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Beyond Vanity Metrics: Identifying True Value in Your KPIs

Beyond Vanity Metrics: Identifying True Value in Your KPIs

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We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Tracking your performance is the best way to understand—and course-correct—your business’s growth. This means your key performance indicators (KPIs) will tell you how it’s going, and how to get where you want to go.

With that said, not all KPIs are created equal.

Some metrics seem important. But when you peer beneath the surface, you realize they have little to do with your growth.

These are called vanity metrics. Too often, they distract businesses from what really matters. And unfortunately, they’re everywhere—41% of marketing KPIs are considered vanity metrics.

If you want to succeed, you need to know which KPIs are most likely to be vanity metrics—and which are worth obsessing over.

Understanding KPIs and Vanity Metrics

Let’s start at the beginning. KPIs are measurements of your business’s performance. They track your progress toward strategic goals, whether those are financial, operational, customer-focused or otherwise.

Familiar KPIs in the business world include:

  • Revenue growth
  • Customer retention
  • Net promoter score (NPS)
  • Conversion rate

Vanity metrics, on the other hand, are indicators that aren’t directly related to your business objectives. The “vanity” part means these KPIs do little more than make you feel good.

What is and isn’t a vanity metric depends on the context and your overall goals, but these are some common examples:

  • Email open rates
  • Page views
  • Instagram followers

Confused about why these are different from the above KPIs? Bear with us.

Let’s take the metric Instagram followers. If your business profile has 150k followers, you might look at that and say, “Hey, we’re a pretty popular brand.”

But that number says nothing about how many products you’re selling or how much it costs to acquire a customer. It doesn’t offer any actionable insights. All it tells you is that a bunch of people (or bots) may or may not see your Reels.

The Impact of Vanity Metrics

You might be wondering, “What’s the harm in tracking vanity metrics?”

The answer is, in theory, no harm done.

Measuring your followers or page views does give you some interesting data. It can even be fun and motivating to see those numbers grow.

The problems arise when vanity metrics start dictating your strategies.

You see, vanity metrics pull your attention from your all-important goals. They can mislead, causing you to allocate resources improperly.

When a vanity metric like Instagram followers is growing steadily, you might incorrectly assume your business is on the right track. And when it’s lower than you’d like, you might invest in a campaign to pump up those numbers—even if that’s not going to directly affect the health of your business.

Identifying Vanity Metrics in Your KPIs

So, how do you recognize the KPIs that inflate your ego and waste your time?

The easiest way to find those sneaky vanity metrics is to define your business objectives. Are you looking to increase year-over-year revenue? To improve your return on ad spend (ROAS)? To better your blog’s performance?

Whatever you’re after, name it and attach some benchmarks to it. You now have your official goals.

From here, anything that doesn’t directly impact your goals is a vanity metric.

Common Ecommerce Vanity Metrics

While we’ve made the process of identifying unhelpful KPIs seem simple, the truth is that good metrics management takes practice. Because so many ecommerce KPIs are interrelated, sniffing out vanity metrics is easier said than done.

To help you figure out which KPI is a vanity metric, we’re naming some typical offenders.


Impressions are a mainstay metric of digital marketing. Every time someone sees your advertisement, your impressions count goes up—whether they interacted with the ad or not.

If you’re running an awareness campaign, impressions can be valuable.

Most of the time, however, impressions are largely meaningless. It’s all well and good for consumers to see your ads, but if they’re not performing the desired action (e.g. shopping or subscribing), you haven’t moved the needle.

Instead of focusing on impressions, consider tracking:

  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC)
  • Return on ad spend (ROAS)


Similar to impressions, clicks often tell a misleading story.

Clicks are more meaningful than impressions in that they signify that your ads are at least worth interacting with. But a click doesn’t always equal a purchase. It just means that your ad copy and visuals are compelling. While excellent news, you’re probably looking for more.

Instead of worrying about clicks, consider tracking:

  • Conversion rate
  • Time spent on page


Marketing qualified leads (MQLs) are leads who have shown interest in your offerings. They’re usually identified by the sales team as a person or business likely to buy from you.

Now, don’t get us wrong—MQLs are valuable. Some of them eventually become customers.

That said, your ultimate goal is never to have a long list of MQLs. It’s to turn those MQLs into revenue generators.

Instead of concerning yourself with MQLs, consider tracking:

  • Cost per acquisition (CPA)
  • Conversion rate

Other Vanity Metrics

By now, you can probably see the similarities. Rather than diving deep into every vanity metric, let’s take a quick look at some other common ones:

  • Web traffic – High traffic can indicate a successful campaign, but it’s not helpful if you’re seeing low conversion numbers.
  • Cart additions – Unless customers hit “Check Out,” cart additions don’t mean much.
  • Email list size – This metric is the same as social media followers—if you have relatively low open rates and conversions, it’s a vanity metric.
  • Total registered users – Registrations don’t imply website engagement or active purchasing behavior.
  • Domain authority – This KPI is often just a number. Keyword ROI and organic conversion rate are more valuable metrics.

Turn Data Into Action with Human

There’s no such thing as bad data—there’s only poor execution.

All KPIs tell a story about your performance. It’s what you do with those measurements that defines your success. When you know which vanity metrics to ignore and which KPIs to hone in on, you can more efficiently get where you’re trying to go.

At Human, we can help you assess, select and monitor your KPIs as part of our ecommerce marketing services. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

Topics: Project Management | Analytics and Reporting