Vanity Metrics are product metrics that appear to assess the performance of a product or service but do not actually provide meaningful insight into the success or effectiveness of the product.
Vanity metrics are so named because they are superficial and can often be easily manipulated to make progress appear successful, but in fact do not indicate or help drive growth.
Some examples of vanity metrics include:
- Page/site views
- App downloads
- Number of social media followers
- Open rates
- Time spent in-app.
These metrics, while easy to understand and satisfying to see improve, can be misleading for a number of reasons.
First, as mentioned above, these metrics can be manipulated or gamed for the benefit of a particular department or even the company, but can ultimately be detrimental to the company, investors, or shareholders.
For example, a marketing campaign may drive new social media followers, but those followers may not convert to buyers.
Second, vanity metrics are often only tangentially correlated, if at all, with business goals. For example, an advertising spend to drive app downloads may lead to impressive app distribution numbers, but doesn’t necessarily indicate engaged or active users.
Third, focusing on vanity metrics can lead to poor product decisions. For example, solely focusing on time spent on the website can lead product teams to create engaging experiences like auto-playing videos or informational pop-ups.
While users may spend more time on these things, they may also frustrate users who are unable to find content or complete a specific task in a timely manner.
Instead of vanity metrics, product teams should focus on finding meaningful metrics that align with business objectives. User acquisition cost could be one example of a metric that, tracked over time, will provide meaningful insight and value to the business.
Also, while a “north star” metric is valuable for each product and the company as a whole, championing one single metric in isolation may have negative consequences.
In summary, vanity metrics often have detrimental effects because they are easily manipulated, don’t correlate well to goals, and can lead to poor product decisions. On the other hand, meaningful metrics will help drive solid product decisions and drive positive business outcomes. Once established, they will naturally drive data-driven decisions.