What Are Vanity Metrics?

Small businesses are the backbone of this country’s economy, and yet they have to really prove themselves in order to be taken seriously in today’s market. That can often be challenging, especially for those businesses who don’t have the time to invest a significant amount of resources into steady growth. Often times they are working on maintaining their current position and keeping the lights on. It’s not unheard of for small businesses to have to grow their reputation (and revenue) by producing surprisingly high sales in a short period of time.


Because of this, what we see now is that today’s small businesses, as well as startups, are using vanity metrics as a way to show how far they have come. While this seems impressive to those not in the know, it doesn’t actually prove anything about the company’s success. Here I’m going to discuss what vanity metrics really mean, and why you should switch to actionable metrics, otherwise known as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).


vanity metrics bear


First of all, vanity metrics are things that companies track within their digital marketing efforts such as registered users, followers, subscribers, and page views. Often, we associate these numbers with the real success that comes from user engagement, active users, qualified lead capture, and eventually profit. The thing is if a website has 10,000 unique visits a day, but only two visitors stay for more than 3 seconds, can you consider that a metric of success to celebrate the 10,000 unique visitors? I don’t believe you can. However, that company may still boast that their website receives 10,000 visits a day. From afar, and through rose-colored glasses, this is an impressive metric. In reality, it doesn’t mean much if 9,998 visitors leave almost immediately.


Vanity Metrics & Unreasonable Expectations


The problem with vanity metrics is that they set unreasonable expectations in the future for that business, and expectations that don’t actually speak to tangible results. Many people don’t see 10,000 visits a day and think about how many are active users on the website. This can mean that they assume all 10,000 people who visit the website, stay for an indefinitely period of time, and also make purchases while on the site. That is a heavy torch to carry! When you then report what many would consider actual growth (aka profits) within the business, it doesn’t seem as great in comparison to the 10,000 visits that were being highlighted before.


vanity metrics graph


It seems that VC’s looking to invest in startups insist on more substantial metrics. From Tech Crunch, “VC Fred Wilson blogged recently about his 30/10/10 rule: 30 percent of downloads or registered users are active once a month, 10 percent are active once a day, and 10 percent of the daily users will be the maximum number of concurrent users. These are the patterns he is seeing in his portfolio companies and the startups pitching him.”


Let the Metrics Guide You; Don’t Use Metrics to Show Off

vanity metrics to show off

Metrics aren’t meant to show off what your business is doing right now. Metrics are supposed to provide a general guide to what direction the business should go in. They are a way to set realistic goals that can be made into a strong, strategic plan for growth. If your current metrics show you are at the top of the mountain, then the business has nowhere to go but down.


Compiling metrics that leave room for smart business goals is the best way to present an equally impressive, and realistic, view of the business. You want to be able to use this data to make decisions.


Actionable metrics (aka key performance indicators, or KPIs) in digital marketing that are more valuable to a company than vanity metrics may include:


  • Cost Per Lead (CPL)
  • Conversion Rate
  • Email Subscribers
  • Engagement Rate (Very important  in social media, including social media advertising.)
  • Average Session Duration
  • Bounce Rate
  • Daily Sales
  • Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate
  • New vs Returning Customers Sales


Now, these are far from an all-encompassing list of actionable metrics, but they are here to make you question what you are tracking and why. Are you tracking things that will help you move the needle or are you talking about those 10,000 daily visits that don’t translate into anything?


Vanity Metrics Aren’t Completely Worthless


Fizzle is a company that created their personal stages of entrepreneurial maturity. In this case, they don’t necessarily believe that vanity metrics are completely worthless. They see vanity metrics as the baby of the data group.


  • “Infant: traffic, followers, subscribers, reviews, social media shares
  • Adolescent: # of sales, revenue, conversion rate, time on site, customer satisfaction
  • Mature: profit, retention length, churn rate, revenue per customer, costs of goods sold, impact” – Fizzle.


This idea is similar to Hubspot’s funnel theory, which starts at the world’s population and ends with customers who are so happy that they promote your business for free. Here is a visual representation of this:


vanity metrics aren't useless


The overall idea here is that vanity metrics are very primitive in today’s data-rich world. They are a metric that doesn’t tell us much about what actually makes a difference in your bottom line. These metrics celebrate data in broad sweeping brush strokes.


Yay! I have 10,000 daily unique visitors. But what does that mean? It’s very high level.


Now, I’m not saying you should completely discount vanity metrics, but instead, you should keep them in mind while focusing on actionable metrics (aka KPIs). The latter will help you make decisions that will actually grow your business.


Want to learn more about how to identify your KPIs?

Send us a message! We’d love to help.


Chelsea Demastrie

Chelsea at heartbrain dot marketing


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