Website traffic is a vanity metric


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When it comes to web optimisation, ask any marketing team, business owner or sales team, and they would all say that website traffic is one of the most important business metrics to track.

And rightfully so, as website visits can be converted to sales, which then helps the business grow.

And because of this, marketing campaigns usually focus on increasing monthly website traffic. The more traffic, the more successful a campaign is, right?

Well, not really.

On the surface, having tons of traffic is indeed a huge plus for any business. 

The majority of said visitors will indeed become customers, while some will probably end up as leads that your sales team and marketing team can reach out to at some point in the future.

But are you also aware that tracking website visits is also considered as a vanity metric?

Better yet, are you aware of what vanity metrics are?

If not, then allow us to guide you as we explore this seldom talked about metric and why some analysts see it as one of those key performance indicators (KPIs) that you should be wary of.

Let’s start with…

Website traffic illustration - 02
Website traffic illustration – 02

What are KPIs?

Key performance indicators are measurements that provide information about the current state of a business. 

They can be used to measure and monitor how well a business is performing concerning both its customers and other entities, such as competitors or suppliers. 

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) may not by themselves show if a company is profitable, but they do indicate whether it has taken necessary steps towards profitability. 

For example, KPIs include:

  • Revenue generated per month.
  • Percentage of target market captured.
  • Product return rate with prospects for improvement given priority over those without improvement potential.
  • Frequency of new customer acquisition efforts undertaken each year versus strategy established during the start-up stage. 

Key performance indicators are essential pillars in modern business, but their exact use is often misunderstood.

This means that, although KPIs are common in business, only a few businesses fully understand how to leverage them properly. 

There is no denying that KPIs are essential to the success of a business. 

Knowing what KPI to implement and track, though, is an entirely different story.

Website KPIs illustration - 01
Website KPIs illustration – 01

What are vanity metrics?

Vanity metrics are just like regular key performance indicators (KPIs). However, they do not provide any context or understanding about what the numbers you see on the data really mean. 

In other words, they don’t answer the question, “Why did this happen?” 

So what are these vanity metrics?

Take your pick from likes, shares, comments, followers, open rates, views, time on site, bounce rate, and even the number of website traffic.

You should take these performance indicators with a grain of salt because they can provide a false sense of security if not appropriately scrutinised.

Let’s take website visits, for example. The bigger the numbers, the better, right?

Well, that would be great if the majority of those site visitors become newsletter subscribers, contribute to content share figures, or better yet, become customers and help with your ROI.

But what usually happens is that a considerable chunk of site visitors land on your page and instantly jump to another site without even staying to see what your website has to offer. This increases your bounce rate – which in turn hurts your overall SEO effort.

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What we’re trying to say is this. Traffic and site visits are not the best indicators of a website’s success, no matter how much your ego tingles with delight every time you see those numbers go up. 

It would be best if you never forgot to look past them to find meaningful metrics that really matter – such as engagement rate or email subscription growth. 

Website KPIs illustration - 03
Website KPIs illustration – 03

How to turn website traffic from vanity metrics to a useful KPI?/

When marketing people started using website traffic as a KPI back in the ’90s, there really weren’t any other sophisticated metrics during that time that could help break down traffic to a more granular level and help measure online success.

Today, though, it is no longer about asking how many people landed on your website but what they did while they were there.

To move website traffic from mere vanity metrics to one that actually provides valuable data for a marketing team, you need to ask questions like:

Know where your traffic is coming from

Understanding the origins of your website traffic; and why and how they are finding their way to your website is a crucial KPI for your marketing campaign.

When you notice a sudden spike in traffic to your website, you need to ascertain if it came from one of your social media posts that went viral. Maybe your content got featured on another website or was featured on another site. Or could it be that a marketing email you sent was a huge success?

Analysing where your website traffic came from will provide you with factual information regarding the spike, allowing you to process what you did right and, hopefully, mimic it to get the same results next time.

It would also be best to consider what channels may have decreased your website traffic. 

For example, if you notice that the number of visitors coming from Google has decreased – this could be due to them updating their algorithm and penalising your site for being outdated or not mobile-friendly – which is essential nowadays with more people accessing websites via smartphones rather than desktops.

There are many other factors involved, such as competitors’ SEO practices, but understanding where your website traffic came from clearly will provide you with vital information on how to fix it to continue growing steadily again.

Website traffic illustration - 01
Website traffic illustration – 01

Analyse bounce rates (BR) and average time on page (ATOP)

For us to better explain this section, we’re going to split it into two – starting with:

Average time on page (ATOP)

Average Time on Page is a metric that logs the average amount of time your site visitors spend on a specific page within your website.

It precisely measures the average time users spend on a page before navigating off of it. It does not track when people leave, exit or bounce off of a webpage. 

An “exit” page is the last place on your website a user spends before entirely leaving your website.

The higher your Average Time on Page number is, the more engaged users are with your content, thus increasing the likelihood of them returning in the future. 

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Average Time on Page is an important metric because it can be used as a sign of content quality.

Suppose visitors are spending more time reading or watching content on your website than they did before. In that case, that’s usually indicative of them finding your content entertaining, engaging, or one that provides them with value. 

If there’s no change in how long visitors stay on site after viewing one particular piece of content, it may indicate either lack-lustre writing skills or just not enough reader engagement within certain topics related to said post.

A word of caution: The Average Time on Page metric can be skewed by opening a post in multiple tabs and then only viewing one.

Also, Average Time On Page cannot answer if a person actually reads an article closely. It only indicates that a site visitor has opened a specific page. 

This means anyone who only briefly browsed the page before closing it will have been counted as having read that particular post.

Since we are talking about getting rid of vanity metrics, you should start excluding any visits where site visitors only viewed one or two posts and spent less than 15 seconds on a specific page. 

This will provide you with a more accurate reading of how long visitors stay engaged with your content.

Bounce Rate (BR)

Bounce Rate is defined as the rate at which site visitors leave a webpage without completing any specific “action”.

What is this “action” we talk of?

It could be visiting other pages within the site, clicking on links, becoming newsletter subscribers, clicking share on one of your blog articles, or purchasing one of your products/services.

This is an important metric to look at for a lot of reasons. 

For instance, if the “action” was purchasing something, you’ll want to know if that conversion percentage went up or down after you tweaked your website’s design layout and content. 

You might also want to know how much ROI is being generated because of bounces versus conversions.

Website KPIs illustration - 02
Website KPIs illustration – 02

A high bounce rate is a negative indicator because it means that fewer visitors are viewing other pages within your website. A low bounce rate means that people are staying longer and exploring your website more, which is good.

Several factors can cause high bounce rates.

  • Slow site loading speed
  • The irritation brought about by an ad-heavy page
  • Wrong CTA placement and/or wording
  • Immediately clicking on a hyperlink
  • Bad site architecture

Though not entirely accurate most of the time, many attest that visitors coming from online ads tend to have a higher bounce rate percentage compared to those coming from social media.

Whatever the reason may be, and regardless of where the bulk of your website traffic comes from, this metric is crucial in understanding what your visitors do when visiting your site.

Lead quality and Conversion rates

As the saying goes, “You reap what you sow”. 

This has everything to do with how you implement your web optimisation and marketing campaign.

If you go with a spray-and-pray approach, you will get a wide range of people visiting your site – with the majority of them not really interested in what you have to offer.

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Now, suppose you go with more strategic and targeted marketing campaigns. In that case, the marketing results will reel in people that are more likely looking for the same product/service that you provide – thus increasing your conversion rate.

As much as we want to say that’s it for this section, sadly, it isn’t.

Here’s the part where we dissect things.

Let’s say you ran a post on your social media a couple of weeks ago that resulted in 100 new followers or newsletter subscribers. 

Most would be happy with that number, right?

But what if we analysed your campaign and found out that you actually lost money running the campaign? 

The reason is the number of new followers or subscribers you gained is relatively low compared to the Cost per Lead amount (the cost of acquiring new customers) you spent to run the ad.

Also, most of the accounts are either secondary accounts (which are practically useless) or coming from a foreign country (where using your product/service is not practical for them to do).

In this case, the website traffic you got from the ad is practically worthless unless most of it is converted into sales or hot leads.

Thus, lead quality must be at the forefront when running a campaign, and not just counting website visitors. 

Now that we’re done talking about vanity metrics, let’s talk about its flip side.

Sales funnel illustration
Sales funnel illustration

What are “Actionable Metrics”?

Actionable metrics are measurable and up-to-date and can help businesses make better decisions regarding marketing or other areas. 

For example, if you’re running an online store that’s growing quickly, it would be helpful to know how much revenue each day correlates with sales projections for the month so you don’t run out of inventory before your monthly goals are met.

However, it’s not enough to simply know what your actionable metrics are. It would help if you also found out how they impact revenue or other goals for the business. 

For example, suppose you’re a small company and see that marketing leads to more sales over time (which is an actionable metric). In that case, you might want to allocate resources towards finding new sources of leads so you can grow much faster.

The point is, you need to tie metrics based on the “activation” of a product or the rate of “retention” towards it.

“Activation” starts with the sign-up process for site visitors and ends with said visitors interacting with whatever value proposition you’ve set for your product.

Actionable metrics are a completely different animal, so we will discuss this in detail in a future article.

For now, though, we hope that this article was able to explain why top marketing people don’t completely rely on website traffic as a metric – and see it as nothing more than a vanity metric.

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