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Vanity metrics, and how to avoid them

Which KPI is most likely to be a vanity metric?

As a marketer, you know that KPIs are critical for measuring performance, but not all of them indicate success. Some may believe metrics like ‘Time on page’ or ‘Social Likes’ are good metrics for measuring success but it completely depends on your business model or what your are trying to achieve. In fact, some KPIs like these that seem important on the surface don’t accurately reflect your progress and focusing on optimising them can actually hinder performance. These misleading stats can be called ‘vanity metrics’, and you may find one or two accidentally lurking within the KPIs your company tracks. In this article, we’ll cover which KPIs are most likely to be a vanity metrics and explore the difference between vanity metrics and actionable KPIs to help you accurately track and optimise your marketing success.

What is a KPI, anyway?

A KPI, or key performance indicator, is a metric used to measure how well a company is achieving key business objectives. As a marketer, you likely track many KPIs to measure the success of campaigns, content, social media, and more. But not all KPIs are created equal. Some are meaningful, while others don’t drive real results. (For a more in-depth look at what KPI’s are and how to optimise read about KPI reporting and automation in 2024.)

Understanding Vanity Metrics vs Meaningful Metrics

Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics like followers, and clicks often don’t correlate with important outcomes like sales or customer loyalty. Anyone can get more likes and followers by paying for ads or using bots. And just because someone clicked on your content doesn’t mean they actually engaged with or benefited from it. Vanity metrics are attractive because they’re easy to measure and can make you feel accomplished. However, they often fail to provide actionable insights, to do this you need to take a deeper view and look at these metrics within context.

Meaningful Metrics

Meaningful metrics, on the other hand, directly measure the results that matter to your business. For an e-Commerce site, that may be revenue and conversion rate. They provide a true picture of performance that you can use to extract actionable insights and thus optimize your marketing and business strategies.

Monitor your meaningful metrics

Choose the metrics that matter to your business and see clearly how you are tracking towards your goals, what is changing in your data and why. Simply connect Google Analytics, Shopify and your Ads platforms and start learning more about your data.

How do you spot vanity metrics?

Signs of a vanity metrics:

  • Pay attention to metrics that isolate a single factor. Vanity metrics often attribute success to one thing, like a marketing campaign or sales initiative. But in reality, progress is usually the result of many small improvements over time.
  • Being able to identify immediate results is the sign of a vanity metric. For example you spend out a email and see that 3k people clicked your call to action. You need to look deeper, did those clicks result in anything meaningful for your business, for example conversions, revenue or increased customer satisfaction.
  • Look for metrics that focus on relative size rather than growth or impact. Things like ‘1 million app downloads’ or ‘10,000 newsletter subscribers’ sound impressive but don’t actually tell you much. Did those 1 million people who downloaded your app get value from it or convert? Do those 10k newsletter subscribers engage with your content?
  • Consider the context and comparisons. A vanity metric lacks context, so you have no way to determine if it’s good or bad. Compare metrics to previous time periods, forecasts, or industry benchmarks to understand their true significance. If a metric can’t be compared or contextualized, it’s not very useful. More on this in the next chapter.

Look for metrics that provide balanced, data-driven insights into what’s really working for your business. Keep improving, keep iterating, and don’t get distracted by metrics that lack deeper substance. The metrics that really matter will help you build something great over the long run.

Why a Metric Can Be a Vanity Metric Without Context

Without the proper context, certain KPIs like pageviews, clicks or social shares can be vanity metrics that don’t actually reflect how your content is resonating with readers or driving real business outcomes. Pageviews, for example, just show how many times a page was loaded—not how engaging the content was or whether it led to a conversion.

For a KPI to provide true insight, it needs to be paired with other metrics that provide a more complete picture of performance and impact. If your goal is to increase brand awareness, for instance, look at pageviews and social shares together with metrics like time on page, bounce rate and organic search traffic. See how people are finding and interacting with your content over the long run.

Giving conversion rate context

Chances are that your company tracks conversion rate (CR) as an essential KPIs. And rightly so as any small dip in CR can have a drastic impact on revenue or the goal your are trying to achieve. However looking at the bigger picture paid ad campaigns can have a much lower CR than another form of traffic like direct traffic or referral. You could deactivate all your ad campaigns and thus increase your CR, but that would not necessarily lead to more revenue/goals.

Context is key, rather than solely tracking overall CR look deeper and measure the conversion rate of each key traffic source, what is the CR of your paid ads? Tracking the CR of your direct traffic or other traffic sources would be others.

The most meaningful KPIs are those tied directly to business goals. If you want to drive e-commerce revenue, for example, focus on metrics like transactions, cart additions and checkout completions—not just product page-views. Context is key. Vanity metrics alone won’t give you the actionable insights needed to optimize your content and achieve real results. But combined with other metrics, they can be an important part of the overall analysis.

The most meaningful KPIs are those tied directly to business goals.

Common Vanity Metrics and how to make them meaningful

Social Media & Influencer Marketing

Vanity metric: Number of followers.
Many brands chase follower numbers, but more followers don’t necessarily mean more engagement or sales.

Better metric: Social engagement rate.
The number of followers may be important to you, but you will also want to measure how many followers actually interact with your posts. Aim for 1-5% engagement. Taking this one step further you could track the CR of traffic originating from your social channels, to see not only how engaged they are but how willing they are to go on to make a sale or complete a goal.


Vanity metric: Keyword ranking.
Just because you rank #1 for a keyword doesn’t mean you’ll get traffic.

Better metric: Relevant Organic traffic
If you know the number 1 spot generates significant traffic for you then tracking its position may be a simple way to ensure your traffic level stays on track. But if number 1 doesn’t reflect high levels of engaged traffic, instead you may want to measure how many engaged visitors come from search engines, which is what you really care about.


Vanity metric: Impressions.
The number of times your ad is shown means nothing if no one clicks and converts.

Better metric: Click-through rate (CTR) paired with Return on ad spend (ROAS)
CTR measures how many people actually click your ad. Aim for 2-5%. You can’t measure this independently though, you will also want to measure your ROAS, keeping this positive will ensure your Life-time-value (LTV) is higher than your Ad Spend, for example with a high CTR if it costs $90 to convert a user but your LTV is only $50 your ads will nto be profitable.

Content marketing

Vanity metric: Content shares.
Shares alone don’t prove your content resonated with readers or led to business goals.

Better metric: Traffic from content.
Measure how many people visit your site from your content. Then track further actions like engagement, email signups or purchases.

Email marketing

Vanity metric: Open rate.
Just because someone opened your email doesn’t mean they read or engaged with it.

Better metric: Click-through rate.
Track how many subscribers clicked links in your email. Aim for 10-30% CTR, depending on your industry. Going one step deeper you can track the engagement of these users, did they stay and browse your content, or complete a goal or did they just bounce after clicking the link?

Vanity metrics in KPI reporting

Examples of actionable KPIs and how they can help your company progress.

Customer retention

One of the most useful KPIs is customer retention rate. Tracking how many customers stick with you over time shows whether your product and service are actually meeting their needs. A low retention rate means you need to re-examine your offerings or how you engage with customers. Improving retention by just 5-10% can increase profits 25-100%!

Customer lifetime value

Knowing how much revenue you can expect from a customer over their lifetime with your company helps determine how much you should spend to acquire new customers. If you know a customer’s lifetime value is $10,000, spending $1,000 to get a new customer is probably a good investment. But if their lifetime value is only $500, that $1,000 acquisition cost wouldn’t make sense. Tracking lifetime value ensures your marketing dollars are spent effectively.

Cost per lead

How much are you paying to generate qualified sales leads? If it costs $100 to generate a lead but you only earn $50 in revenue per sale, your cost per lead is too high. Look for ways to drive that cost down by improving SEO, email marketing, social media, or other low-cost lead generation channels. Lowering your cost per lead directly impacts your company’s bottom line.

Sales qualified lead conversion rate

Not all leads are equal – you need to determine which ones are most likely to become customers. Track how many of your marketing leads turn into sales qualified leads (SQLs) and eventually customers. If only 10% of leads become SQLs and only half of those convert to sales, you need to improve how you nurture and qualify leads to boost that conversion rate. Even small improvements can significantly impact revenue.

Vanity Metrics – Conclusion

When analyzing your key metrics, be wary of vanity metrics—numbers that look impressive on the surface but by themselves don’t actually reflect the health or growth of your business. Things like page views, followers, subscribers or downloads might make you feel good – but they need to be viewed within context. Look deeper, are those followers engaged? Are your subscribers eventually converting? Are the people downloading your app satisfied?

Rather than chasing abstract numbers, focus on metrics that provide meaning with the context that shows the true picture. Are people sticking around and continuing to use or buy what you’re offering? That’s a much stronger signal that you’re on the right track. The meaningful metrics are what will build a great business.

Ultimately, the only metrics that count keep customers happy and your business growing sustainably over the long run. While vanity metrics deserve caution, as long as you don’t optimise based solely on them without considering context they can be useful.

Also, don’t forget once you have determined your meaningful metrics you can easily get updates on progress towards them. Go-Insights will deliver daily or weekly updates on how you are progressing towards your goals and uncover all interesting changes in your data. Check-out KPI tracking for keeping an eye on progress towards your goals, actionable insights for extracting meaningful changes without all the manual effort, and if you run ad campaigns you can also monitor your ad budgets.

Track the metrics that matter

Choose your KPIs and see clearly how you are tracking towards your goals, what is changing in your data and why.

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