The Real Vanity Metric in Digital Marketing

This week, I’m going to talk about a term that gets thrown around so much these days but no one really seems to know what it means.

“Vanity Metrics”

You hear about this more in the social media space than in SEO but really, in my opinion, that’s where you’ll find the king of all vanity metrics.

So, let’s really dig into what vanity metrics are, what they aren’t and what the king of all vanity metrics is but most will never admit.

What Is A Vanity Metric?

A vanity metric is a statistic that something that looks good on paper but really means nothing at the end of the day.

For example: if I tell you, “In my last campaign, I only spent $60 but earned 6,000 blorts!” this is a vanity metric.


Well because earning 6,000 anything for only $60 sounds great in the digital marketing space until you realize there’s no such thing as a blort.

I could have spent three bucks and got 600,000 blorts and it would have made the same amount of difference at the end of the day because, since they’re made up, blorts are completely worthless.

Now that we know what a vanity metric, for the purposes of this article is, let’s talk about a vanity metric everyone is quick to call out and why they’re wrong.

The Biggest Lie Ever Told About ‘Vanity Metrics’

A lot of people in digital marketing aren’t going to like what I’m about to say in this article but you know what – tough.

Let’s get this part out of the way so some of them can get a Mountain Dew and start writing ‘rage rebuttals’ that I won’t read because I’ve personally seen this stuff I’m going talk about get results and actually do things in the real world and no amount of elitist nonsense will change that.

So, what’s the biggest statistic everyone calls a vanity metric but it totally isn’t?

Social media followers.

This is not a vanity metric. I promise you it isn’t. I’ll tell you why in a second but let me clarify something first:


What I am saying is to run targeted follower campaigns.

Key term here: ‘TARGETED’.

Target by countries you service, by interest, by job title, whatever but the point is to aim these campaigns at people who will actually care about your business – not just some rando in Kathmandu.

Keep these relatively low-cost campaigns going on Twitter and Facebook all year round and build out your audience base.


One reason is that these basically function as awareness campaigns or augmentations of your current awareness campaigns.

Have you ever seen a TV commercial? You think they expect you to run out and buy their products at that exact second in time? Of course not. The goal is to get their stuff in your face so the next time you need what it is they sell, you go ‘Oh, I remember that brand! I’ll buy that!’

It’s the same thing here. Follower campaigns help spread brand awareness and they do one other thing your regular awareness campaigns don’t: Provide a bit of ‘social proof’.

What do I mean?

Well, let’s say you want to buy a pair of shoes and you’re researching two social media accounts of shoe brands. You see ‘Nike’, who at the time of this writing has over 32 million followers and then you see ‘Shoez N Stuff’ which has like ‘a thousand true followers’ – to use a phrase from some outdated marketing theory that’s way more popular than it should be.

Which one gives you, as a consumer, the warm and fuzzies? Which one do you think gives a better sense of having a higher quality business and product? Which one do you think has more satisfied customers? Where are you going to be more willing to spend your cash?

How are you, as a potential customer, supposed to know those thousand people are ‘dedicated followers’ rather than a thousand bots or a thousand grannies who accidentally liked a page and have no idea how to unlike it?

Better question: How do you think your business reputation looks to a consumer when comparing your measly one thousand followers looks against competitors in your space that have millions?



Again, look at it as a customer, NOT a marketing rep.

As a customer looking for shoes, you gonna dig in there to find out how many people actually bought a shoe from Nike? Run a survey? Take a poll? Go to Nike’s finance team and demand sales records? Unless you’re a weirdo, of course not.

You ever heard of “fake it ’til you make it?” and “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? That’s basically what having a high follower count will do for a business on social media.

You might think it’s shady but you know what, it really isn’t. If you have a quality product and quality service, then why not have a large follower count to show you’re just as good as the big guys? I’m not saying to trick people and make them think you’re better than you are, I’m saying if you’re as good as the big guys, let people know it.

Another reason you want a high follower count is to give yourself a bigger, warm audience for when you have a sale or a promotion – which is also why I told you earlier you can’t just Fiverr this stuff and pay a random service for likes. Those random likes you’ll get from a service probably won’t ever amount to customers, targeted follower campaigns probably might.

People like to buy from companies they’ve heard of and people like to buy from brands they follow even more.


Well, the first part of that statement is true and I’ve been saying this forever, too. Facebook slashed organic social reach from brands so this is why you want to deepen that follower pool! Put it this way, if I have 10 followers and Facebook lets me reach 5 of them, wouldn’t it be better to have 20 followers and reach 10? 40 and reach 20?

Of course, your brand will NEVER live on organic social alone – if you’re trying that, just stop. It won’t work – you can read all the ‘How to Win at Organic Social!’ blogs you want but you won’t compete in 2019 – but you see what I’m getting at here.

Sure, some people who follow you might never buy anything but that’s life. That’s also still ok because their like is helping with your business’ reputation and social proof. Bottom line sales should never be the only metric that matters.

The Real Vanity Metric No One Talks About

Before I say what I think the real vanity metric in our industry is, I’ll tell you now, once again, you’re not going to like it – especially some of you SEOs out there.

You’re going to get real mad, probably call me names, say I don’t know what I’m talking about and really go and fire up the rage rebuttal machine but really though – it’s true, you know it’s true and some of y’all just don’t want to admit it.

Here it goes:

The REAL vanity metric that no one wants to admit is a vanity metric is ranking first in Google.

OK, I know I can’t just drop some stuff like that on you and leave so let me explain.

First, let’s remember what a vanity metric actually is: It’s a stat that looks good on paper but really does nothing. Has no actual value in any way.

With that in mind let’s think about what ranking first in Google for a keyword actually does: Makes you first in a list on a page and hopefully increases traffic to your site for that search.

OK, so far that doesn’t sound like a vanity metric, right? Seems pretty good, right? So let’s dig deeper into it.

Realistically, in 2019 for most commercial/product searches, what does the actual SERP look like?

Usually a knowledge graph & Google shopping ads on the right, customers also asked list (depending on how you word the search), a map pack (depending on what you search), a ‘discover new places near you’, a bunch of Google PPC ads and FINALLY the actual organic results – below the fold.

So basically in 2019, unless you’re in that map pack and/or knowledge graph, most people have to scroll down below all that to find you ‘ranking first’ on most commerce-based search results.

Yup. Where the first organic result is now is where like the fifth result used to be back in the day. Go type ‘Shoes’ into Google right now and tell me if I’m wrong.

Who’s gonna scroll through all that? In fact, a Wordstream study in late 2018 showed that for commercial-based intent searches, PPC wins the CTR wars.

Let’s sum it up:

For commercial based search – and that’s what I’m looking at because everyone says social followers are a vanity metric because people might not turn into dollars, a one-to-one comparison! – there are fewer clicks on a first ranking organic search than a PPC one, you get no social proof, no brand recognition except for people looking for a specific term that happens to scroll down the page and sees your listing, people aren’t able to share your organic search listing with their friends or talk about their experience with your company.

And you can’t even target who clicks on your link, really. I mean you can make the meta descriptions, titles, content, schema and whatnot as relevant as you can so you can try to rank for the most relevant term but at the end of the day, it’s basically just hoping the right person clicks on that link.

It does nearly NOTHING. It is a link in a list and not even the ‘real’ first one anymore.

How can you sit there and tell me that’s NOT a vanity metric?

A Site Called Smokehouse SEO Is Calling SEO A Vanity Metric??

Not at all. Not even a little bit. If you think that, then you don’t know what SEO actually is.

Keyword ranking is a vanity metric, though. I honestly believe this. People – not just me – have been saying rankings don’t matter anymore for the past three years and people just refuse to hear it.

It should surprise me but it doesn’t as some “experts” in our industry still seem to think – and I kid you not – that the meta keywords tag still does a thing for anyone except Yandex in 2019.

No, really – that was a real Twitter conversation I bumbled my way into like a month ago. It was heinous and I just dropped it…you know what, that’s not the point right now.

Look, SEO is NOT about making you ‘rank real high’ on Google for a random word. It’s not about keywords. It’s not about driving pointless clicks to your site.

Bruh, this is not Fiverr and this is not 2003. Stop that kind of thinking. Anyone can do this and realistically, it’s not hard to do – at least for a while.

SEO is to drive the proper people to your site at the right time. That’s harder to do and that’s why good SEOs charge what they do.

If it was just about rankings, it would fall into the same thing people claim social media follower counts are – worthless. Just a bunch of random people who will never buy your stuff clicking on your link just because its there and they have a computer.

What good does that really do?


SEO and Social Media both have their place and each serves a different purpose. Your business needs both.

The Bottom Line

Words have specific meanings. When you say ‘Vanity metric’ that actually means something.

The point of this week’s article is to really make people think about what they’re calling a vanity metric and why. The ‘thousand true fans’ theory of social media marketing is nonsense in 2019.

Maybe back in the day when people weren’t turning to social media for reviews, news, information, referrals and just flat out evidence your business isn’t a damn scam operation and people have actually even heard of you, that made sense but it just doesn’t anymore.

If you’re going to apply the label of ‘vanity metric’ to one term because of a specific definition, you’d better be ready to apply it to all terms that fit that definition of you’re either biased against a certain channel, you personally don’t like a certain statistic or just someone pretending to be ‘an expert’ saying words.

We already have far too many of them in our field right now.

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