“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” - Mark Twain.
In the initial phases, when dealing with advertising agencies, you are supposed to agree on metrics that establish your definition of success. At this stage, often one party may suggest vanity metrics, or in the best case, events and conversions.
Vanity metrics are stats that look great on the surface but do not translate to any meaningful business results. They are stats that play on the vanity of the individual who wants to see them, regardless of how many customers or how much revenue they generate.
Impressions, clicks, followers, likes, video views, emails opened... became industry standards used as a base to report on.
With experience, one learns to play with those vanity metrics. You start to become familiar with these, and you arrange and leverage them as you wish, to make them look any way you want.
When I was working in agencies, I learnt to report on metrics I could easily leverage. If one of my clients wanted to increase a certain metric, I knew what to do to come back to them and show “the tremendous effort I went through” to enhance it accordingly.
Often it is just like Mr. Twain implied.
“You can make the metrics say whatever you want.”
When you are assessed on specific metrics, you are pressurised to deliver on these. But have those metrics real meaning to your overall goal?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that all vanity metrics aren’t important. They are to a certain extent, at a micro level, important to consider. Each marketing channel has its proper metrics and attaches a certain level of importance to them.
While these metrics appear to be simple to understand at first glance, they are very hard to grasp and master. You first need to understand its definition. The meaning behind metrics varies from one platform to another. From one person to another. From one department to another.
Once you agree on the definition, you need to put them into perspective. What might seem like a low performing metric in your situation might be totally fine. They are just indicators. One shouldn’t jump to quick conclusions about any individual metric.
Let’s consider, for example: Bounce Rate. For years, I struggled to report on this pesky little devil. No, it is not the number of times that Michael Jordan dribbled a ball in a given minute. So... what is Bounce Rate? Well, like most things, it depends on whom you ask.
Google Analytics definition: “Bounce rate is single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions on your site in which users viewed only a single page and triggered only a single request to the Analytics server.”
In Yandex.Metrica, what they consider a bounce: “bounces are users who leave within 15 seconds of looking at a single page.”
As you can see, the source matters in the definition. Whether these definitions are platform-related, or metrics you are using within your company, the different parties should align amongst them and have a common understanding. Otherwise, even within your own team, or your own department, a given metric may have very little significance.
So, is a high bounce rate a bad thing? Always? In every situation?
Well… it depends. That’s where context comes in. For example, bounce rate may not be relevant to news sites, blogs and, of course, websites with only a single page. There also might be specific landing pages where you don’t want the user to leave.
If I introduced this metric to my clients, they would become focused on this metric, almost to an obsessive level. Everyone on their team would be talking about it, weighing it, comparing it to other sites, asking me about it every day, sometimes minute to minute. Thus, I had to deconstruct the meaning and offer more meaningful alternatives.
Break down your website into multiple dimensions. You want users to read your blog, which is different from a landing page where you want users to know more about your company, or when you want to get leads from a landing page containing form submissions.
But you can be even more granular than that. Within the blog, you might write to different personas. Educational content, industry benchmarks, thought leaders forecast, practical resources to use, case studies, news about your company, all of these can be monitored with different metrics depending on your intention.
1. Don't narrow your mind with vanity metrics!
2. Find relevant metrics that are good indicators of your goals.
3. Agree on the definition and set a common understanding for all the parties involved.
4. Assess the metrics with care, always accounting for context.
5. Don't jump too quickly to conclusions, relativise and look at other dimensions.
Mark Twain House. (2017). Famous Twain Quotes - Mark Twain House. [online] Available at: https://marktwainhouse.org/about/mark-twain/famous-twain-quotes/
Simon, C. (2009). Carly Simon - You’re So Vain. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQZmCJUSC6g