Is Your Marketing Agency or Team Supplying Vanity Metrics?

Vanity Metrics Minefield
Vanity Metrics Minefield

For any business looking to outsource marketing, whether it be for CRO, SEO or SEM, vanity metrics are a common hazard to beware of. Agencies are only going to tell you results that they want you to know, and suggest using the metrics that suit them.  But that’s business right?  The problem is that some agencies are better than others, and some metrics are better than others, so how can you tell the good from the bad?

The problem here is that in many cases those tasked with doing the  outsourcing have insufficient domain knowledge for the task, and therefore they can’t tell the difference, instead they make the mistake of relying on fancy infographics and worthless references to judge ability.  The use of Vanity metrics by an agency is an obvious tell tale sign to beware, but what are Vanity metrics and how can you spot them?

Not all metrics are made equal.

Vanity metrics are those selected to show positive results and are difficult to test.  They make everyone look good, but achieve very little.  Regardless of whether the marketing team is in house or outsourced the use of vanity metrics should set alarm bells ringing.  An internal marketing team providing vanity metrics is seriously concerning, purely because it is a clear indication of failure to achieve anything of value for the company. The metrics which are really important are those metrics that can be utilized to tell how healthy your enterprise is, while showing you what actions to take to increase your business, – those efforts that will improve your bottom line. 

Vanity metrics can hide a cancer eating away at your marketing budget and your conversion figures.  A marketing manager supplying vanity metrics is a key indicator that they don’t know what they are doing.  Every day tasks like locating and choosing the perfect influencers’, with a properly engaged audience around relevant topics, requires that you  measure them on the most suitable metrics. Start with asking the correct questions and after that, select the proper metrics according to what you need to measure to make a difference. Oversight to marketing decisions is essential.

Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics all-to-often become the basis for a response to an issue that is not well understood. Identifying and avoiding vanity metrics is a continuous process that demands constant re-evaluation and alignment among the respective stakeholders.

How to Deal With the Supply of Vanity Metrics

When vanity metrics are used as key performance indicators by those who don’t sufficiently understand a situation it is time to consult external experts.  Why? The problem is that vanity metrics won’t tell you what to do next.  A clear case of the blind leading the blind, you might not walk off a cliff, but you are certainly going to miss valuable opportunities. 

Consulting external experts will provide a fresh perspective and help your team to get updated with the latest approaches. Additionally, incorporating Kanban swimlanes into your workflow can improve task management, making it easier for external experts to provide valuable insights.

A Vanity Metrics Example

One all-to-common example of a Vanity Metric from the world of SEO, SEM and CRO is, keyword rankings.  When defining conversion rate optimization targets, using keyword rankings is utterly useless if not used in the proper context.  All too often I come across companies with 100’s of top 10 keywords that are totally irrelevant to what they offer as a business.  They are often completely unaware of the pointlessness of it and consequently are proud of their achievement, – happy with their marketing team, – if only they knew the truth.

The metric that matters most for SEO, SEM and CRO is content relevancy since it forms the basis for the development of personas, and provides the right keywords to optimize for, where to focus onsite conversion optimization efforts, like building landing pages (what to AB test) and what offers to supply and subsequently defines the advertising and retargeting strategy, both onsite and offsite.  It also plays a part in locating the right influencer’s and partners, with a properly engaged audience around relevant topics, you need to measure them on the most suitable metrics. Start with asking the correct questions and after that select the proper metrics according to what you need to measure. Ulimately, when Relevance goes up, click through rate goes up while costs goes down.   I would argue that relevancy is the ultimate metric because it provides so much value to any business.

Relevancy Analytics

To simply determine the relevancy of your content, you can depend on Google and data generated through the Search Console (Webmaster tools).  The best way to measure relevancy is a simple method by tracking the number of keywords with clicks your website has over time, each keyword can be directly attributed to a specific piece of content, the next question is “does the content convert?”  If it does not, then you need to ask why. 

An increasing trend of relevancy and clicks indicates you are on the right track to success, of course this is dependent upon a whole host of other factors including whether you have the right product or service in the first place or whether you have some other CRO or pricing problem muddying the water.

A Good Metric Has Predictive Value for Future Business Results.

Unfortunately, most companies still over rely on the bottom line, – the sales figures for metrics and blame sales and marketing when the results fail to materialize.  This is a common mistake it has no predictive value for future business results.  If this is how your business deals with sales and marketing teams you need to stop it now because it is counterproductive.  It is not their responsibility to determine the business goals and the vision of the product or service. Blaming Sales or marketing ultimately leads to infighting and an endless blame game where they blame each other.  The solution here is to integrate sales and marketing, share data and ask your customers or/and potential customers, – to provide feedback on your products and services in order to learn where you are going wrong so that you can adapt accordingly.  If you fire your sales and marketing team who will do this?

Measuring the right Metrics is an Important Step to Business Success

An essential part of any conversion rate optimization drive is understanding how to own social media and know how to communicate with your customer base to obtain customer feedback.  Here, every good business understands the worth of collecting data. Put simply, to understand how you have made your clients feel, so that if positive, that same feeling can be engendered in others through creation of buyer personas and targeted content, specifically written for those potential buyer personas.  

The decision to buy as well as the decision-making process used is hugely determined by how the potential buyer feels about the product, it’s an instinctive emotional response to your marketing material and offers. The key point is the metrics you choose to collect must take this fact into consideration.

And if you’re relying on a third party agency to harvest info and carry out analytics, you need to be able to trust that they’re telling you something useful about campaign performance, rather than blowing their own trumpet with trumped-up stats. That’s where the right marketing agency reporting solution makes a big difference, as it removes ambiguity and provides clarity.


As a company hiring a marketing agency, ultimately it is down to you to define the metrics that are used to measure marketing performance. Every company is different and so I’m sorry, – there is no predefined list of metrics to use.  Learning what metrics to use in your business is about getting to know your customer base and personalizing the customer journey. Often the wrong metrics are used because they are left to marketing agencies or departments to define and they often choose those that make them look good. 

Ask agencies what metrics they typically use and what they would suggest for your business, and be sure to ask them for an explanation, – why each metric is necessary, but do so critically and judge them accordingly.  Ask the following.

  • What does this metric tell us?
  • How will this metric improve the business?
  • Is it easy to measure?
  • Is it correlated to or directly linked to performance?
  • Most critically, can it help to predict future business performance?

More often than not, they will supply vanity metrics, those ones that sound great but make it extremely difficult to measure their success or failure while limiting your understanding. This is not to say they are a bad agency, in so far as their abilities to do the job, but rather, – they are testing you to see what they can get away with and how hard they will have to work. Like anything it is a negotiation.  On the other hand, it might well mean they have no idea what they are doing.

Choosing a marketing agency is a high-level decision that all stakeholders must be a participate in.  Make sure you have someone onboard who can bring sufficient knowledge to the decision making process.

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