The Danger of Measuring Vanity Metrics

What gets measured gets done. While measurements will likely help you understand what your customers or users are doing on your website or how they are interacting with your business, not all measurements are made equal.

According to Eric Reiss, founder of the Lean Start Up movement, some measurements make you feel good but aren’t useful for making decisions that have a real impact on your business. These feel good metrics are attractive but useless, distracting you from the actual metrics you should really be spending your time analyzing and using to make decisions on.

These are what Reiss calls vanity metrics. Some common examples of vanity metrics include

Traffic – Believing that a high percentage growth in traffic means you are doing very well can be a costly mistake. While it feels good to see your traffic go up, benchmarking your business growth on traffic alone won’t help you. Not all hits to your site are equal. Some convert to business and others just bounce off without doing anything at all.

Facebook likes and shares – Having more likes and shares on your Facebook posts feels great, but if you are using this metric as a primary measure of how well your business is doing, it is probably time to reconsider.

Likes and shares are a sign of social engagement. They are not, however, a sure sign of a visitor turned customer. Many of the most popular Facebook pages around don’t make any money even though their owners spend a lot of time updating these pages.

According to a research by McKinsey, people are 40 times more likely to buy from you if you send them an email than if you reached out to them on social media. What this means is that when it comes to reaching out to your customers and getting them to buy from you, email still beats social media.

Number of app downloads – Most app developers celebrate their 1 millionth download. But is this a meaningful metric to keep track of? What if out of 1 million downloads only 10,000 people, or 0.01% of the total number of people who downloaded the app actively use it?

If you are blindsighted by the number of downloads, you may be fooling yourself to believe that your app is gaining traction when it really isn’t.

Investor funding – Although mainstream media has made it glamorous to secure millions of dollars in funding, the truth is that getting investor funding (and lots of it) isn’t a good measure of success or growth. Many companies with high valuations from investor funding have failed when they could not come up with a sustainable revenue model. These include the much hyped Clinck and Color.

Going beyond Vanity Metrics

Going beyond vanity metrics is the measurement of what Eric Reiss calls actionable metrics. Actionable metrics are measurements that are actually meaningful enough that when you make decisions based on them, you will see an impact on your business.

This isn’t to say that measuring vanity metrics is necessarily wrong but that it isn’t enough. You need to go beyond the numbers of hits, Facebook likes and shares.

Here are a few ways you can start tracking metrics that do matter.

1. Know what your goals are for your business

What are you doing this for? What do you expect from it? Knowing exactly what you want your business to do will help you find out the right metrics to measure.

For example, for Campfire the goal is to build great materials and connect with people who enjoy building businesses and growing themselves at the same time.

2. Whenever you want to measure something, ask yourself how it relates to your goals (stated in 1.)

For Campfire, we measure things like (among other metrics):

– new email subscribers

– e-mail open rates

– links where people sign up for Campfire updates

– number of downloads

These metrics matter to us because they tie in directly with our goal.

For your own business, consider this: If you are measuring traffic, go deeper. Using tools like Google analytics (free) and KissMetrics (premium), you can find out what exactly your visitors are doing on your website. Instead of only tracking traffic, you can track things like

– the number of visitors who buy something from your site.

– how changing different aspects of your website influence your visitor’s buying decision

For social media, instead of only measuring the number of likes and shares, consider tracking the conversions from social media. How many people buy from you after looking at a post you wrote on Facebook or Twitter.

When the popular content marketing site Copyblogger measured the impact of its Facebook page on its business, the team found out that even though they had 38,000 fans, the return on their time investment wasn’t high enough to justify more effort put into it. They killed their Facebook page.

3. Keep testing and optimizing

You will likely find that some of the metrics you chose to measure today won’t be relevant to you some months or years later. This may be because you found out better things to measure or that your business or personal goals have changed. In any case, keep testing different metrics and optimizing your measurements as you go along.


Vanity metrics can make you feel good but are ultimately less meaningful than actionable metrics. Knowing the difference between vanity metrics and actionable metrics means the difference between spending your time on things that matter and wasting time on things that don’t.

Actionable metrics will be different for every company. However, regardless of the type of company and the industry, picking the right metrics to measure will help you accelerate towards your business and personal goals.

The metrics you measure don’t have to be limited to online metrics; you can pick actionable metrics that measure the effects of what you do offline.

What are some metrics that you measure to help you with your business?

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