Vanity vs. Actionable Metrics: Are you tracking the right stats in your business?

You know the rush. A guest post you’ve written goes live on a huge site, you finally launch the product you’ve been working on for months, or an older article of yours gets Gizmodo’d.

You watch your traffic spike and you can’t peel yourself away from the analytics for the whole day.

“Look at all those visitors!” you yell to your significant other as they feign interest.

But what really matters during these big days?

What metrics and stats should you actually be tracking and which don’t mean jack squat? (Hint: Traffic doesn’t matter as much as you may think.)

In this post we’ll make sure you know the difference between vanity and actionable metrics, which ones you should track, which stats really matter to the bottom line of your business, and share a few of our most important metrics.

Vanity vs. Actionable: What’s the difference?

Let me start by quickly defining the difference between vanity and actionable metrics in my own words.

Vanity metrics: Numbers or stats that look good on paper, but don’t really mean anything important.

Vanity metrics are dangerous.”

~ Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup

If you get caught up tracking things that don’t really matter you’ll look back after a few years and see how much energy you wasted maximizing stats that don’t matter.

Actionable metrics: Stats that tie to specific and repeatable tasks you can improve and to the goals of your business.

If a metric isn’t actionable and you can’t do anything to make it better then why are you tracking it?

Now, this next sentence may go against a lot of advice you’ve heard around the blogosphere, but hear me out.

The number of your visitors, subscribers, and followers are often meaningless.

They aren’t completely meaningless, but they aren’t what you should be spending the majority of your time or energy on.

Worried that you don’t have as many Twitter followers as the next person? Don’t be. Heck, you can become Internet famous for $68 without ever existing.

This is one of the reasons why we quit posting our monthly traffic reports here.

By focusing our time and energy on vanity metrics and then sharing them with you we were doing the exact opposite of what we are trying to do here. Instead of helping you focus on the strategies and actions you can take to build a successful and honest online business we were distracting you with numbers, charts, and graphs that were educational, but weren’t even the actionable metrics that we were tracking day to day.

Don’t get caught up playing the endless and fruitless game of tracking vanity metrics.

Don’t get caught up playing the endless and fruitless game of tracking vanity metrics.”

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Goals Before Metrics

Before you figure out which metrics you should be tracking, you need to determine what the goals of your site and business are.

Tracking metrics that aren’t aligned with your goals is a fastlane to Failureville.

As we’ve mentioned before, our goals at Think Traffic are:

  1. Earn enough income to support everyone who works for the business comfortably (we have specific numbers behind this, and you should too).
  2. Have fun and do meaningful work.
  3. Satisfy our customers and help them accomplish results using our solutions.

Once we knew what our main goals as a company were, then (and only then) we could determine which metrics we should track.

(Read this post to see why these are our three goals and which metrics we track for the each of them.)

Which Metrics Matter for a Business or Blog

As you mature as an entrepreneur you start to see metrics you used to focus on don’t matter nearly as much as you used to care about them.

Focusing on the wrong metrics for too long is dangerous. It is one of the biggest reasons people fall into the blogging trap.

Here are some examples of the different types of metrics that typically matter to you as you progress through each stage of entrepreneurial maturity.

  • Infant: traffic, followers, subscribers, reviews, social media shares
  • Adolescent: # of sales, revenue, conversion rate, time on site, customer satisfaction
  • Mature: profit, retention length, churn rate, revenue per customer, costs of goods sold, impact

What metrics you should be tracking in your business really depend on your goals, but here is an example of some actionable metrics that we track for Fizzle:

  • Current Active Members
  • Monthly Active Revenue
  • New Members (Past 30 days)
  • Members Lost (Past 30 days)
  • Monthly Churn
  • Retention Rate
  • What Link Members Signed Up From

There are other things we track in Fizzle too, but those are the main metrics we keep an eye on day to day using Geckoboard.

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