The trouble with vanity metrics
Even if you’ve never heard of vanity metrics before, you know what they are.
They’re the thumbs up, hearts, and likes that you see across practically every social media and blogging site. They are the counters that keep going up as users land on your page or post. They’re easy to get, and since they usually increase over time, we tend to think of them as a measure of success.
The problem is, we can get so engrossed in chasing numbers that we lose sight of why we are writing in the first place.
What are vanity metrics?
There has been a lot of scrutiny surrounding vanity metrics as these numbers don’t generate any meaningful results. Most often, they leave us thinking, “Well, that’s great, but so what?” At worst, they cause us to focus on writing for the numbers rather than the reader. These are some of the most common vanity metrics generated by analytics platforms:
- Users – the total number of unique visitors to your page
- Pageviews – the total number of times a page on your site has been viewed
- Open rates of an email newsletter – the total number of subscribers who opened an email campaign
Humans are hardwired to measure success by a number, the larger the better. We love to visit the busy restaurant, follow popular social media accounts, and watch the numbers go up. It’s not surprising that these metrics are used to evaluate success, but we should also be aware that they can be misleading.
Vanity metrics are misleading
The number of views is the most common metric used to measure the success of a blog or website. They’re easy to misunderstand and easy to game.
No impact on the bottom line
A page view doesn’t mean much without a sale on an e-commerce site. A blog post view doesn’t mean much unless you use it to improve your content or achieve another goal.
They set unrealistic expectations
You may be disappointed and disheartened if one post gets thousands of views and the next does not.
Views don’t mean the post has been read
Someone who clicks on a link to your post may not read it, they may ‘bounce’ right off the page, or they may skim it and decide it isn’t useful at all. This isn’t a way to measure the success of your post.
Spam and bots
A spike in page views isn’t always good news and not all traffic is created equal. Spam accounts and bots can cause numbers to skew significantly.
Vanity metrics are just the beginning
Before you disregard these metrics altogether, we should consider how to use them in conjunction with other metrics and tools.
Find out what’s being shared
The best compliment you can receive as a content creator or blogger is having your post shared. Your page views may have increased due to this. If you know who is sharing your writing and where they are, you can have more meaningful conversations with them.
- To find out on which newsletters, pages, and even GitHub repos your post has been shared, use a backlink checker like Ahrefs.
- Keep track of who is sharing your post on Twitter using Tweetdeck.
- Demographic reports will tell you what kind of people are visiting your page.
Find out how the page is performing
When combined with other metrics on your analytics platform, page views can give you a better picture of your post’s performance. If you do this, you can tweak your content and identify issues with your site.
- Determine whether people leave the page after one visit or stay to explore more with the bounce rate.
- Learn if people are returning to your site by using the new/returning visitor report.
- You can use the site speed report to identify which pages load slowly and why.
Vanity metrics and mental health
In recent years we’ve seen both businesses and content creators lean into vanity metrics so much they start to focus on nothing else. Increasing our page views or the following count is not why we write. Knowing that your message is getting out there can be a great feeling, but it shouldn’t be the only focus.
Pageviews are not meant to make you feel bad about yourself. They’re also not there so you can get obsessed with earning Internet points. Dev.to doesn’t show follower counts on your profile for a reason. You should use them as guides for your content, not as a measure of your worth.
Where to from here?
Vanity metrics often include huge numbers, but without context, they can be taken as success. When used alone, these can be misleading and even harmful. We can lose sight of the purpose of our blog posts and why we write in the first place if we focus on these metrics.
How do you feel about vanity metrics in the world of blogging? Would it be better if we made these metrics more visible, or if they were eliminated entirely?
- Why Microsoft doesn’t share Xbox sales numbers
- Vanity versus actionable metrics
- Stop measuring these vanity metrics