Vanity metrics – overall website visitor or Twitter follower numbers – are not, in isolation, any measure of success. You need to dig a little deeper

If you have any involvement with your organisation’s website or social media, you’ll almost certainly have been exposed to vanity metrics.

These are the big numbers – visits, page views, followers (and many more) – often looked to as measures of success. ‘We got x thousand visits to our site, success!’ is often how the conversation goes. Most of us have been guilty of it at some stage.

But, taken in isolation, these numbers can be at best misleading and at worst dangerous. Why? Because measures like these alone only tell half the story.

Of those x thousand visitors, do you know how many of them were in your target market? Did they stumble across your website or Twitter feed when they were actually looking for something else? Did they stick around long enough to look at more than one thing, or did they ‘bounce’ straight off without completing the action you wanted them to? And finally, did they demonstrate any kind of true engagement with your organisation – beyond a simple web visit or Twitter follow?

Organisations often struggle to answer these types of question, or to really look beyond the headlines. By default tools such as Google Analytics are focused on vanity metrics first. To really understand the effectiveness of your digital marketing, you need to go a bit deeper.



Think about it this way: would you rather have 20,000 anonymous ‘junk’ visitors from who knows where; or 1,000 high quality visitors whom you might have a chance of engaging with and who may go on to purchase your product or service?

Many industries are seeing a shift from simple volume metrics to more sophisticated measures. In the construction industry we too often get caught up in wanting to show off our latest case study, piece of technology, feature or award nomination. Actually what our visitors are looking for is how we can help them with their project. And this is where vanity metrics risk hiding failures under the guise of success.

So which are the numbers you should be looking at to really understand how things are performing?

Well, before setting specific web metrics and goals, it’s vital to consider what your organisation wants from its digital channels. Fundamentally it has to be linked to the bottom line.

The main objectives of most architecture practices are probably to generate the right sort of new business enquiries and gain continued industry recognition. For building product manufacturers the focus will be on getting key product information in front of specifiers at the right moment in time, and for those that sell product direct – revenue.

Every business is different and there’s no one size fits all approach, but knowing what those key objectives are, and how to go about measuring them, should be the start point. It’s worth taking the time to really identify those two or three core KPIs (key performance indicators) that will make things tick.

Once you’re clear on the above, there are two key types of metrics on which to focus: actionable metrics and engagement metrics. We’ll start with the first (although the lines can be blurred).

Actionable metrics are those that allow you to make meaningful business decisions based on the data they provide. The fact that your website got those x thousand visitors, or that you acquired y new followers, alone provide no basis on which to take a business action.

But by focusing on actionable metrics such as percentage completion rate of enquiry forms, or by setting custom analytics goals specific to your needs you can start looking to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.


Building on this, engagement metrics measure how much genuine interaction you achieve with users.  Just because somebody follows you on Twitter, it doesn’t mean they’re engaged. Engagement metrics include things like visitor recency, or social reach.

There are many tools that can help with this. Google Analytics is a staple, but benefits from customisation. Followerwonk can help you dig deeper into your Twitter analytics to really understand your social graphs. Tools such as Cyfe and Tableau can help you bring it all together.

Many of the digital technologies and platforms being developed today focus on one thing above all: driving user engagement by delivering the most relevant, targeted and personalised experience possible to visitors, wherever and whenever.

In an industry such as construction, where buying cycles can take months and involve many stakeholders, driving  and measuring engagement across multiple channels is critical - web, social, mobile, email and beyond.

If you can put your own opinions to one side and ask the tough questions about what is, and sometimes more importantly, what isn’t, important to your users you will immediately have an advantage and the path to success will start to become clear.

It’s simply about delivering the best user experience possible, and being able to measure it effectively. Without letting vanity get in the way.

Robin Cordy is director of digital commerce at RIBA Enterprises