Irina Ivan - Digital Consultant

2iVisio Blog: insights on design, digital marketing, user experience

By: Irina Ivan | October 02, 2017

“Vanity is my favorite sin” is the famous line of Al Pacino in Devil's Advocate and, guess what, even businesses out there are touched by a “vanity sin” consisting in the misuse of objective analytics data. Why would they do that, you may ask. Reasons are multiple: to nurture their brand ego, to validate their biases, to mislead competition or to manipulate the market with a specific intent. Or, simply out of ignorance, because they don't know how to use them in a way that adds value.

What are vanity metrics?

The so-called “vanity metrics” are the analytics data purposed towards artificially building a good image. The term is used as an antonym of “actionable metrics”, also called operational metrics or even real metrics, which are supposed to enable you to make decisions. The most commonly quoted vanity metrics are page views, number of visitors of a website, number of downloads (for an app), number of followers (in social media). Engagement indicators like shares or clicks frequently fall into the category of actionable metrics.


The truth is, however, that when it comes to metrics, we cannot say that some are more real or more actionable than the others. How you interpret metrics, how you correlate them, present them and make use of them in alignment with your business goals will make the difference between "vanity" and "actionable" or "real." In the lack of a goal, any metric, even the ones reflecting engagement, is in vain.

                                    

The shocking experiment proving that metrics can be used just for vanity

It is called The Blank Video Project and was initiated by the ad agency Solve. The video is just a blank screen displayed for 4 minutes that was added to Youtube in 2014 (as Unlisted). It was a “huge success”:

  • Over 173,000 views at the moment when I write these lines (the first 100,000 pageviews reached after a small investment in the Youtube TrueView advertising platform).

  • On an average, viewers watched 61% of the video

  • 0,87% click-through rate (even if it lacked a call to action button).

The experiment was an excellent practical example of how metrics that don't mean anything concerning business can be used to fake growth.

Vanity metrics
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The vanity metrics pitfalls

The problem with vanity metrics is that they are used in a way that doesn't bring any value for your business growth. This doesn't mean that the metrics themselves are not valuable, an aspect that we need to point out because the trend nowadays is to demonize the metrics like page views, sessions, visitors.

Any objective data is reliable as long as it's part of a marketing mix. Don't fall for extreme pieces of advice saying that you should ignore some metrics and watch out for the traps metrics may set you.


  1.  Realize when you are using metrics just for vanity. What you say and what you rely on to develop further are two different things. As Eric Ries, the author of the book “The Lean Startup” said in an interview with TechCrunch about vanity metrics, “ they make your competitors feel bad about themselves and also reveal nothing about your business. That's why they're such a good strategic weapon”. As long as you are using them as a strategic tool and you realize that there is more data to dig in for beyond them to get ahead, you are on the safe side.

  2. Link metrics to your business core. No doubt about it, no one's business core is to increase traffic on their website. Traffic is a mean, not a destination. High traffic doesn't mean you're increasing sales or that you are improving your newsletter subscription lists. Good traffic points out there is a pool of leads and potential for growth. Furthermore, you will have to analyze qualitative data like exit/entry pages, click events, demographics to take decisions that will make a difference for your business development.

  3. Don't ignore data labeled as vanity metrics. If there is a constant decrease in your traffic, there might be changes in the search engines algorithms that are affecting you. The bigger you are, the more attention you need to pay to your search engines indexing. If you are a startup and ignore data like page views, you may be failing to lay the foundation for your future evolution. No matter if you are on top or on your way there, basic data about your SEO rank, number of page views and visitors enable you to assess where you are and, combined with data on users'engagement, they may help you decide your next steps.

Eric Ries in an interview with TechCrunch about the relevant metrics

How do you recognize vanity metrics? - There is always a “but” with them.

Ask yourself this question when you are not sure whether or not you are dealing with a vanity metric: is there any “but” after it?


When you rely only on a type of data meant to highlight your progress, there is always some untold story behind. On a different funny note, let's see how real reports would sound/look like if you would be using only real data and not hide the less appealing part

 

Our online store received over 100,000 million unique visitors last month....


5,000 new members have joined our forum about parenting last month...

Our app has over 1 million downloads...


We have 2 million fans on Facebook...



Our company has doubled the number of employees during the last 2 years...

 

BUT, we only sold 10 skinny jeans pairs and 3 polka dots dresses. We're doing great, though!

BUT, there are no new conversations. Yet.


BUT, we have no clue how many people use it daily. All of them, most likely.

BUT, our posts receive 10 likes on an average. Oh, we forgot to mention most of the likes come from paid promoted posts.

BUT, we also tripled the employee turnover. Oh, well, that's life, success comes with a price!

The bottom line about vanity metrics

There are no vanity metrics unless you pour your vanity in. Metrics are raw data to which you give a purpose. Just like you pour water or wine into a glass. And when you use metrics on vanity purposes unconsciously you risk going in a passivity loop. When you are making the conscious decision to highlight the bright side of your path, double these efforts, behind the scene, with a thorough analysis of your data and link metrics to your business mission and goals.

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