What gets measured, gets improved.

We all know this often repeated adage -- or some form of it. It’s a nice thought, but for digital brands, it’s not quite as easy as it sounds.

According to IBM, in the U.S. alone, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day. Quintillion isn’t a number you learned in grade school? It’s 2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, and we create this every single day.

There is a severe shortage of people with the analytics expertise to sift out insight from this unfathomably large amount of information.

As a result, marketers often rely on metrics such as Facebook Likes, Twitter followers, or YouTube views -- so called vanity metrics. These metrics are vanity metrics because they are largely superficial. You may impress a less digital-savvy CMO with Facebook Likes, but those Likes fail to quantify any real impact on the bottom line.  

To be forward-facing, brands must understand and quantify how their campaigns affect the short- and long-term value of their organizations by learning how to properly leverage analytics tools and talent.

Better brand experiences are just a “data mine” away if you know where to look.

What’s Wrong With Vanity Metrics?

I will admit that, taken at face value, it’s tempting to care about vanity metrics. It’s only natural for a CMO to be frustrated that their competitor is accumulating what appears to be a larger brand presence online.

C-suite executives need to look deeper and understand that these metrics are completely meaningless and hollow.

Let your competition puff their chest out at their Facebook Likes. They probably paid for them. They aren’t expensive.

What is the only thing Facebook Likes actually measure? How many Facebook Likes you have.

So why are vanity metrics so meaningless?

For one, vanity metrics lack context, completely eliminating their ability to measure any bottom line value driven to the business. They are just arbitrary numbers unbound by time or purpose.  

Coca-Cola has around 90 million Facebook likes, while Pepsi has 30 million. This does not directly translate to Coke holding three times the market share of Pepsi. Coca-Cola controls 42% of the soft drink market to Pepsi’s 30%. A C-level Coca-Cola executive may argue that the increased Facebook presence is a factor in its greater market share, but more specific brand measurement metrics, such as a brand awareness survey, would better inform Pepsi as to why Coke controls 12% more of the market.

Vanity metrics offer no insight into movement through the consumer engagement funnel, the customer’s journey from awareness to research to conversion (or even past that to loyalty and advocacy as is now commonly included).

I dare any brand to tell me from a Twitter follow alone whether that consumer has very little intent to ever convert or is a die hard advocate that would give anything to get the first crack at a new product. Now if the consumer’s Twitter account starts tweeting at you, that’s meaningful brand engagement, but a follow alone is a meaningless metric in the digital sea of noise and brand message saturation that consumers face today.

In addition, vanity metrics are often reported with no regard to benchmarking. When executing on metrics, you are always seeking improvement -- current states are just baselines. Brand A has 1 million likes, B has 2 million. Awesome for B, but maybe B has been hemorrhaging online advocates (superfans) during the past several months, while A created its account one month ago. Metrics that aren’t able to stand and offer insight on their own are dubious and shouldn’t be weighted as heavily.

Worst of all, vanity metrics don’t take into account a target market. Segmentation is marketing 101, and any marketer worth their salt gets the critical nature of understanding your target consumer and appealing to their needs and wants.

Metrics for the Modern Marketer

So you’re sold that vanity metrics are useless? Now, let’s break down the analytic alternatives.

A digital campaign is ultimately measured by the primary and secondary website engagement metrics relevant to the goal of the campaign.

Primary website metrics measure either conversion or the ability to convert. Secondary website metrics measure other critical functions not related to conversion.

Primary Metrics

Here are some examples of basic primary analytic metrics ordered by the ultimate goal that the campaign is supporting. By no means is this table exhaustive, but it shows the clear correlation that needs to exist between a metric and the site’s primary purpose.

Goal of Website: Content

I’m sure you know by now that content is king, or queen. Content sites are all about creating and distributing, you guessed it, content. Think Slate or the Huffington Post.

Content sites, with and without subscriptions, need to understand how their site is being consumed to maximize their intended audience and meet traffic driven revenue goals.


  • Impressions
  • Page Views by Visitor
  • Return Traffic
  • Stickiness Metrics (pages/session, avg. session duration, bounce rate)
  • Ad Revenue Metrics (revenue per visitor, revenue per page view)

Goal of Website: Content With Subscriptions

Sites that place their content behind a paywall, such as the Harvard Business Review or The New York Times, have a couple other important metrics to follow.  


  • Subscription Renewal Rate
  • Content Usage Rates: the value your subscribers are getting from the content
  • Consumption Trends: Is one person consuming 100 articles or are five people consuming 20?
  • Share Rate

Goal of Website: Lead Generation

Examine who is converting and why to maximize leads generated on sites optimized for customer interest and inquiry.  


  • Qualified Leads
  • Leads Converted by Website User Segments
  • Content Consumed by Leads
  • CTA Metrics

Goal of Website: Ecommerce

Ecommerce is all about moving product. Effective metrics not only measure revenue, but reveal friction in the shopping experience that keeps visitors from converting.


  • Revenue Paid Traffic
  • Revenue Paid Traffic Sources
  • Conversion Rate
  • Shopping Cart Abandonment
  • Average Order Value (AOV)
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)
  • Churn (percentage of site’s users who never come back)

Secondary Metrics

One of the most important secondary metrics is the ability of a company’s site to attract and ultimately recruit talent. It’s absolutely critical for most large organizations that their site act as an applicant pipeline. If the tactic towards this end is a landing page, the success of the campaign will be measured by click-throughs from the landing page to your site’s career page. Track sign ups from this site into your company’s job platform.    

Naturally, both the number and quality of candidates is the ultimate measuring stick.

Other secondary metrics that you need to be aware of pertain to visits to your site’s public and investor relations pages. These high leverage visits should be tracked due to their critical importance to the goals of your organization. In this case, the number and quality of press mentions is the final judge for your digital PR outreach. For investor relations, monitor not only your mentions in financial media but visits from investing institutions.

You should measure your referral traffic for a deeper understanding of what is driving traffic to your recruitment and investor relations sites. In Google Analytics, referral traffic measures traffic that isn’t directly from the search engine. Your company’s Facebook may be valuable for capturing recruits, but your Twitter may drive the majority of the traffic to your investor relations page. Armed with this knowledge, a social media marketer is able to better tailor their posts towards the goals of the platforms' users.          

Aligning the Metrics With the Campaign

Say your client is a consumer packaged goods company in the lifestyles of health and sustainability (LOHAS) space. The campaign’s overarching goal is to connect consumers with information related to the company’s products and the movement around the lifestyle of health and sustainability. The company is also concerned that its site is not currently an effective funnel of talent into the company’s ranks.

Tactics toward driving these campaign goals may include landing pages and digital ads designed to drive traffic towards the site.  

The success of the landing pages, standalone pages that shepherd traffic towards a single business objective, should be measured by their bounce rate, conversions, and conversion assists.  

When measuring the efficacy of an ad, focus on the cost per conversion. Beware of relying solely on impressions, cheap impressions can be bought while it’s far more important that people are connecting with your web presence and converting.

Metrics that measure the ultimate success of these tactics towards achieving the campaign’s primary goal:     

  • Total unique visitors and pageviews/visitor
  • Total unique visitors and pageviews/visitor from self-identified LOHAS consumers
  • Total unique visitors that use the store locator feature of the site.
  • Total unique visitors that use a feature of the site that informs visitors about the lifestyle of health and sustainability and how the company’s products fit into this space

Metrics that measure how well the site is recruiting talent to the company:

  • Clicks on job postings listed on the contact us page
  • Sign ups transferred into the company’s recruitment CRM

In the end, vanity metrics may be measurable, but they are easy and fast. There are other more difficult but also more substantive metrics that can provide data you'll have a reason to be vain about. 


Originally published Aug 25, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017


Marketing Metrics