Although metrics and analytics serve a very important purpose in the digital marketing and SEO world, some metrics hold more weight than others. And, unfortunately, if you place too much importance on the wrong numbers, you’re likely doing more harm than good when it comes to your SEO reports.
For this reason, today’s blog post is all about SEO vanity metrics. We cover which metrics are important, which ones don’t matter as much, and so much more. Let’s get into it.
A Brief Primer on Vanity Metrics
For those who aren’t familiar, vanity metrics are the data points or metrics that seem flashy on paper but really don’t do much to move you toward your business goals. Vanity metrics might paint a bright picture of your SEO efforts—but they fail to tell the entire story.
Let’s take a look at some common SEO vanity metrics, important digital marketing metrics, and some more actionable alternatives:
1. Total Organic Keywords/Average Keyword Rank
Average Keyword Rank is a metric provided by many popular SEO tools—essentially this number refers to the average position of your tracked keywords. Even though you should work to lower this number over time, this metric can be extremely misleading. The same goes for total organic keywords—a measure of all keywords your website ranks for.
* Branded keywords: These two metrics don’t exclude branded search terms. Because most brands perform relatively well for their own branded terms, this can skew your average keyword rank and inflate your total number of organic keywords—making it look like you’re doing better than you actually are.
Instead, we recommend segmenting your keywords into two groups—branded and unbranded—then look at average keyword rank. This simple step can provide a more complete picture of how well your website is performing.
* Keyword volume: Consider this scenario: You’re using a popular SEO tool to track 100 keywords. Over time you improve your average keyword rank from 60 to 25. Great, right? But, what if we told you the combined total search volume for these 100 keywords is less than 50 searches a month? Not so great.
Think about it, why work to improve your average keyword rank or the total number of organic keywords for terms your audience isn’t even searching for? Instead, segment your keywords into groups based on search volume. That way, you can work to improve the average keyword rank of keywords that will actually improve traffic to your website.
* Keyword relevance: Similar to our previous point—a great average keyword rank doesn’t mean much if you’re targeting keywords that aren’t relevant to your products or services.
For this reason, it’s important to regularly evaluate how relevant your target keywords are. Then, as trends come and go, prioritize only the most relevant terms.
We’re by no means saying that you should disregard average keyword rank or total organic keywords entirely—just take these metrics with a grain of salt and don’t rely on them as your sole means of determining SEO success.
Marketers and SEO professionals often turn to pageviews to determine how well their SEO efforts are paying off—and while millions of pageviews might look great on paper, this number provides no information regarding visitor engagement. For this reason, it’s important to pair pageviews with more actionable engagement metrics to truly understand website performance.
These engagement metrics include:
- Time spent on site
- Unique visitors
- Bounce rate
- Conversion rates
- Content downloads
- Pages per visit
# Note: Though informative as a group, these engagement metrics shouldn’t be looked at individually. You need each of these numbers to paint a complete picture of your performance.
When it comes to page views always remember that quality trumps quantity. Think about it, what good are millions of page views if each and every visitor leaves your website after a few seconds?
3. Social Media Followers
Although social media isn’t directly tied to the success of your website, many SEO professionals have realized the importance of developing a positive social media presence for a company or brand. Yet, when asked to report on social media success—we often turn to followers and page likes first.
But, as badly as we want to see a huge number of followers, this metric doesn’t always equate to social engagement or success. This is mainly due to the fact that human behavior is wildly unpredictable—and you can’t always assume someone is following your profile because they plan to engage with your brand.
So, the next time you’re asked to report on the success of your social media channels, take a look at some of these important engagement metrics:
- Brand Awareness: How many eyes do your posts reach? How many shares do they garner? And how many people comment, like, or subscribe?
- Website Traffic: How much website traffic do you generate through social posts? How many conversions happen as a result of this traffic from social? How many sales did you make?
- Customer Experience: How many customer questions did you answer? How many customers reported a positive or negative experience through a social channel? How long does it take you to respond to customer queries through social?
- Event or Webinar Registrants: How many registrants did you garner from your social posts?
- Content Downloads: How many social posts led to content downloads? How many content downloads?
Again, we want to stress the importance of quality over quantity. Not every follower will engage with your profile, so be sure to consider that when reporting on social media success.
The more time a visitor spends on your website, the better, right? Not necessarily. Think about it, there are many reasons a person might spend a long time on your site and not all of them are a good thing.
Are your visitors spending a long time on your website because they’re engaged? Or are they just having a hard time finding what they need? If time-on-site is high but other metrics seem low, the answer might be the latter.
So, like the other metrics we’ve discussed, take time-on-site with a grain of salt. When it’s not paired with other important engagement metrics, it doesn’t mean much of anything.
Similar to our last point, pages-per-visit is another vanity metric to be wary of. As with time-on-site, many pages per visit could mean your visitors are engaged, or it could mean they’re confused by your website and can’t find what they’re looking for. So again, we recommend using other engagement metrics for context.
When it comes to conversions and leads, the more the merrier, right? If you’re catching on, you already know the answer—not necessarily. Although you should continue to generate an increasing number of conversions, your focus should always be on high-quality conversions.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, you can generate all the leads in the world but it won’t make a difference if they’re not qualified to purchase your product. That said, don’t make the total number of leads generated the primary focus of your reports. Instead, highlight what percentage of that total came in as SQLs—or leads deemed to be sales-ready.
This combination of metrics not only provides a more accurate view of your website performance and lead generation efforts but can also provide insight into how your digital marketing initiatives contribute to your organization’s bottom line.
7. Number of Backlinks
For most search queries, the first page of results is a collection of high-quality content from websites that have a large number of high-quality links back to their websites or backlinks. In 2018, most SEO professionals know that backlinking is an essential component of SEO success. But, what they don’t often realize, is how easy it is to get carried away with backlinking efforts and focus too much on quantity versus quality.
If you spend more time assessing how many backlinks you have without paying much attention to the quality of each link, you may have a real problem on your hands. Links from low-quality or spammy websites can actually hurt your website—occasionally resulting in a manual penalty against your website.
Avoid this by taking careful stock of your backlink profile—not just the number. We suggest you use an SEO or backlink tool to report on the number and quality of your backlinks. Now, if you find that you have a significant amount low-quality links, there are steps you can take to have them removed or even disavowed. But, remember, a backlink profile with only high-quality, do-follow links can look spammy as well.
The key here is the balance—a handful of low-quality links isn’t likely to hurt your website. Focus on generating high-quality, natural backlinks and you won’t run into any issues.
As an SEO or digital marketing professional, it’s no secret that search engines go out of their way to make your life difficult—they mask certain metrics, hold back key information regarding their algorithms, and don’t often weigh in on the importance of certain metrics.
Having said this, just as vanity metrics don’t offer as much value as first appears, there are also certain ranking factors that we don’t yet know the value of. Take featured snippets for example: Although we know featured snippets have the ability to generate more traffic than a standard search result, we have no way to measure the credibility featured snippets lend to brands. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t optimize your content to appear among featured snippets.
We point this out for an important reason. Don’t waste time chasing metrics because you think you have to. Instead, truly evaluate which factors bring you closer to your goals and which don’t. Then, run tests, revamp strategies, and evaluate your results. As search algorithms change, your strategy will inevitably change too. Remain flexible and objective in your reporting and you’ll always have the upper hand.