Are You Still Stuck on Inbound Marketing Vanity Metrics?

Justin Lambert

Written by Justin Lambert on Fri, May 22, 2015

3052656083_4f9f548a8f_z“Hey!  Check it out!  I just passed the 500 follower mark on Twitter!”

“Yeah?  Well guess what?  My last Facebook post got 17 likes and 12 shares!”

“Oh yeah?  Well I have 312 people on my newsletter list and another one joined just this morning!”

These are the playground-style arguments you might hear at a convention held by Immature Content Marketers of America.  Next, someone will be saying, “my blog can beat up your blog,” and it’ll digress into physical violence.

Not that there’s anything at all wrong with tracking things like how many followers you have on various networks, or how many likes and shares your content is receiving.  Those are important metrics for certain purposes.

But they are not a measure of success.

The Birth of the Vanity Metric

Back when digital marketing and social media were both still in their infancy, and analytics tools were relatively simplistic, vanity metrics were pretty much all we had.

If you took some sort of marketing action and the next day saw an uptick in the number of visitors to your site, you connected the two, called it a success, and moved on.  If you were really sophisticated, you A/B tested every action you took and measured the result to decide exactly what changes were bringing in more visitors, keeping them on your site longer, and leading to eventual conversions.

With a limited scope of data available, the mindset was: it’s a numbers game.  The more visitors/followers/likes/retweets I get, the more people see me and the better the chances I’ll sell something.

And of course, there’s a nugget of truth in that.  Visibility is an important component in modern content marketing too.  It’s a noisy environment and you have to stay visible and get seen by a large number of eyeballs if you want to succeed.

But it’s not just a numbers game.

The Death of the Vanity Metric

The main reason vanity metrics have failed in the long term is that they’re simply not telling us enough about these huge masses of faceless avatars we’re attracting to our site or our social media properties.  If visitors had to pay just to view your site, what do you think your visitor numbers would look like?

You see, if you’re just looking at vanity metrics, you can easily fool yourself into believing your marketing efforts are successful, when in fact, they’re not at all.  You can be thrilled with yet another milestone in Twitter followers and give no thought at all to whether or not any of those followers care.

On the other hand, analytics technology and access to Big Data have created an explosion in the amount and quality of measurable data available to digital marketers.  Now, instead of just scratching the surface by seeing how many more or less visitors came to our website after a given action, we can see so much more than that, and we can dive deeper into each individual’s actions to discern why they visited and what they were trying to do.

In other words, we can now measure engagement and intent rather than just existence.

Viewing metrics like an Inbound Marketing Agency does

Whether or not you are currently working with an inbound marketing agency or content marketing firm, you can surely understand the truth of this statement:

No inbound marketing agency can get hired in 2015 by promising “X number of website visitors” or “X number of Twitter followers” in a certain timeframe.  At least, if that’s what they’re selling, they shouldn’t get hired.

With all of the tools and techniques available to modern inbound marketing professionals, there’s no reason at all why they should be focusing on vanity metrics like it’s still 2003.  Sure, they’re going to track those things, and they may even share them with their clients as a little informal “yay team!” to make everyone feel good, but it’s not going to be their measure of success.

Instead, today’s inbound marketing agencies are rightfully expected to directly connect their efforts and strategies with ROI, just like any other business or department.  And if they can’t do that, they’re not going to last long.

After all, no matter how good looking a salesperson is, are you going to keep them around if they’re not selling enough to cover their salary?  Of course not.  Looks don’t enter into the equation.

Connecting content to ROI

Understandably, connecting content marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing, and other aspects of an inbound strategy directly to dollars and cents is still not the easiest thing in the world.  There are a lot of factors and variables that come into play, and some of them are realistically out of the marketer’s hands to control.

But the real point is, what are they trying to accomplish?  Are they trying to boost your numbers?  Or are they actually trying to make you money?

If you don’t like the answer, maybe it’s time to hire a new inbound marketing agency.

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