Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2018

The trap of vanity metrics

Beware of metrics that fuel the 'feel good' factor at the cost of solid ROI.
Illustration by Creative Unit
Illustration by Creative Unit

Media metrics, especially those for digital media spends and assets, can be measured in a variety of ways. In this era of data, there is virtually no end to how one can measure a campaign or set up a KPI. Data is all around us and in endless amounts. However, not all data is helpful; in fact, some of it can be harmful if not read in the correct context, because it can trick us into believing we have answers when we don’t. Unfortunately, many brands often look at the wrong kind of metrics; metrics which matter more to the brand manager’s ego rather than those that drive ROIs, hence the term ‘vanity’ metrics (source: KissMetrics).

Vanity metrics make us feel good if they go up; they don’t necessarily help us take actionable decisions
Vanity metrics include number of followers, ‘likes’ and raw page-views. They are easily manipulated and do not necessarily correlate to the numbers that matter, such as active users of your app, engagement rates and reach, the cost of acquiring new customers and ultimately, revenue and profits. This isn’t to say that all vanity metrics are worthless; just that they are often looked at out of context and cause more harm than good. It is important that brands properly instrument the data they track, so that they can get a handle on the real health of their business. If they track only the vanity metrics, they can fall into a false sense of success. Just because a brand can produce a chart showing excellent performance indicators, it does not always mean higher revenues and growth. A mobile app could have millions of downloads but only a few hundred thousand active users, or a freemium website might see exponential traffic growth but barely any paid up conversions (source: techcrunch).

Social media vanity metrics
Globally, the numbers of likes and followers on social media are no longer considered to be benchmarks; yet many Pakistani businesses fall prey to this. These metrics are an ego boost and an easy sell to a management who may not fully understand digital. The fact is that they don’t mean anything unless you are reaching out to this audience frequently. With Facebook’s new algorithms and the end of organic reach, posting content without a paid push is a waste of time. This is not to say that followers do not matter, but it depends on how you get them. Audiences who organically follow your account are more likely to regularly engage with your content, thereby making both your paid and organic efforts worth it. So what is a good metric for social media? Unless you have a focused campaign aimed at driving conversions (for example, traffic to an e-commerce store), a good rule of thumb is to have both reach and engagement as your metrics. Plan your media spends to maximise reach and your content to encourage audience engagement.


A good CTR matters in Google AdWords search ads because it will help you get a better quality score at a lower cost. This is because it comes from a space where people are actively searching for a solution which your website can provide. Unless you are aiming to raise brand awareness, the number one metric you should look at is cost per conversions or cost per lead.


Campaign-related vanity metrics
Most display campaigns are judged by the number of impressions they generate. Given the low cost per impressions in Pakistan, it is not difficult for a campaign with a relatively low budget to generate millions of impressions. At first, this may seem great. However, it is very possible that each person (or device) is shown the same ad 10 or more times. Agreed that there are times when there is a need to maximise impressions without sending the audience to a dedicated landing page for further action (for example, when the objective is simply awareness); in this case, it makes more sense to set reach as a benchmark while maintaining an effective frequency cap for better budget utilisation. In campaigns, where generating traffic to a website is the aim, clicks and CTR (click-through rate) are often misunderstood. Thousands of clicks and an above average CTR mean little if you are not following your user journey until the end. This is another big vanity metric trap digital brand managers fall into; many of them shoot for a low CPC (cost per click) straight off and start to worry when they see a bigger CPC. Yet, does it matter how much you pay for each click, so long as you see a positive ROI from your campaign?

Let us look at the following hypothetical scenarios: if you are running a social media campaign and you get a 0.8% CTR (and the CTR benchmark for example is 0.02%), the campaign looks promising. However, when you check the analytics, you see that you have an 80% bounce rate. Compare this with a standard display ad campaign that gets a 0.05% CTR (20% lower than the 0.07% average for display) and a 45% bounce rate. Which campaign would you rather be running? A good CTR matters in Google AdWords search ads because it will help you get a better quality score at a lower cost. This is because it comes from a space where people are actively searching for a solution which your website can provide. Unless you are aiming to raise brand awareness, the number one metric you should look at is cost per conversions or cost per lead. The total conversion value is the only one that will tell you whether your digital marketing efforts are running a loss or not. Let’s take a second hypothetical case to prove the point. Let’s say that you have two campaigns: a Google search ad campaign and an email marketing campaign. You are marketing the same product, reaching out to the same audience and you have spent $1,000 on each one. The Google Adwords campaign garnered 50 conversions and the email marketing 70. So far, email marketing is the winner. However, let’s say that the total conversion value on the Adwords campaign is $800 and on the email marketing campaign, it is $500. If you looked only at the number of conversions, you would be losing out (source: Bannerstack.com).


Page views, visitors, fans and followers are great to have, but do not let them distract you from the real task of building your business, growing sales and acquiring a justifiable ROI from your media spend.


Website-related vanity metrics
Website visits or hits are probably the most overused vanity metric. When you log into your analytics account, you see an array of metrics on your visitor’s overview report. Rather than focusing on your visitors exclusively, you need to identify where your customers come from, how much time they spend on your website, what they do while they are there, and (if you are in the e-commerce business) whether they are generating sales. This tells you where to put your marketing dollars. An important aspect to keep in mind is that most analytics providers attribute conversions to the most recent traffic source. So, if someone finds you with an AdWords ad and then Googles your business name before they convert, the branded keyword gets the credit instead of the display ad. This last click attribution problem is now widely being highlighted (source: Hootsuite). Google say they want to rid marketers of their obsession with the last click before consumers buy anything. Instead, they aim to provide insights about how earlier ad dollars performed in areas such as TV, digital video, store visits and search (source: AdAge). We can’t really fault analytics providers for this. After all, they are giving us what we want: data that makes us feel good. We are happy when the number of visitors goes up; however, it is not hard to get visitors to go up – the trick is convincing visitors to become customers.

To sum up, we often neglect our responsibility of growing our business in favour of metrics that are easier to improve but don’t matter. Page views, visitors, fans and followers are great to have, but do not let them distract you from the real task of building your business, growing sales and acquiring a justifiable ROI from your media spend.

Urooj Hussain is Associate Director Digital, Brainchild Communications. urooj.hussain@starcompakistan.com