Eric Ries is the man behind the pioneering ‘Lean Start-up movement’, a practise of removing any business processes that do not add value to the end user or customer.
You could say this is going back to the true meaning of marketing and putting the customer at the heart of the business.
When this ethos is applied to digital marketing, Ries is particularly critical of ‘vanity metrics’.
So what do you need to know?
Ries describes vanity metrics as energy wasted on ‘making people think that you’re being successful rather than energy put into serving customers‘.
It’s a tricky one as any account manager worth their salt wants to show the client that their hard work is paying dividends. But they can’t actually show these ‘dividends’ unless the right success criteria is used.
Quality vs. quantity
A first area of discussion is around quality of links vs. quantity.
10 links on contextually relevant sites with decent readership levels should help drive solid levels of targeted traffic. 1,000 low quality links (zero traffic sites with very little relevance) will not deliver the targeted traffic that you would like and it is unlikely that these links will make much of an impact on your organic search rankings.
Reporting success in terms of link volume is arguably the worst vanity metric offence out there. Tasking your agency with meeting a specific number of links per month is a very poor objective.
We all like to look at web analytics and see a graph the shape of the North Face of Everest, but looking simply at visitor numbers can also be a vanity metric exercise.
Again, it is the quality of traffic that should be more important than the quantity. There are several ways of measuring quality, but conversion rates should be at the top of your list.
Each organisation should have its own objectives and the nature of a ‘conversion’ will vary, but it is vital to understand the entire customer journey post the initial website visit and establish goals for your site visitors.
A goal does not have to be monetary (i.e. e-commerce transaction) as factors such as time on site, number of pages viewed, file downloads, social shares and enquiries are all solid indicators of decent engagement.
So how can you tell a vanity metric from a really useful measurement?
The true essence is whether it gives you a real picture of the health of your business. Going back to the point earlier about measuring traffic, it is great if you’ve had more visits to your site, but if those people don’t interact, then they are about as useful to your business as a chocolate fireguard.
Therein lies the difference between pure SEO and inbound marketing: good SEO will drive quality traffic to your site but inbound marketing practitioners take things a stage further.
Inbound marketing will get down and dirty with the customer journey and trial new content and landing pages as a means to getting people to interact and therefore generating those all important leads, conversions, sales etc.
Over and above vanity metrics, there are also vanity tactics – things that an online marketing agency may suggest to their clients that don’t add any value. These include setting up Facebook pages, Pinterest accounts or even developing apps with no real purpose.
All of the above can be useful tools if they have a distinct purpose (to support a campaign with some level of real engagement or for online customer service) but without a real reason to be there, they are a pointless waste of time and collecting likes or followers is again another vanity exercise, unless those people can be persuaded to interact.
In fact, I’d go even further to say that any social media account devoid of recent posts could actually be detrimental to that organisation, rather than just neutral.
So that’s why we may politely say no to clients: either in the way they want to measure campaigns or in the tactics they want to apply.
Joining up the dots between online marketing and a client’s business model is the only way we can see that true value can be added. Looking at SEO success via vanity metrics alone can be flattering but to quote our new client services director, will always beg the question; “So what?”