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What Are Vanity Metrics?

Business owners and marketing professionals have access to more data points now than ever before.

There is a long list of tools and software that can help in gathering, organizing, and analyzing data related to many different aspects of a business. However, while data is certainly plentiful, it’s important to note that not every metric is created equal.

Vanity metrics refer to data points that may look good but don’t actually provide marketers with particularly valuable insights or information. Contrary to actionable metrics—which are data points that can help inform future strategies and decision-making—vanity metrics are often flashy, misleading metrics that give off an appearance of success.

When companies focus on vanity metrics, they typically miss out on opportunities to analyze and act on more valuable data points that can provide insights on how to grow and achieve business goals.

In this post, we look at the difference between vanity metrics vs actionable metrics and explain how you can identify vanity metrics. By being able to identify vanity metrics, you can avoid wasting your time on flashy data points and instead turn your attention to metrics that provide you with actionable insights and impact business decisions in a meaningful way.

What are vanity metrics?

Vanity metrics are data points that may look good on paper, yet don’t provide organizations with the insights or information needed to make effective business decisions.

Many businesses use vanity metrics to paint themselves in a positive light and create the appearance of growth and success. However, vanity metrics aren’t a true indicator of growth and only tend to impress those who don’t know any better.

Vanity metrics add context to add meaning

More importantly, vanity metrics don’t help to guide strategy or influence internal business decisions. Since vanity metrics tend to lack actionable information or meaningful analysis, they generally can’t help you better understand your business.

Thus, because vanity metrics don’t help you better understand your business, they can’t help you make more informed decisions going forward. For instance, let’s say you’ve created an app that has generated 250,000 total downloads. Even though this number may sound impressive, it is ultimately a vanity metric because it lacks context and provides no actionable information. Those 250,000 downloads could have been generated over the course of 10 years, with a significant decline in downloads each year.

Alternatively, your app may get 250,000 downloads, but that figure appears much less impressive if it’s revealed that 95% of users delete the app almost instantly after downloading.

As you can see, vanity metrics provide little in the way of substance, making them unsuitable for measuring business goals or developing future strategies.

Instead of vanity metrics that provide a misleading glimpse into a company’s performance, businesses should instead focus on collecting actionable metrics that can help drive growth by allowing marketers and business owners to get a grasp on the bigger picture.

How are vanity metrics different from actionable metrics?

Vanity metrics vs Actionable metrics

A vanity metric is a data point that doesn’t provide organizations with valuable insights, whereas an actionable metric can provide an organization with information on which they can base goals, decisions, and strategies.

With actionable metrics, you get data that has more context, clearer intentions, and more relevance when it comes to your business goals. Tracking and analyzing actionable metrics can enable you to execute key goals listed in your business plan.

For instance, let’s consider the example used in the last section of an app that gets 250,000 total downloads. While a running total of downloads doesn’t provide much context or information, we can take this data point and refine it into an actionable metric.

In order to convert the total number of downloads into an actionable metric, you might look at the download rate within a given period of time, such as a month or a year. Or, you might look at other metrics like the uninstall rate, customer acquisition cost, the rate at which users make in-app purchases or upgrade to a premium membership, and so on.

Ultimately, actionable metrics can provide you with more relevant information than vanity metrics. By identifying and reviewing even the most basic actionable metrics, you can more easily find ways for your team to make improvements and adjustments that are tailored to your business goals.

8 vanity metric examples

Whether you’re attempting to set SMART goals or undertaking a performance marketing campaign, understanding what vanity metrics are and why they tend to be misleading is key if you want to conduct high-quality data analysis for your business.

In the above sections, we defined what a vanity metric is and discussed what separates a vanity metric from an actionable metric.

Yet, vanity metrics can be tricky—even experienced marketers can be tempted to track impressive-looking vanity metrics from time to time. In order to prevent you from wasting time and energy tracking vanity metrics, we’ve put together a list of some of the most common vanity metrics to watch out for. Check out some of the examples of vanity metrics listed below.

Trial users

While getting a lot of users to sign up for a trial of your service may be promising, the total number of trial users is a vague metric that doesn’t provide you with much in the way of actionable insights.

After all, you could be accumulating large numbers of trial users, but that doesn’t mean much if those users don’t convert into paying customers. So, instead of tallying total trial users, consider tracking the conversion rate for trial users.

Page views

Page views is one of the most common vanity metrics because, while it tends to present itself as a representation of a page’s popularity, it actually doesn’t tell you much.

For instance, the total number of page views doesn’t reflect how users interact with a particular page, whether they remain on the page, or whether they share the page. You could be receiving high numbers of page views, but from visitors who aren’t interested in your products or services instead of active users. Rather than tracking page views, consider tracking metrics such as bounce rate, conversions, or social shares.

Social media ‘likes’

As a business, it’s always exciting when you see users interacting with your social media pages, whether that means gaining social media followers or accumulating "likes" on your posts. But, while getting “likes” on posts on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can be encouraging for your social media team, these types of social media metrics don’t provide much actionable data.

A post’s “like” count doesn’t indicate how many active users visited your website or made a purchase or signed up for your newsletter. If a user simply clicks the “like” button on one of your posts and moves on, it doesn’t do you much good as a business.

Rather than tracking the number of “likes” you get on your posts, you might instead focus on overall engagement and referral rates. Take note of whether your social media posts drive users to your website or if users share content with their network.

Email subscribers

Maintaining a running total list of email subscribers isn’t a particularly useful metric, since the number will always be increasing. Rather than paying attention to the total number of email subscribers, you might look at metrics such as your email opt-in conversion rate or the number of new subscribers you get on a month-over-month basis.

Leads in sales funnel

Sales teams are always searching for new leads. However, acquiring a large list of leads should be secondary to ensuring that you secure high-quality leads.

A long list of low-quality leads probably won’t help your business—in fact, it can result in wasted time and energy invested into fruitless sales efforts. By focusing on metrics such as sales cohort analysis or the number of qualified leads acquired month-over-month, you can get more out of your sales efforts.

Vanity metric examples vs Actionable metric examples

Marketing spend

A big marketing budget doesn’t mean much if it isn’t producing results. In fact, if your marketing spend is high but isn’t generating significant results, it can have a negative impact on your company’s bottom line.

So, instead of focusing on marketing spend, analyze metrics such as return on marketing investment, as this will give you a better idea of how successful your marketing efforts are.

Total customers acquired

While acquiring a lot of customers may sound good on paper, it doesn’t necessarily translate into success.

For example, you may acquire customers who never return to make another purchase. Or, you may have a subscription service that customers use for a month and then cancel. Thus, rather than tracking total customers acquired, more actionable metrics to track can include customer acquisition cost or customer retention rate.

Monthly revenue per customer

Monthly revenue per customer isn’t a particularly reliable metric when it comes to gauging business performance. A more actionable metric such as customer lifetime value (CLTV), is more suited to help you determine how much revenue a customer will likely generate for your business and thus set long-term goals.

Always provide context when reporting on any metric

Vanity metrics may look attractive on paper, but they’re not ideal when you’re trying to come up with actionable methods for making improvements, adjusting a marketing campaign, and driving growth. That’s because vanity metrics are often vague and lack the context that would make them truly valuable to marketers or business owners.

As you review metrics for your own company, make an effort to separate actionable metrics from vanity metrics. By focusing on tracking and analyzing actionable metrics, you can identify ways to improve your business processes and achieve your goals.

Using Mailchimp’s all-in-one marketing platform, you can gather and track actionable metrics across multiple channels. Whether you want to get data to bolster your brand strategy or drive email marketing success, Mailchimp’s suite of tools can help you kickstart your next marketing campaign and accomplish all of your marketing goals.

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