“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.