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  • Digital Marketing Vanity Metrics

    Vanity Metrics in SEO: Digital Marketing Vanity Metrics To Know & Avoid

    We all want our businesses to do well and believe any analytics and numbers that tell us that we’re on our way to achieving the goals. However, these fancy figures often don’t really mean anything. Even if the numbers look impressive, a more in-depth investigation shows that they don’t help us understand the digital marketing performance or inform future plans in any way.

    And yet, countless marketers and entrepreneurs spend time, energy, and effort on them.

    So what are vanity metrics?

    These are metrics that make others go “Wow!” but offer no real value addition towards helping you gauge your brand’s performance and subsequent future strategies.

    If you want to “look” like you are doing well, keeping track of these metrics is an excellent idea. But if you’d rather assess your brand’s actual progress, track metrics that offer actionable, engaging data that can be used to improve your business.

    An Overview Of Vanity Metrics To Look Out For

    Of course, it is okay to take pride in the numbers that show off your business, but snazzy numbers in press releases and headlines can be misleading. For example, millions of social media followers or visitors to your website don’t always equate to actual sales.

    A telltale indication that you are dealing with a vanity metric is that it continues to grow – the numbers only get bigger with time. For example, shares on Facebook, page views, downloads and users, etc.

    Since any metric can be a vanity metric, it is essential to figure out the ones you should not waste your efforts on.

    1. Social Media Followers

    social media followers

    We’re all guilty of judging a brand’s success by its social media followers and likes on its pages because of its power in today’s age. Even though the number of followers is not entirely linked to your website’s success, it is perceived to be so.

    However, even a massive number of social media followers don’t always indicate good social engagement. This is primarily related to the unpredictability of human behavior. That’s why you should not mistake social media followers to be your brand followers too.

    It is essential to gauge the following engagement metrics to determine your social media pages’ success.

    • Website Traffic: The contribution of social media towards increasing website traffic and the number of conversions and sales that happen due to it.
    • Brand Awareness: The number of people your posts reach and how many of them share, like, comment, and subscribe.
    • Customer Experience: How responsive are you to the customer questions on social media, and how much time you take to answer? The number of customers who used a social platform to report their experience.
    • Content Downloads: The number of social media posts that resulted in content downloads and how many were they.
    • Event Registrations: The number of registrations for a webinar or event that came in because of social media posts.

    2. Website Traffic Increases

    It is easy to be deceived by a sudden onslaught of website visitors, but it is not always a sign of effective marketing tactics. More website visits are great, but the numbers don’t really tell us what’s causing the spike and how it can be replicated.

    Spending too much time figuring out the answers would be a waste of effort because you won’t be able to rightfully pinpoint what caused the change in the first place.

    Additionally, it isn’t a useful metric since the number of website visitors doesn’t matter unless they convert into customers and make your business more profitable.

    3. Conversions

    Lead Quality

    Lead volume due to more advertising spending can be as deceiving as a massive rise in website traffic. According to 2018 statistics, 8% of over 6200 marketing professionals considered marketing leads to be of low-quality.

    Your marketing team needs to focus on garnering customers rather than low-quality leads because they make your business profitable at the end of the day.

    Instead of wasting your marketing efforts on new leads, use them wisely on prospective customers who are genuinely interested in your services and products. An accurate measure of your performance is actually the number of sales-ready leads.

    Having countless leads, but no sales reflect poor advertisement and serve no benefit.

    4. Keywords

    Keywords are generally deemed extremely useful in SEO metrics. The Average Keyword Rank shows the average traded keywords’ positions. Total organic keywords depict all those keywords that rank your website.

    As necessary as it is to reduce these numbers gradually, these metrics can be deceiving. This is due to the following reasons:

    Branded Keywords

    Branded search words are a part of these metrics, and most brands do quite well for their branded terms. If your company is one of them, you will get biased results and increase the total organic keywords to show that you are doing well inaccurately.

    Hence, it is better to group your keywords into branded and unbranded categories to study the average keyword rank. This gives a much better idea of your website’s performance.

    Keyword Volume

    Most brands put in a lot of effort to increase both types of keywords when their audience isn’t even looking for them. If you want to increase your website’s traffic, it is better to categorize your keywords based on their search volume to improve their average keyword rank.

    Keyword Relevance

    You can have a very high average keyword rank, but that wouldn’t do you any good if your target keywords don’t align with your services and products. Hence, it is essential to review the relevancy of your target keywords frequently. Focus only on the relevant words with the changes in trends.

    Of course, these metrics shouldn’t be disregarded, but you cannot rely on them entirely to determine SEO’s success.

    5. Newsletter Subscribers

    Newsletter Subscribers

    An increase in the subscriber’s list does not necessarily reflect company growth. If you do not determine the resulting leads or the revenue they generate, they are not something to rely on.

    More often than not, newsletters are published without a substantial strategy or a sales pitch. Their main aim is to educate the customers about the brand, so if they lead to sales, it takes a long time.

    This is why we say that it is better to focus on new leads you get monthly rather than the number of subscribers. An excellent way to engage and convert readers of your newsletter is to include purchase CTAs or links to landing pages. If you see an increase in the number of quality leads, then send them out more often.

    6. Share of Voice

    At first glance, this metric may seem useful at gauging the frequency with which your brand is mentioned over the competition. But there are specific issues related to it. You need advanced and expensive tools to measure this metric, and it still doesn’t give you accurate or valuable insight.

    Additionally, it is relatively easy to tamper with the figures, and lack of accuracy doesn’t help either.

    7. Pageviews

    Pageviews make it look like marketers are doing well in their SEO efforts.

    Still, it serves no purpose where visitor interest comes in. To get something out of these metrics, you should use them with actionable engagement to gauge your website’s success.

    Look at the following engagement metrics that you should use collectively to get a complete idea of your brand’s performance.

    • Unique Visitors
    • Bounce Rate
    • Visit time on site
    • Content downloads
    • Conversion rates
    • Pages per visit

    8. Time Spent on Website

    Don’t be fooled by the amount of time visitors spend on your website because it doesn’t always mean something good. A visitor can spend hours on your website because the content really engages them or they can’t find what they came for.

    Hence, website visit time doesn’t mean much if it is not paired with engagement metrics.

    9. Pages-Per-Visit

    More pages-per-visit could mean two things: either visitors are genuinely engaged or are utterly confused by your website and can’t find what they want.

    Hence, once again, it’s best to use this one in combination with engagement metrics.

    10. Backlinks

    Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) show on top websites that offer high-quality content with strong backlinks.

    These backlinks are crucial for SEO success, but if you focus too much on them, weighing in quantity over quality, it won’t be of much use. Low-quality links like those from spam websites may be hurtful for your website, which can sometimes result in a manual penalty against it.

    Focus on your backlink profile’s stock and not just its numbers. Use backlink or SEO tools to see the status of the quality and number of your backlinks. If most of them are low-quality, then get them removed or disavowed.

    However, remember that your backlink profile can look suspicious with just high-quality and do-follow links, so it is better to have a balance. Keep a few low-quality links but stress more natural and high-quality backlinks to avoid issues.

    11. Purchases And Downloads

    Global Monthly App Downloads

    Purchases and downloads of apps, games, software, and service trials are obviously considered a sign of growth and success for a company. But this metric can give a wrong impression because the figures will only increase even if there are thousands of uninstalls happening simultaneously.

    According to a survey, 25% of apps downloaded in 2019 on mobile devices were only accessed once after download. Furthermore, in 2020, apps lost around US$ 57,000 monthly on average because of uninstallations.

    Instead of measuring purchase or download metrics, it is better to look at the time consumers spend with you, the number of conversions from trial to purchase, subscription renewals, app uninstalls, etc.


    Numbers are essential for determining a business’s growth, but not all of them always make sense. As a marketer or an SEO professional, you cannot always trust search engines that misrepresent some metrics and hide useful algorithm information.

    Vanity metrics don’t offer much when it comes to gauging your business’s performance or creating helpful future strategies.

    Hence, instead of obsessing over numbers, analyze which factors truly contribute to your business goals. Carry out relevant tests, adopt new strategies, and assess the results.

    Have an open mind about changes in business trends, and find ways to respond to them to succeed in the marketing game!

    If you haven’t yet, please check out our guide to SEO audits!

    Chief Marketing Officer at SEO Company
    In his 9+ years as a digital marketer, Sam has worked with countless small businesses and enterprise Fortune 500 companies and organizations including NASDAQ OMX, eBay, Duncan Hines, Drew Barrymore, Washington, DC based law firm Price Benowitz LLP and human rights organization Amnesty International. As a technical SEO strategist, Sam leads all paid and organic operations teams for client SEO services, link building services and white label SEO partnerships. He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building. Connect with Sam on Linkedin.
    Samuel Edwards