“You’re so vain, you probably think these metrics are helping you,” to quote the famous Carly Simon song—or something like that. People, it’s time to have a real heart-to-heart about how you’re evaluating the success of your website and digital marketing efforts.

Vanity Metrics

Let’s be honest—when you see that your latest social media post received a few likes (or loves, thumbs ups, etc.), you get excited. That’s not a coincidence. Seeing this “success” literally triggers a dopamine high that makes you feel rewarded. Whoa.

But the reality of feeling rewarded for achieving more likes, shares, impressions, and pageviews is that it can be very misleading. Assuming you’re not collecting advertising revenue, how much does your company make when someone likes your social media post? How about when someone views a page on your website? Ready for the real downer of an answer? Zero.

I call many of these metrics “vanity metrics.” They’re nice to look at and they can make you feel good about your marketing efforts, but they aren’t the best indicators of lead generation, revenue generation, or any underlying goals your business is trying to achieve.

Should they be considered? Yes, absolutely. So let’s look at some of these dopamine-inducing metrics and how to improve your view of them:

Vanity Metrics

Social Media Likes

These come in several different forms. As of this writing, they can include likes (Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn), likes/loves or one of the many other reactions (Facebook), and many others on different social networks. They allow people to indicate how they feel about a specific post, image or piece of content.

What’s bad? Likes are an incredibly simple and quick interaction. All it takes is one click and you can keep scrolling. Likes don’t drive traffic to your website or sell products. They aren’t even a great indicator of interest in your product, service, or brand; they simply show an individual’s interest in one piece of content.

What’s good? Likes show engagement. They let you see which content you’re publishing is resonating more with your audience. They may also let you connect and follow-up with individuals to find out why they “liked” something you published. They often expand your audience by posting your content in the user that “liked” your content’s network.

How to track better: Go one step further and track things like which social media channels are driving the most traffic to your site. Leverage “likes” to identify top-performing content and focus on those topics and formats. Or even better, track how many visitors from each social network are converting on your site (filling out a form, purchasing a product, calling you, etc.)

Paid Advertising: Impressions

If you’re doing any kind of paid digital advertising, you’ll be provided with all kinds of metrics from your digital advertising platform. One of the most “vain” of metrics is impressions. We often become mesmerized by high numbers of impressions—“look how many people we reached!” The problem is these people weren’t necessarily “reached.” Your ad may have just appeared in their view while they’re swiftly scrolling through their feed to find the next hilarious pet video.

What’s bad? You shouldn’t mistake impressions for how many people actually saw your ad. There’s a very real phenomena called banner blindness, where users become so accustomed to ads that they don’t even see them. Don’t let this discourage you from pursuing paid advertising, but just be cautious about assuming everyone is seeing your ads.

What’s good? Impressions generally show you the potential reach of your ad. The better you design your ad, including image, ad copy, and call-to-action, the higher the percentage of those impressions will engage with your ad.

How to track better: Unless you’re posting online ads for pure branding purposes, focus on action-oriented metrics like ad clicks, ad conversions, and conversion value. Pursue ads that have higher conversion rates, rather than the most impressions.

Website Pageviews

Let’s pretend that every month you provide a report to your leadership team that includes pageviews as a metric. For the past couple of months, pageviews has been steadily increasing. Great, your efforts are working! Right? Well, maybe.

The savvy marketer in you would go a step further and ask how this increase in pageviews is affecting the company’s business goals (and a savvy leadership team would ask them same thing).

What’s bad? Pageviews show the total number of pages viewed on your site within a specific time frame. But what if they’re all the wrong pages? We’ve had clients that have huge increases in pageviews month-over-month, but it’s all traffic to blog pages for example – people were just looking for information, not looking to purchase. Even worse, the blog pages weren’t set up to convert visitors into prospects or customers.

What’s good? Seeing increases in pageviews can be indicators that your site content is growing in depth, but also that your pages are receiving more traffic. If assessed correctly, pageviews can be an indicator of healthy website growth.

How to track better: First, find out what pages are driving growth. Establish which channels are delivering growth and which pages are visited the most. Next, determine if these pages are generating leads or customers. You should find plenty of opportunities to report on a subset of high-value pages (like product or service pages) and how to optimize these pages based on your findings.

Simple Steps to Better Reporting

Every organization’s reporting structure is going to be different, as it should. But here’s a simple path to reporting valuable metrics on an ongoing basis:

  1. Identify business goals – This is where it all starts. What are you trying to do with your website and digital marketing efforts? These commonly include lead generation, e-commerce sales, branding/awareness, etc.
  2. Determine the metrics tied to those goals – If your goal is lead generation, you should be tracking how many visitors fill out contact forms or call your business from the number on your website. If your goal is e-commerce sales, make sure you’re tracking which channels and activities are providing the best return-on-investment.
  3. Complete the picture with other metrics – Is it wrong to include so-called “vanity metrics” in your reporting? Absolutely not. But just remember that these are often simply leading indicators to success, not direct indicators. If a metric gives your business insight and helps you evaluate your efforts, then certainly include it. But for every metric, you should be able to answer the questions: “What does this metric tell me? What insight do I gain?”

If you’re ready to truly understand how your website and digital marketing efforts (or lack thereof) are affecting your business, give us a call or learn more about our web assessments.

Photo Credit: William Iven