Vanity metrics are things people love to quote and obsess over, even though they're almost entirely useless to your business.

One example could be pageviews, which may or may not really matter for your marketing strategy (or business).

But the real problem with vanity metrics is that you'll ruin your marketing by prioritizing the wrong things.

For example, journalists like to write about how much traffic Pinterest sends. But almost all of it bounces for most companies (which means none of that traffic buys anything). So for you and me, it's a waste of time.

When you prioritize the wrong tactics, you'll get sub-par results and squander your resources all because you're trying to took for positive signs or impress your boss.

Here are 3 vanity metrics you need to watch out for (and what you should be measuring instead).

 

Social media cartoon comic - Buying Twitter Followers Image courtesy of seanrnicholson

 

1. Keyword Rankings

Every marketer, manager, and executive who has any hand in SEO always wants to know what keyword rankings you have.

That's the wrong question. Because everyone's keyword rankings are different. Search engine rankings are personalized by:

  • Your past browsing history
  • Your physical location
  • Your social media connections

When every single person's search engine rankings are unique to them, it really doesn't matter where your keywords rank - because they're different for everyone!

And this problem's only going to get worse now that Google+ is heavily integrated with Google Search.

Corrective Strategy #1: Measure traffic and conversions from organic search.

At the end of the day, you need SEO to send you traffic on a consistent basis that will purchase or become a lead.

For most smaller companies, you should forget about the big keyphrases altogether and focus on a long-tail SEO strategy. These will be easier to pick up, and the traffic you get will actually be more targeted (which means you have a better chance of converting them to customers).

You can easily track this information through Google Analytics for free, or with a paid, comprehensive SEO software like SEOmoz.

 

2. Followers & Fans

One of the favorite KPI's of every marketing manager and executive is the number of Twitter Followers or Facebook Fans.

But these numbers are essentially useless.

Don't misunderstand. Reach is important.

But the actual aggregate number is meaningless. It sounds good in a meeting, but it doesn't translate to actionable metrics that your business can make decisions with.

And it doesn't matter how many Facebook Fans you have, because EdgeRank won't let you reach them all.

So what should you focus on?

Corrective Strategy #2: The first thing you should focus on is the growth rate over time.

You may never have millions of Facebook Fans like Red Bull or Starbucks. But that's perfectly OK. Don't get caught up in a social media arms race for popularity's sake.

Most people (and businesses) outside of the Fortune 500 try to do too many things. Focus on the main social network your audience is on, and put all your resources into that. Then track your growth rate from month-to-month and try to do the best you can to grow consistently.

You should also try to figure out how much a Facebook Fan (or Twitter Follower) is worth. You can get creative and use coupon codes or special promotions with only that network, and try to figure out an average value.

Finally, you should try to measure social media traffic, conversions, and the lifetime value of a customer. Figure out how many customers are coming from social networks, and how engagement drives the lifetime value of that customer up.

Or better yet, forget social networks and focus on email subscribers.

Which brings us to our last point...

 

3. Email Open Rate

Email marketing should still be your number one priority. According to a recent study by MarketingSherpa (an online market research company),

Email marketing can be amazingly efficient. B2C marketers report an average 256% ROI from the channel — pulling in $256 for every $1 invested.

But amazingly, when asked if these companies had a way of quantifying the ROI of email marketing, 59% said NO!

Not only is it the highest converting marketing channel, but you also own all that data. - unlike Facebook or Twitter.

However the people who do track email marketing commonly over-emphasis the open rate. Knowing this range is important, because typically only 15 - 30% of your emails will ever be opened at one time.

But here's the problem.

According to marketing software company HubSpot,

Open rate is a metric that many marketers use to measure the success of their campaigns, but it’s an unreliable gauge for several reasons.
Most importantly, an email is only counted as ‘opened’ if the recipient also receives the images embedded in that message, and a large percentage of your email users likely have image-blocking enabled on their email client.
This means that even if they open the email, they won’t be included in your open rate, making it an inaccurate and unreliable metric for marketers, as it underreports on your true numbers.

So it's unreliable at best.

Corrective Strategy #3: Focus on the Click-Through-Rate (CTR) and conversion rate.

And that means your email best practices, or the individual tactics you use, should all emphasis the CTR and conversion rate.

Because at some point, you'll have to make decisions that improve one metric while sacrificing another.

You'll have to focus on one traffic tactic instead of a popular one like Pinterest.

And if you don't know what to emphasis, or worse, you're prioritizing the wrong things, then your marketing will deliver lackluster results and you'll waste your time, energy and money.