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Some marketing metrics give us a dopamine rush. Others don’t. The more ‘thumbs-up’ metrics we see, the better we feel. But conversion rates metrics can often seem pretty low, and unimpressive. Yet one metric is a whole lot more meaningful than the other. 

Without metrics, we wouldn’t know what to change and what to focus on. But metrics come in different shapes and sizes, and understanding which ones matter more than others can get complicated. 

This article explores the differences between vanity metrics and actionable metrics. We examine why vanity metrics are bad and what this data means for your marketing objectives.

What are Vanity and Actionable Metrics?

So, what is a vanity metric, and what makes it different from an actionable metric?

What are Vanity Metrics?

Well, these numbers are often the “exciting” or “feel-good” metrics we see. They represent numbers that often look impressive on paper but, in reality, are hard to translate into business value. Let’s break the vanity metrics definition down. Merriam-Webster defines “vanity” as: something that is vain, empty, or valueless. Hence, ‘vanity metrics.’ Get it?

You probably use vanity metrics already. Think of likes, engagement, increased reach, or more clicks – all vanity metrics. Yet, they really don’t help very much with decision-making, do they?

What are Actionable Metrics?

Your standard actionable metric consists of information we can use. Data, including conversion rates, testing results, and returns on investment, fall into this category. 

Actionable metrics provide guidance on the next steps to take and are effective for marketing optimization. They are valuable learning resources. So, learn to love them!

Any metric can be considered a vanity metric. But the actionable metric is an all-important marketing analytics asset. It boasts the context and depth that reflect the full picture of your marketing efforts.

Next up, let’s look at some examples from the actionable metrics vs vanity metrics debate to help us understand the differences between them. 

Vanity Metrics Examples

Now that we’ve unpacked the vanity metrics definition, we check out three of the most commonly used vanity metric examples. We also provide alternate options and ideas to leverage them.

Page views

Page views are a popular vanity metric. Think about it. The numbers telling us how many people are visiting websites and pages are usually the first thing marketers look at. But that’s about it in terms of usefulness. 

Page views are handy when combined with other indicators to help your marketing goals and objectives. Alone, however, they lack context and offer limited insight. 

👉 Alternative: Consider other page view metric factors. Combining multiple elements like bounce rate, session time, and CTA click-through rates provides better insight into visitor behavior and page view quality. The same goes for looking at the correlation between conversions on a specific page and page views.

Number of registered accounts

Without context and insight into the accounts, subscriptions, or new sign-ups you have, it’s hard to tell what kind of registered accounts they are. And this is a top frustration for getting your database marketing efforts right.

Seeing many new sign-ups may look good. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that many people register for things simply to gain access or to take advantage of a reward or offer. 

👉 Alternative: Look at the type of registered accounts. This will tell you how many are paid versus how many are free registrations. However, bear in mind that some brands strive to build a base of free users first, so they can eventually convert them into paid customers. It’s their initial point of contact with the client.

Social media followers 

Social media follower numbers is a classic vanity metric. Getting people to like or subscribe to a profile is easy. You can even buy likes and followers to inflate the metric (which we don’t recommend doing). A typical vanity metrics definition, if ever there was one. 

Don’t mistake the higher follower numbers metric for more social presence impact. You may win a couple of conversions because people think your big follower numbers indicate brand popularity. But that doesn’t mean you’ll see much valuable engagement or even sales.

👉 Alternative: Combine your follower volume metrics engagement, traffic, and overall social media share stats. Diving into follower demographics and behavior statistics will help you make a more genuine impact. 

Actionable Metrics Examples

Now, we move on to some of the most important actionable metrics examples. This should help you understand what these valuable numbers can do for you. 

Return on investment (ROI) 

ROI is a universal metric that isn’t always fun to look at. It indicates how much you’re getting back from your investments. ROI is calculated by dividing your net return by how much it costs to invest. If the number is higher than one, the investment is profitable. If lower, you guessed it, there is a loss. 

Understanding return on investment empowers informed, data-driven decision-making. Analyzing ROI lets us assess profitability. It drives better resource allocation and assists in budget optimization. Studying the data here also helps with risk minimization and strategy refinement. 

👉 Example: A team looking to invest $2,000 in influencer collaborations, trade shows, or advertising earns a $10,000 increase in new sales. This 4.0 ROI indicates that $4 was made for every $1 invested. 

Return on advertising spend (ROAS) 

ROAS determines if investing in a campaign will be profitable – in this case, advertising. The metric tells us which online advertising methods are most efficient and effective. To calculate, take the revenue earned from advertising and divide that by the cost of running the ad campaigns. Easy!

👉 Example: One month’s worth of e-commerce paid ads costs $2,500. The resulting sales increase of $12,000 is directly attributable to the campaign. This 4.8 ROAS metric translates to $4.80 earned for every dollar spent on ads. Not too bad. 

Conversion rate

Conversion rate percentages indicate how many users have ‘converted’ from visitors into customers. They demonstrate who is taking desired actions – like buying something or clicking on an ad. The metric is also used further down the funnel to spot valuable users who continue to convert even after clicking.

Take the number of users who have ‘converted’ and divide that by the total size of the audience. Then multiply by 100% for your answer. 

Conversion rates are excellent indicators of how different channels are performing. They guide campaign optimization decisions and are very effective at helping us set accurate ROI expectations. 

👉 Example: A company receives 10,000 website clicks monthly but sees only 250 new paid subscribers, representing a 2.5% conversion rate. Additionally, if 200 of those 250 paying subscribers go on to make in-app purchases, we then see an 80% conversion.

Vanity Metrics vs Actionable Metrics

Next, let’s look at how vanity metrics vs actionable metrics compare.

Relevance to business goals

🔷 Vanity metrics – may look good. However, they might not align with core business objectives. Take raw page views and social media likes. They may indicate popularity on social media platforms, but won’t demonstrate business success or provide insights into how to get there. 

🔶 Actionable metrics – are easily linked to specific business goals. They provide the required insights to improve performance and assist with making data-driven decisions. This boosts strategic development, supported by accurate, usable insights. 


🔷 Vanity metrics – generally provide limited to no guidance on the actions needed to boost performance. Vanity metrics are thus useful only primarily in a PR or media context. 

🔶 Actionable metrics – prompt specific actions for strategic adjustment post-analysis. Marketers can then take steps toward improvement and make more informed decisions.

Depth of insight

🔷 Vanity metrics – provide insights that lack context and only apply to surface-level interpretations. They include almost no information on user behavior or business performance. 

🔶 Actionable metrics – provide deeper insights that reveal important information. Things like trends, patterns, and weaknesses are often exposed through a typical actionable metric, helping us understand the meaning behind different outcomes. 

Long-term impact

🔷 Vanity metrics – that change over time will likely not result in any significant long-term impact on the business. Also, short-term shifts in these numbers don’t indicate sustained growth. 

🔶 Actionable metrics – which see significant changes, usually reflect a lasting impact on the business. Shifts are linked to user engagement, customer satisfaction, and overall business health movements.


🔷 Vanity metrics – can be measured more easily since they are easy to obtain. Just think of the available and accessible data offered for social media followers or website traffic.

🔶 Actionable metrics – usually require advanced analytics and tools to track them. These resources generally also provide better, more accurate monitoring and measuring capabilities. 

Here is the catch though: native paid ads tools also display success metrics, for example, the return from each specific campaign. However, it might not be as easy to look at all of your campaigns’ metrics, in bulk. To get a higher-level overview of your ads’ effectiveness, you must turn to more advanced tools.

Focus on quality vs quantity

🔷 Vanity metrics – focus on quantity. They prioritize volume data over more valuable user interaction or engagement-quality information. 

🔶 Actionable metrics – are geared towards focusing on the quality of user interactions and engagement. They emphasize the business’s value to their audience rather than simple traffic numbers. 

Ultimately, comparing vanity vs actionable metrics provides a clear contrast. Vanity metrics look at snapshots of easy-to-obtain, less-relevant, low-impact data. Actionable metrics explore more valuable information. They deliver the data that is useful for decision-making, strategic development, and long-term marketing success.

Pick Actionable Metrics over Vanity Metrics – Always

There are countless vanity metrics out there across multiple marketing spheres. Getting to the bottom of the “what is a vanity metric” question means knowing where they fit into your marketing efforts. An actionable metric is ideal for informing decision-making. While they may not always be fun to look at, they are incredibly valuable. Focus on these numbers and put them to work for you. 

The problem with vanity metrics lies in their provision of less insightful information. Think about the vanity metrics definition – actionable metrics are far more valuable. They help us develop more comprehensive strategies and measure our marketing efforts on multiple levels. They’re your go-to numbers. 

However, if you’re at the beginning of your business journey, then leaning more on vanity metrics like the number of followers or page views is perfectly reasonable – it’s a good starting point. After all, you cannot measure conversion or profit if you don’t have any data to base your calculations on, right? 

When selecting the metrics to monitor for your business, it’s important to ask yourself – how will it help me make informed decisions? The longer you run your business, the more focused you must be on actionable data. Pay attention primarily to those that help you develop better strategies instead of simply making you feel good. 

About the Author: Volha Yauseichyk

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