Much like a vanity license plate, vanity metrics are abbreviated statements with no backstory-they tend to be "wow"-inducing without adding real substance. While usually brandished to show improvement via time-lapse graphs that incline steeply, they are seldom entirely accurate or informative.
Many metrics reports only provide top-level overviews that quantify the magnitude of traffic to a given website or impressions on an advertisement. But, as marketing consultant and New York Times best-selling author Jay Baer puts it, "The end goal is action, not eyeballs."
Here are five digital marketing metrics to chop, and which stats should populate their places.
KILL: Website visit and page view totals
KEEP: Views of content that directs users to convert and delivers results
WHY: While steadily increasing web traffic might send a strong message to the Powers That Be about your site's effectiveness, the broad numbers you're seeing have too many contributing factors to be conclusive. For instance, campaigns can greatly inflate traffic without providing conversions. So count views of content that capitalizes on meaningful user interaction.
KILL: Traffic sources and percentage of traffic from each
KEEP: Assisted conversions and traffic sources that result in the most goals scored
WHY: Just because a source brings in a huge amount of traffic on a given day doesn't mean those users are valuable for the big picture. (StumbleUpon, I'm looking at you.) Instead, quantify which sources provide the most meaningful audience for your end goal, and maximize your efforts on those channels.
KILL: Email list size
KEEP: Number of legitimate email addresses, click-through rate
WHY: First off, your email list should always be opt-in. Even so, it can easily become polluted with checked-out subscribers who don't bother to unsubscribe but no longer find your content interesting. Some might even negatively impact your list by marking your e-newsletters as spam. Segment your users by who has clicked through an email from you in the last year (or a more relevant time frame) and those who have not, and send an A/B test mailing to the two lists. If the "have-nots" remain disengaged, consider deleting them from your list to increase click-through and open rates, and decrease your likelihood of being blacklisted.
Social Media Stats
KILL: Social fan or follower totals
KEEP: Engaged user rate, engaged users, Facebook reach and interactions, and Twitter impressions
WHY: Like other vanity metrics, the number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers can be inflated by paid efforts. Boasting a large Facebook fan base can actually be harmful if users engage with your content at lower rates, because it will affect how often your content is shown in the News Feed. Instead of worrying about total fans, focus on the percentage of them who engage with your content, and track this both over time blocks and on a post-by-post basis.
KILL: Klout scores and other empty measures of influence
KEEP: Qualitatively and quantitatively finding your specific influencers
WHY: Kim Kardashian may have a top Klout score of 88, but there's a good chance she's not relevant to your audience. Instead of looking at what works for everyone, narrow your target through testing and determining what will work for you. Your best brand advocates might not boast 10,000 Twitter followers, but their influence and trust within their network can lead to more referrals than you'd expect.
Above all, numbers should provide value by helping you make decisions and support business objectives. Are your metrics working this one-two punch?