Some of the best things about having a website, a social media presence, or a newsletter, are all the different ways you can measure the performance of these assets. That’s what made the adage “what gets measured, gets managed” one of the key philosophies of digital business. The more things you measure, and the more meaningful calculations you perform with those measures, the better you can fine-tune your assets to perform whatever task you want them to perform. But you should be careful when doing the measuring and calculation of the metrics. Not all metrics you get this way are equally useful. And while some will provide valuable insight into the state of your business and the directions you might want to take, others will lead you astray. We call the latter vanity metrics.

What Are Vanity Metrics?

A vanity metric is a metric that might sound impressive and useful, but it doesn’t provide any useful information. The number of website visitors is a vanity metric, for example, because it doesn’t tell you anything beyond the number of people who have been to your website. It doesn’t tell you where they come from, it doesn’t tell you how long they stay or what they do, it doesn’t tell you who they are.

Pageviews is another vanity metric, as is the number of email subscribers, social media likes, the amount of money you spend on marketing, and even the number of customers acquired. These metrics are called vanity because they sound great — they are the numbers your digital marketing exec might throw at you to show you how good of a job they’re doing.

But these numbers will not tell you anything you really need to know. They won’t tell you how much money you had to spend for each of the unique visitors to the website and converted after viewing a page. They won’t tell you how much it costs to acquire a customer, and how much the customer is worth to you. Those would be useful information to have.

Is There Any Use for Vanity Metrics?

The funny thing about vanity metrics is that, even though they’re useless on their own, you really need them if you want to get to actionable metrics. Actionable metrics are those metrics you’ll see and immediately know what you need to do. Or, more realistically, they will shine the light on areas where taking some kind of action will produce results. They might also point towards what that action should be.

The most important metrics are usually those that need a couple of different data points and a formula to get to them. Vanity metrics can easily be one of the metrics you’ll need for that formula, so you can’t exactly stop following them. But you need to know what role they play and use them only to get better-quality information.

Which Metrics Should You Follow?

You can think about valuable metrics as clusters. The most valuable cluster of metrics you need to follow are the revenue metrics, as they deal with the numbers that show whether your business will have to close its doors next month or not. Net profit, total revenue, and monthly and yearly revenue are very useful metrics if you want to understand the bottom line operations of your business.

From there, you can start following the more advanced metrics, like those that tell you about the acquisition of customers, and conversion rates. They will tell you about the efficiency of your process of acquiring new customers, the costs and benefits of procurement efforts, and how well your assets performed in converting customers. These are all things that are very important to know — much more than the number of website visitors is, for example.