James Carr

All digital marketing campaigns are based around actionable metrics that aim to contribute to business success. With the ability to easily track metrics from a wide range of sources, it can be all too easy to fall into the trap of “vanity metrics”. But what are vanity metrics? And how do you know if you’re measuring them?

What is a vanity metric?

Hubspot defines a vanity metric as:

“…data such as social media followers, page views, subscribers, and other flashy analytics that are satisfying on paper, but don’t move the needle for your business goals. They offer positive reporting, but no context for future marketing decisions — something actionable metrics can do.”

Essentially, they’re metrics that (in isolation) don’t offer any insight into the performance of your marketing efforts (such as the number of page views) and can be easily manipulated to paint a more favourable picture.

Example: A business runs a campaign to advertise a new service through organic social posts. At the end of the campaign, the marketing team looks at how many times the landing page was viewed. The landing page has achieved 10,000 views and the campaign is declared a success!

On paper, the example above seems logical, you may even find yourself nodding in agreement. However, digging slightly below the surface starts to expose weaknesses with this approach.

The folly of vanity

Let’s assume that the marketing team behind the example campaign took all their data from Google Analytics. There are numerous questions we can ask that will help us to work out whether we’re dealing with an inappropriate success metric:

  • Did all the traffic come from social media? If not, the data needs to be filtered to gain a more accurate stat
  • Can you draw any additional insight from user engagement metrics? Do stats like the bounce rate, pages / session, average session duration etc. suggest active users, or people who immediately disengage?

Once you start asking these types of questions, it’s easy to spot any weaknesses within the apparent success of a campaign. This isn’t a finger pointing exercise though… These types of questions also help us to uncover the metrics that you should be looking at. So, what metrics should you be looking at?

Enter… sanity metrics

If you sell a product or a service, the chances are that you ultimately define the success of your business by sales. After all, the revenue that you make is what helps you to keep your business moving and to drive growth.

You’re probably very used to reporting on overall business revenue, but have you applied this style of reporting to your marketing campaigns? By taking the time to think about what the value of your marketing efforts should be, not only can you identify appropriate success metrics, but you can also start to lay the foundation for more cost effective marketing campaigns in the future.

Let’s take another look at the previous example, but this time let’s apply a little bit of sanity logic to it instead.

Example: A business runs a campaign to advertise a new service through organic social posts. At the end of the campaign, the marketing team looks at how many conversions they achieved directly from their marketing campaign. They find that the campaign received 14 conversions from 300 social media visits (4.66% conversion rate) and the campaign is declared a success.

With the application of very basic sanity metrics, it’s much easier to see how much more value the business attained from this marketing campaign. Using sanity metrics leads to a much higher quality of reporting, allowing the vanity metrics to take their rightful position as supporting metrics. Vanity metrics are still useful though and can be used to better understand and enhance your campaigns, but they shouldn’t take centre stage.

Example: Using the data gathered from the campaign, the same business notices that one of their social media posts generated a much higher click through rate than the others. Examining this post further, they discover that it was posted at a different time of day.

As you can see, the vanity metric of click through rate can be leveraged to see if improvements in the sanity metric of sales.

If you’re an old hand at running marketing campaigns, then you may already be tracking these more specific metrics. However, if you want to improve your reporting even further, this is something that you can do.


To truly unlock the power of marketing metrics, you should aim to use SMART objectives. SMART is an acronym that is used in many sectors to help define specific business objectives based on the following criteria:

  • Specific – ensure that the objective isn’t vague
  • Measurable – make sure that you can measure the objective
  • Attainable – the objective must be possible for you to achieve
  • Relevant – the objective should be relevant to your business goals
  • Time-based – you should set a target date to achieve your objective by

Using the same example again, we can see how much more value the business could get out of their efforts by using the following SMART objective:

“Achieve 20 conversions for our new service by the end of this quarter”

Immediately, the emphasis is placed on a much more valuable metric. If the business had started with this approach, they may have planned their campaign differently, and the vanity metrics they used for reporting would only have been used as supporting data.

Approaching digital marketing in this way not only helps to focus efforts in one clear direction, but also indicates clear conversion paths that can be used to optimise and make future campaigns more efficient.


If you’ve been basing your success on vanity metrics, it isn’t the end of the world. You can still go back and reverse engineer your data to paint a more accurate picture of success. You’ll probably find that you notice patterns in your data that may help you to improve future campaigns.

If you’re already well informed with sanity metrics, then why not push yourself one step further and aim for a fully SMART objective next time? You can always use your existing data to work out a rough estimate for how achievable your goals might be.

If you’re already using SMART objectives, why have you read down this far? Achievement unlocked. Game over, man. Thanks for the engagement metrics though!

If you’re not sure whether you’re getting the most out of your marketing analytics, why not give Coast Digital a call on 0845 450 2086 Our specialists are experienced in helping clients to find the true value of campaigns, getting them well on the way to meeting their business goals.

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