Don’t Get Stuck on Content Marketing Vanity Metrics

It's easy to get all caught up in hits, likes and retweets. Pay attention to the numbers that really matter — the ones tied to your business goals.

Vanity MetricsAs a content marketer, it can sometimes feel like you’re slogging through deep, murky water. It’s tiring, uncomfortable, and you can’t always tell what kind of progress you’re making.

If you ever feel that way, give yourself a quick ego boost by spending five minutes taking a look at your vanity metrics:

  • How many Facebook likes, Twitter followers,
    retweets, +1’s, etc., has your content earned you this week?
  • How many more visitors does your site get now compared to last year?
  • How does your bounce rate look compared to last year?
  • How about your time-on-site?
  • How many blog posts have you published? All time and just this year?
  • When you Google your name or your brand, in how many pages back do you dominate the results?

There. Doesn’t that feel good?

Take a few minutes and bask in the glow that all those vanity metrics can offer you…

Now, forget about it

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all those kinds of metrics are good for — making you feel good about yourself. Sure, we all need that now and then. But don’t get caught in the trap so many other content marketers are caught in: thinking that metrics like these are actually means of tracking success from a business standpoint.

Far from it.

In fact, not only are they not effective for tracking business success, they can be deceptive.

Why vanity metrics are fooling you

Stats like your site’s total number of visitors and how long they stay on your site are just numbers. Because so
many other variables are involved, they have little connection to what your website is actually accomplishing (exception: if you see your total number of visitors dropping off a cliff, you can be fairly sure there’s a technical problem somewhere that needs to be resolved — either in your site itself or in Google’s index).

All these numbers do is verify that your content is indeed out there, visible to the public and doing what it’s supposed to be doing: attracting eyeballs. They’re deceptive, though, because it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking, “The more eyeballs I get, the more successful my content marketing is.” But content marketing is not just a numbers game. The guy with the highest number of visitors or Twitter followers doesn’t automatically win. Not by a long shot.

So don’t fall into that trap.

Instead, start accepting vanity metrics for what they are — a nice ego boost now and then, and a very rough estimate of how visible your content is. Then, start paying attention to the metrics that really matter.

Figure out your business goals first

To identify the truly important metrics, the first thing you need to do is identify your business goals and how your content aligns with them. After all, if you don’t know what you’re shooting for, how will you ever know when you hit it?

Let’s take a very basic and universal business goal to illustrate: profit.

Every business wants to bring in more in revenue than it pays out in expenses, so generating profit is a worthy business goal. Some other common important business goals are:

  • Generating leads
  • Establishing relationships
  • Nurturing leads
  • Converting leads to customers
  • Fueling business growth and expansion
  • Building brand recognition

But, to keep things simple for this article, let’s stick with profit.

Align your content to your goal

shutterstock_342403835Now that you know what you’re shooting for, you can start gathering metrics that actually tell you something about how you’re doing in reaching that goal. Some meaningful numbers to track include:

  • Revenue (how much you’re earning)
  • Expenses (how much you’re spending, including on creating and distributing content)
  • Revenue sources (where that revenue is coming from)
  • Conversion rate (how many of your visitors become customers)
  • Average sale (how much each converted customer spends per sale)
  • Lifetime value of customer (how much each customer spends over their lifetime)

And, of course, depending on the analytics available to you, you can dig far deeper into these kinds of numbers, too. But the purpose is the same: Put measurable figures around your content in relation to your goal and see how effectively your content is helping you reach that goal.

Once you’ve done this consistently for a few weeks or months, you’ll be in a good position to look at trends and overall effectiveness from an ROI perspective, rather than just the number of eyeballs your content is getting. Tweak your content strategy as you maximize the content that’s earning its keep, and minimize or eliminate the content that’s not — even if it IS garnering vanity metric love.

Let me sum up…

Is there anything wrong with glancing at those vanity metrics I listed at the beginning of this article?


In fact, they can be beneficial as a snapshot of what’s grabbing attention, where you might have some technical issues and how your content is spreading and growing over time.

The trouble is in thinking those metrics are actually tied to business goals and that improving them is the same as making sales or improving your conversion rate. They simply can’t provide that level of real, tangible, actionable insight.

To confirm that your content is truly hitting the mark and is providing tangible return on investment, track the numbers that really matter. If you keep yourself out of the vanity metrics trap and align your content to business goals, you’ll be more successful in the long run.

Tags: content marketing

Category: Measurement

About Justin P.

Justin P. Lambert is a content marketing specialist working with Sprout Content, an inbound marketing agency. He has over 12 years of experience in freelance content strategy and development and a wide range of industry and tactical knowledge. He is also the author of The Content Marketing Hurricane, a content strategy guidebook for small businesses and DIY marketers.