Good businesses understand the value of collecting data.
More information provides valuable insight and reveals hidden opportunities your business may have otherwise overlooked. By looking at key metrics, you can assess whether to continue or cease a campaign altogether. The reality is that not all data is helpful.
In fact, certain types of data can be downright counterproductive by giving false impressions. For example, a new advertising campaign may result in a ton of new traffic to your site. But further analysis may reveal that the campaign generated little results. What ends up happening is that attention is diverted away from the metrics that actually matter.
Focusing solely on these metrics is not only shortsighted but also dangerous. This is essentially what vanity metrics are-They look good on paper but carry very little value.
What Are Vanity Metrics?
You know the feeling.
You launch a new campaign and watch in satisfaction as traffic figures spike.
So then you decide to invest even more into the campaign. Traffic continues to increase but when you start to dig deeper into your analytics, you notice that those pageviews had no impact on revenue. So what you might end up with is data that looks like the following:
It ultimately comes down to one thing: Does this metric help you make better marketing decisions? For example, by comparing conversions from different traffic sources you’ll be able to identify which generates a better return. You can then use that information when deciding where to allocate your resources.
If you can’t honestly answer that question, then what you have is a vanity metric.
Entrepreneur Eric Reis and author of The Lean Startup was one of the first to coin the term. Here is what he says about vanity metrics:
“The only metrics that entrepreneurs should invest energy in collecting are those that help them make decisions. Unfortunately, the majority of data available in off-the-shelf analytics packages are what I call Vanity Metrics. They might make you feel good, but they don’t offer clear guidance for what to do.”
It’s easy to get caught up in figures like pageviews. If you notice an increase in traffic, you might assume that a campaign is successful. But these kinds of metrics ultimately distract you from the bigger picture.
Here we look at some of the more common SEO vanity metrics to steer clear from and what to track instead.
Pageviews is the most common metric by far.
In fact, it’s one of the first things webmasters see right from their Google Analytics dashboard. But as we have seen, looking at this metric creates the illusion of a successful campaign. The increase in traffic looks great but not all visitors are equal and traffic doesn’t always correlate to increased revenue.
Traffic source is another important consideration.
A study by commerce software developer ATG found that search engines are the preferred method of finding new products. In contrast, a small percentage of respondents indicated that they discover new products on social networking sites.
It’s for this reason that search tends to convert better than other channels. Search engine users are actively searching for a product or service. Compare this to an individual who is simply browsing on their Facebook feed or interacting with their friends. The latter is less likely to convert.
Traffic figures alone don’t reveal the full picture. It’s far better to measure how those pageviews translate in terms of sales and new subscribers.
The same also applies for paid traffic channels such as AdWords. Instead of strictly looking at traffic figures, look at how those visitors are interacting on your pages. View our AdWords guide for a detailed look at why conversion rate matters.
2. Social Media Shares
Social media usage has seen explosive growth over the past decade. The most popular network by far according to data from Pew Research Center is Facebook with over a billion active users:
Many businesses have seen since jumped on the social bandwagon. But vanity metrics such as Likes and Retweets are often used to measure the success of new content.
Just like how traffic doesn’t necessarily show the performance of a new campaign, the same is true for social shares. Likes and Retweets simply can’t tell you how users interact or feel about your brand. In fact, a blog post could have a thousand shares but still produce little in terms of conversions while a blog post with only a few shares could end up being wildly successful.
More social shares don’t always correlate with higher engagement or conversions. And focusing only on these metrics distracts from the bigger picture.
Don’t simply chase more Likes and Retweets for your content. Instead, seek out more actionable metrics that tell you how your posts on social media are performing. These might include comments, visits back to your site, conversions, and new signups.
Digging into these figures can help you better assess the effectiveness of your social media effort.
3. Social Media Followers
Having at least a Facebook or Twitter profile is a must in today’s increasingly connected world. These platforms allow you to engage with your target audience and grow your following. Simply focusing on the number of followers that your channels have though can be rather misleading.
Let’s say your Facebook page has thousands of followers.
It’s certainly an impressive metric. But that number by itself is rather meaningless and doesn’t paint the full picture.
How many of those followers are actually visiting your page? How many are clicking through to your site to make a purchase? How many are interacting with your posts? These are the metrics that you should be tracking.
Having thousands of Facebook followers doesn’t necessarily mean that your posts will reach them. In fact, according to an analysis by Social@Oglivy, organic reach for the average Facebook Page has seen a significant decline over the last few years and could be as low as 2% for larger pages.
The data shows that even with a massive following, only a very small percentage of them is exposed to your posts which translates to fewer interactions on your channel.
Instead of focusing strictly on the number of followers, a better approach is to look at metrics such as purchase and email signups. That way you can better assess how much of an impact your social media channel really has on your business.
4. Keyword Rankings
Another vanity metric that is all too common is keyword rankings.
Rankings are certainly important. After all, visibility for prime keywords means reaching new prospects right when they are ready to buy. But simply judging the effectiveness of an SEO campaign by this metric alone is rather shortsighted.
The reason is simply because rankings don’t always correlate with more traffic or sales.
You could be ranking number one for tons of keywords but those rankings may not necessarily translate to more revenue. What matters then is the intention behind a search and what those visitors do on your pages.
These are the questions to ask yourself to get more value out of the keywords you’re tracking:
How many conversions (e.g. sales, signups, etc.) is this keyword generating?
What is the average value of customers that come from specific keywords?
Is there enough targeted traffic to make ranking for this keyword worthwhile?
Rankings are still a good metric to assess an SEO campaign but they shouldn’t be the primary focus. Your efforts would be better spent by tracking the value that certain keywords are delivering to your bottom line.
5. Number of Backlinks
Backlink quantity is another vanity metric that could actually be harmful to your SEO campaign.
Links still carry a good deal of weight in terms of rankings as they remain one of the primary factors that Google uses to assess authority. What matters though is the relevance of the link. A link from an industry related site carries far weight than a link from a spammy source. Referring domains is another important factor.
An analysis from Backlinko found a strong correlation between unique referring domains and search engine rankings.
Those in the top positions had links from more diverse sources.
Link building still clearly matters to rank for competitive keywords. But backlink quantity is a dangerous metric to measure. If you focus solely on increasing the number of links to your pages, you site could get hit by a ranking penalty thanks to the Panda update.
A better approach then is to think about the value that certain links bring. For example, if you use guest posting to build links to your pages, the metrics you should really be tracking is the value that those links are delivering to your site (e.g. sales, signups, etc.). The links that contribute to your bottom line are the ones you should be focusing more on.
Not all data is valuable.
Certain metrics such as the ones described here don’t reveal the bigger picture. Seeing an increase in traffic may lead you to conclude that a particular campaign was a success. But digging deeper into your analytics may reveal poor conversions from that traffic source. Steer clear from vanity metrics and turn your attention to actionable metrics that affect your bottom line such as conversions, new signups, and user engagement.