[Updated] 5 metrics you need to measure [and 5 you need to forget]
We’ve all done it – noticed our blog views or social media followers hit a higher (if arbitrary) number, and given ourselves a happy pat on the back. These whoops of joy are often based on figures we deem to be ‘high’ and therefore, prove our success, right? Wrong.
There are problems with paying too much attention to some metrics and not enough attention to others. So are you guilty of monitoring and reporting on vanity metrics?
What are vanity metrics?
The Weidert Group gives their definition as:
‘Vanity metrics are data points that have no real value to your business because they don’t provide any actionable steps to improve your marketing and sales strategy.'
The objective should always be to learn and grow from your data – otherwise what function is it serving? It’s time to really focus on what you’re measuring, creating reports on and using to plan your future strategy. Here are five metrics to measure now and five to stop getting hung up on.
5 vanity metrics to stop focusing on
How much are you really learning by monitoring metrics such as followers and page views? If you’re basing your business’ success off random stats, then you aren’t getting an honest perception of your marketing efforts.
Website traffic – or sessions – is the number of individual visits made to your website. Of course we all want to see traffic growth. But it’s easy to obsess over traffic metrics without actually knowing what to do to increase them.
What if every single visitor to your site leaves again within seconds? Or only stays on the homepage without exploring other pages? What if they never make it to the bottom of a page? Or what if they all come from the same source? Would you still be congratulating yourself on improved website traffic?
The issue is that traffic as a standalone metric doesn’t tell you much. The problem with ‘traffic’ as a marketing metric is that it is too broad to be useful, because many different factors can influence it; assessing whether your hard work has been successful based on overall traffic to your entire website is largely futile. And an unhelpful, in-actionable metric is a vanity metric.
Nonetheless, digging into significant or sudden changes in website traffic is important: When you have peaks – are you monitoring what causes them? Likewise, when you have dips in visits to your site – are you working out what might be causing those? Where is your traffic coming from? You need to know the answers to these questions or there isn't much point in reporting your traffic metrics.
2. Page views
Defined by Google, a page view ‘is an instance of a page being loaded (or reloaded) in a browser. Page views is a metric defined as the total number of pages viewed.’
Whilst this may seem like a useful thing to be monitoring, in isolation it is essentially a broken down version of website traffic (see above). A page view tells you how many visits individual pages of your site have had. The problem is, if the same visitor returns more than once, it counts as a new page view, and if the visitor clicks for example, from your homepage to your prices page and back to your homepage, the second visit also counts as a new page view.
Counting page views often creates more questions than answers, making it a vanity metric You shouldn’t use this metric on its own as a reliable source of volume of visitors because your 1,500 page views could all come from one person! Or perhaps you have a high number of page views but your conversion rates on those pages are really low. Can an increase in page views that don’t convert really be indicative of a successful campaign?
More meaningful questions to ask would be:
- Where do my visitors come from?
- How long do they spend on each page?
- Did they read the whole thing?
3. Social media followers
What are vanity metrics in social media? Followers!
Important for social media influencers, perhaps, but not something for a serious business to focus on! This metric is a very raw number which doesn’t actually give you much insight about the people who are engaging with you. It is easy to be misled into assuming social media success by relying on this metric but there aren’t enough detailed, actionable insights here. For example:
- Are your new followers your targeted buyer personas?
- Are they genuine prospects?
- Are they competitors?
- Are they bots?
Similarly to focusing on general website traffic, ‘all social media followers’ is not a particularly insightful KPI. There are far more meaningful social media metrics you could be monitoring – more on these in the next section.
4. Email open rate
How many of us open emails and immediately delete them? Perhaps they’re junk, perhaps they’re a subscription we signed up to ages ago and no longer find relevant, or perhaps you open it and think you’ll come back to it later but never do?
Email open rate is again a vanity metric: if a subscriber is opening your email, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re engaged. You can’t assume your email content has been read, digested and acted upon just by looking at open rates. All this metric tells you is that something in your subject line caught their attention – which is great (and monitoring the success of your subject lines is a useful practice).
What a subscriber then does with the email is a far more meaningful and useful measure, such as the click-through rate (more on this below) or if they're deleting it without even opening.
5. Blog or newsletter subscribers
Sure, this metric shows the number of people interested in your business enough to want to receive content about you. But what does your blog or newsletter subscription metric actually tell you about these people?
As with social followers, this is a bit of an empty metric if you don’t delve further into what subscribers are doing with your content, and how they’re finding it in the first place. You need to learn more about who your latest subscribers are, and why any who drop off might be unsubscribing.
Better questions to ask include:
- Are they actually consuming your content?
- Are they engaging further with it?
- Are they sharing your content publicly once they read it?
- Have subscriptions actually led to anyone becoming leads or even making a purchase?
- Do both customers and non-customers sign up to become subscribers?
If you don't monitor how your subscribers are using and acting on your blog and newsletter content, how will you know what to create next to hold their attention, educate them and help them solve their pain points?
5 meaningful marketing metrics to focus on
Instead of the vanity metrics above, we’ve selected five which would be far more helpful to your business: metrics which offer you space to grow and set meaningful targets. So if you aren’t already, start monitoring this data to give you a more honest overview of your marketing efforts.
In a recent marketing survey, Databox found that engagement metrics make up 26-50% of the metrics tracked regularly by marketers.
1. Source of traffic
Instead of just tracking how much traffic is coming to your website, look at where it’s coming from. You need to break traffic down, source by source to find out the most prevalent ways visitors are finding you.
Depending on which platform you’re using to monitor your marketing efforts, these breakdowns might be called slightly different names, but they mostly fall into these categories:
- Organic search – traffic that comes from a keyword search for which you ranked in a search engine.
- Referrals – traffic that comes from an inbound link to your website from another website.
- Direct traffic – traffic that comes from someone directly typing your website address into a search bar.
- Social media – traffic that comes from links to your website that you’ve posted on your social channels.
- Email marketing – traffic that comes from links to your website that you’ve included in emails.
- Paid search – traffic that comes from the PPC ads you’ve paid for on Google or another source.
Each group can be attracted differently, but you need to decide which traffic sources are most appropriate to focus on first for your business, depending on your overall strategy. For example, if you’re not ready for a PPC campaign yet, don’t worry about that source just now; focus more on your direct or referral traffic.
2. Bounce rate
Instead of merely focusing on how many page views you’re getting, look more closely at how many different pages visitors are looking during one visit. If an art gallery measured their success by how many people walked through the doors, without registering that everyone was leaving after only looking at one exhibition, they’d be doing a poor job.
It’s the same for page visits. Focus less on how many individual visits there are, and more on the bounce rate – when someone visits your website and leaves without interacting further with your site. Signs of bouncing include:
- They don’t click onto other pages through the navigation bar to explore your site
- They don’t fill in a form to download further content
- They don't engage with a chatbot or popup
- They don’t click through any of the hyperlinks on your page.
As a general rule, high bounce rates are bad, and low ones are good: low bounce rates mean a visitor ‘hung around’ and looked at further content than the page they landed on. If your bounce rate is high, it could be that you aren’t offering your visitors enough opportunities to convert.
Likewise, you might want to take a look at your navigation bar. Are there too many options making it cluttered? Is there a free resources tab, a prices page and a contact section clearly marked? These high-volume pages are enticing to visitors.
3. Engaged users
Instead of tracking that meaningless ‘followers’ metric, focus more on how engaged these followers are. This tells you so much more about the types of content your followers want to see, and can help inform your future output.
Rather than followers, have a look at the social posts that are winning the most engagement:
- Which ones get people ‘liking’?
- Which ones do people comment on?
- Which ones encourage followers to share?
- If you’re posting links to wider content, which posts get a click through?
Is there a particular format of post – such as a question and the request for followers to click or comment – that gets better engagement? Do followers react well to infographics? Short sentences? Moving images like GIFs? Run some experiments and see which posts are getting the most engagement.
4. Email click-through rate
If you’re sending your email subscribers interesting, persuasive content in your emails, they’ll want to know more – are you giving them the opportunity to do so? By including well-placed, appropriate links to website pages, helpful content and social channels in your emails, you’re encouraging subscribers not to merely be passive, but to interact with your brand, moving them closer to becoming customers.
You’ll also want to check that all your lead magnets have an automated follow-up email set up to go to anyone who downloads them. This way, you can send them their useful content and also include an additional, enticing offer, moving them through the buyer’s journey. Who could resist, not just one free piece of content, but two?
Pay close attention to this metric: ask yourself the question – if your email click-through rate is low, then why are you doing it?
5. Conversion rate
Not just looking at how many visits you have to your website, but monitoring what action those visitors make is really important. The quality of these visitors, their capacity for becoming leads, and whether they convert on your pages is far more illustrative of a successful marketing strategy.
The Weidert Group offers this thought-provoking scenario:
‘Let’s say you ran an ad last month on LinkedIn that generated a ton of traffic for your site and led to over 100 downloads of your new eBook. Sounds pretty successful, right?
Well, what if we told you the audience selection for the campaign was terrible, and the conversion rate on the content offer was less than 10%? The campaign ended up costing more than $10,000 to generate those numbers and, worse yet, 90% of the leads came from a foreign country or used fake information on the download form.’
Your conversion rate needs to be carefully monitored; not only the percentage of conversions, but the breakdown of who is engaging with your content.
If you’re still focusing on the wrong metrics – those that are too broad to gain any real meaning from – then it’s time to zoom in and break down these metrics into smaller chunks, and start learning from them. You might even realise you’re doing certain things more effectively than you realise – but you won’t know until you forget vanity metrics and start focusing on meaningful data you can grow from.
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