It’s easy to imagine that most businesses will be jumping on the chance to have unfettered access to a mountain of data that is (in)bound to help them make intelligent, business-driving decisions. But the mere availability of data is not a one-way ticket to surefire business success.

One of the inherent challenges that crops up in the face of data availability is figuring out which data is relevant to a business’s performance and success, and which data is mere fluff.

Data analytics platforms like Google Analytics supply marketers with a large number of metrics that they can use to assess the performance of their campaigns. But here’s the problem: just how truly indicative are those metrics of the business’ performance especially when it comes to reporting on key performance indicators (KPIs) like ROI or Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)?

According to Kissmetrics, businesses that rely largely on the default setup of Google Analytics are mostly being fed vanity metrics. These are numbers that look great on the outset, but are, in fact, void of any real value to the business.

Like Narcissus’ reflection which caused him to be so “captivated by the image of beauty he has seen”, and eventually spelled his demise, vanity metrics can lull businesses into a false sense of success, and in the long run, hurt the business indelibly.

So it’s all Google’s fault!


Nope. That would be tantamount to blaming Narcissus’ reflection for Narcissus’ vanity: the pool of water was what it is, a pool! It was Narcissus’ blind obsession that caused him to wither away on the spot.

It’s more to the fact that while Google does seem to focus more on vanity metrics, marketers fail to look deeper and further than the “Visitors’ Overview Report” – the “pool of vanity”. According to the aforementioned Kissmetrics article, this report doesn’t even carry an ounce of weight in terms of determining a business’s performance and value.

However, Google does provide a vast amount of actionable data and reports that reveals the true health of a company. Where marketers fall short is in their ability to extract and collate that data into actionable insights that can lead to informed business decisions.

Vanitas Vanitatum and The Metrics

So, what’s the big deal about tracking vanity metrics? Is feeling good such a bad thing? Sure, if that’s all you think running a business is: feeling good about yourself.

Here are a few metrics that we’ve seen businesses often jump on primarily because they’re so easy to obtain and generally tend to look really good.

  • Pageviews. A spike in pageviews might look encouraging in a graph that looks largely flat. However, it is a one-off occurrence that could be attributed to any number of reasons including someone sharing that page on their social network or an attribution by a site with higher authority? There’s just no way of telling what caused the spike.
  • Number of registered users. It’s not so much the number of website registrations that impacts a business’s revenue; especially, if registrations are free.

It’s the active users who take meaningful action on your site who will ultimately contribute to revenue.

  • Number of social shares or followers/likes on a social network. Likewise, the number of social media followers is just another empty number, akin to the increased web traffic.
actionable metrics vs vanity metrics

Image source: Kissmetrics

All the above metrics do is fool businesses into thinking they’re immensely popular with the masses. To put this all into perspective, vanity metrics are: superficial, unpredictable and most dangerously, deceiving. They can warp your sense of success and progress, and when reality finally does sink in, it could be too late.

However, running a business, to paraphrase Crazy Egg’s Peter Boyle, isn’t about how many eyes are on you: it’s about how many of those eyes have been converted into active, paying customers. Otherwise, those numbers mean nothing.

To gauge the true performance, you need to get down to the nitty-gritty – digging deeper than the superficial to access data that is not merely measurable, but actionable.

Functionable – Insightful – Actionable Metrics

So, how do I know whether a metric is actionable? Let’s go back to the vanity metrics again: there’s yet another aspect that makes them so problematic. They deal with an abstract or generalized concept such as overall traffic or overall number of registered users.

But, as we’ve steadily maintained in many of our articles, thus far: your users and customers aren’t faceless, nameless entities. They’re individuals who take specific actions and decisions that are influenced by social and emotional directives. And when it comes to B2B Inbound Marketing especially, your metrics should and must take that individuality into account.

If we take everything we’ve understood about vanity metrics and flip them on their head, we’ll have our definition of actionable metrics, right?

So, actionable metrics should tell you:

  • How and why your revenue increased or dropped.
  • Where customers are coming from or why they are leaving.
  • What specific benefits or functions are driving both traffic and conversions.

Only track metrics that you can act on and that lead to growth. There may be other metrics that would be interesting to track, but if they add nothing to your strategy, they are useless. 

Metrics that Really Matter to Your ROI

1. Revenue Metrics

This should go without saying: these are, after all, the ones that will directly impact your bottom line. However, it’s not just about knowing how much is coming in: it’s about knowing where the revenue is coming from. Every point in your campaign that results in or involves a transaction needs to be tracked.

  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)
  • Total Revenue
  • Net Profit
  • Recurring Revenue 

2. Lead and Customer Sources

While tracking your overall traffic and its source is, as we’ve seen before, a vanity metric, focusing on a segment of that traffic – the segment that successfully converts into leads and customers – isn’t.

Now, while it’s not entirely fruitless to know the various referral sources from where your traffic is coming in, knowing which sources track the customer’s journey in its entirety – from acquisition to conversion – can give you better insights into the kind of audience that is primarily drawn to you.

Google Analytics uses Attribution Models to assign weight to various touch points in a conversion path for a given channel. This can help you track the efficacy of each traffic channel in generating viable, long-term leads and customers. Depending on the type of model, touch points that result in a conversion immediately after or an initial touch-point that has consistently resulted in an eventual conversion are given a higher score, while the intermediary touch points are assigned evenly or relatively distributed credit.

Attribution model, marketing metrics

Image Source Search Engine Land

3. Lead Funnel Metrics

Continuing from the previous point, every page on your website has a part to play within the context of the sales funnel or conversion path. As such, it is important to identify which pages are optimized to drive conversions and which ones are hemorrhaging leads.

By mapping and tracking your lead traffic on every page, you can easily identify and close the holes in the conversion path. The best way to do this is to map every potential conversion path to the customer’s journey. With a clear-cut idea of where in the funnel your clients are stumbling, you can refine and optimize your marketing tactics to prevent leads from falling away.

Google Analytics’ Users Flow Report can be especially helpful in following your visitors behavior. By tracking and comparing the traffic volumes at every touch point, you can assess the overall efficacy of your website.

Actionable metrics, B2B marketing conversion

4. Conversion Rates

While overall site conversion rates can help assess the overall health of your company, it isn’t exactly actionable: because it tells you nothing about what happened to the users who didn’t convert and why they didn’t convert. Was it the PPC ad? Or did the landing page fail to convince?

So, conversion metrics should track individual conversion rates of your various traffic channels, SEO campaigns and other marketing strategies. Only then will they provide you with incisive insights that can help inform smart business decisions. You can test the conversion efficacy of every element in the funnel through split A/B testing, and see what works and what doesn’t.

5. Cohort Metrics

Audience segmentation and personalization are paramount aspects of inbound marketing. Take it one step further and group your audience into segments based on specific behaviors, i.e. cohorts, so you can identify trends and key events in the conversion funnel.

actionable metrics, cohort analysis

Are Vanity Metrics Completely Useless?

The short answer: no.

The long answer: It depends on the context in which you’re looking at them. That is to say, if you’re going to attempt to tie them to business goals like ROI and CLTV, then you’ve clearly missed the point of this article.

However, vanity metrics, or “optimization metrics” as Dan Hochuli refers to them, can be used to optimize content for your audience on a specific channel. This means you can use vanity metrics to measure your marketing goals such as brand awareness, sentiment, and content engagement on specific social channels.

For instance an underperforming Facebook campaign with a low CTR could be a result of a poor number of impressions (views) or engagement (clicks).

If the former, it could be concluded that you’re not reaching the right audience. If the latter, it could be that your content isn’t engaging enough.

According to Hochuli, it cannot be said that vanity metrics don’t contribute at all to your ROI. They can, but owing to their unpredictability and ambiguity, it’s hard to quantify that contribution as being solely responsible for bottom-of-the-funnel conversions.

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist the facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts ~ Sherlock Holmes