the CEO of a business and your social media manager or agency you've hired gives you a monthly report. The important thing to look at is not the amount of followers you have on your various social media platforms, it's mainly the engagement rate and the amount of purchases or leads coming directly from those platforms. In this scenario, the amount of followers are the vanity metric.

Example 2: Advertising

In this example you're running a lead generation ad on Facebook. The goal of the ad is to get as many leads as possible. The smart thing to do is to measure success after the amount of leads or cost per lead. Any other metrics is irrelevant. You don't need to care about the amount of impressions or likes the ad got, those are vanity metrics in this case.

Example 3: App

I've heard stories about people trying to sell ad space to businesses and only giving them the amount of downloads the app have to show that the app is "popular". In fact the right metric to look at is something like daily active users, or monthly active users. Those numbers will give you a more accurate picture of how many people will see your ad there. 

Vanity metrics depends on what you're business objectives are

I've said it before, KPIs always starts with your business objectives

You can call followers or ad impressions vanity metrics, but in some cases they might not be.

If your business is heavily invested in social media and trying to grow your following, it makes sense to use the amount of followers as a metric to rely on. Same goes for advertising. You might want people to get to know your brand before actually selling them something. Counting and using impressions is not a bad thing for when you're building trust with consumers.

When it's all said and done, vanity metrics can be different at different times. As a business grow, the metrics you focus on will change, and that's good. At some time you might focus on sign ups at the main KPI, other times it might be user retention.

How to avoid using vanity metrics

By now you should be well aware that vanity metrics are metrics not directly linked to your business objectives. As long as you've defined your business goals, the metric used to measure success should be clear to you.

If you're running an eCommerce store, the average time spent browsing your website would be a vanity metrics. Amount of purchases would be the right metric to care about.

When that is said, you shouldn't flat out overlook these less important metrics. Average time spent on your website is useful for a web developer. It could highlight problems with your site if its too low. What is too you might ask, you can find out average time spent on an eCommerce site and more benchmarks here.

Focus on what's giving you results and what is driving your business forward, those metrics are the most important ones. You can read more about startup growth with lean analytics here.

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