Don’t believe the hype: How digital marketing metrics can be bent and twisted without lies being told about your business

Are you being successful in your digital marketing this year?

You might not have thought about asking this question. But your competition always is asking this about your brand.

Success can be defined by different people in many different ways. Someone might see one or two new customers a month as success. Other brands need to have thousands of new customers per day to be considered successful. While others don’t care about how many as much as what the final revenue is.

Today we are going to talk about being successful in your marketing. But, with a twist. Because if you gauge your success with the wrong metric, your success is nothing more than vanity success.

Our goal, in every business we work with, is to provide “business success” and to eliminate “vanity success”.

What is the difference? How are they similar? And why does it matter?

Let’s get started!

First, let’s talk about vanity success and real success

With success, we sometimes cannot define it. Many people, if you ask a purely binary question like ‘are you successful?’, you can get a yes one day and a no another day.

Business owners experience the same thing…

“Is your business successful?”

“Are you successfully running an XYZ business?”

But when you ask people to define success, that is usually when the train comes off of the rails. Negative people never feel like they are succeeding. Overly optimistic people feel like they already have (and they ‘succeed every single day’). Both of these business owners could experience similar sales numbers, client amounts, in a similar industry serving a similar region as well.

In your marketing, how are you defining success?

Is it the amount of revenue in your business and industry? Is ‘success’ defined by the amount of customers or clients that you have? Is it defined by only the new business that you create? Or is it defined by some other metric?

I know, I know… lots of things to consider.

But the main thing I want you to walk away with after this part of the discussion is that every business owner, like every person, has a separate goal. These need to be clearly defined, in order to know how we can reach them.

This is the problem with business success versus vanity success – without an expert you can trust, they can blur into the other.

For instance, how often have you thought about increasing your sales on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. What is the metric that you need to use to understand your goals being reached or not? Is it views? Comments? Shares?

The answer is none of those.

But, if I’m a digital marketing freelancer and project all of these new followers and views, and deliver, it looks great! Right? The only problem is that those metrics don’t equate to sales. They are vanity metrics for vanity successes.

The same holds true when it comes to SEO. SEO packages talk of big gains in your ranking and traffic from search. But, these numbers can grow to infinity, and if there are no sales to go along with those efforts, are they actually helping you to reach your goals? Once again, these are vanity successes, not true business success.

Now we are going to look at some of the most common vanity successes that business owners run into. Some of these numbers look golden, but without the correct context, and without them aligning to your business goals, they are just vanity numbers for vanity successes.

Are they really seeing social media gains?

We talked a little bit about these stats above.

For the most part, social media boils down to your organic reach and your paid reach. Each of these has some hidden gems of stats to know. Conversely, there are some metrics that just look terrific on paper, but in practice they don’t lead to growth for your brand.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common hyped-up stats. We are also going to check out the ones that you should be looking for.

Follower count

Follower count is, for lack of a better word, just a bad goal to have. Your follower count can look good just because it is easily comparable and easily viewed from account to account.

But, follower count as a metric is flawed. A follower is just someone who clicked a button to possibly get your information in the future. Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t GUARANTEE that you will see content from those sources. In fact, in threaded social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, you will be lucky to see even 20% of a business profile’s posts.

Follower count is also not limited to people within your service area. So, people from anywhere could be following you – that doesn’t make them a customer.

Likes, Shares and Comments

Likes, shares and comments can and do help boost your strength in ranking in the Facebook algorithm. However, their actual strength is debatable. In fact, there are no public, clear details about the ranking algorithm in your Facebook Feed.

But when it comes to results for your business, literally, there is no direct impact on revenue and lead generation metrics.

Can sharing and commenting help? Absolutely! In fact, I recommend that you ‘recommend’ sharing by your followers. This can help your business increase visibility and views on social media. But the impact on your bottom line hasn’t changed.

The problem with Activity scoring – “Likes” sucks, just sayin’

Activity is what we are looking for in social media. We want not only eyes on posts, but we want further actions. Likes are good, comments are great and sharing is awesome.

There is a ration we can look at to determine this.

The simple way of figuring this out is:

ITA Ratio = (unique likes + unique comments + unique shares) / Unique Views

Activity is problematic though. An activity is any action a user takes on your content, besides the standard view. Instead, we want something a bit more solid like engagement.

I would avoid this metric as it uses “Likes” as well. Likes are just not an accurate method of tracking engagement, leads and new revenue.

Cost per lead

Cost Per Lead is primarily an advertising metric. I’ve included it here specifically because of Facebook Ads.

If we can estimate the average cost it takes us to normally gain a lead, and we know how much our advertising campaign is costing us to gain a new lead, we can see if we are making money in our ad campaigns.

Make sense?

But we can also look at our actions in social media and notice that we can incorporate that same theory to get more information.

What is a customer worth? What is a lead worth? How much do you normally spend on generating new customers? How much do you normally spend on generating new leads?

How much time and money do you spend on social media marketing for what output?

Answering all of these questions gets you closer to figuring out your organic cost per lead value.


Engagement is unfortunately one of the metrics that can be vanity or a solid business metric depending on how it gets read.

Here is the problem…

Engagement = (total unique reactions/like + total shares + total comments) / Post reach

Looks similar to the above ration, right?

The difference is in the Reach versus View count.

My recommendation is to use your own equation…

Engagement = (unique shares + unique account comment) / Post reach

This gives a far better idea of engagement. It removes likes and reactions, while also focusing on counting only one comment per person, not all comments.

Understanding digital advertising results

Digital advertising is no less or more important than your other digital marketing actions. They still cost you time and they still cost you money – all the while you are trying to gain revenue.

But how do advertisers skew data and info?

Let’s check this out now.

Impressions and Views

Impression and views are nothing more than a metric to let us know an ad was served and someone’s eyes viewed it. We can use this advertising metric to understand where problems are in our digital advertising campaigns.

When are impressions and views valuable?

If we use this metric with our CTR and sales metrics, we can understand if we are only paying for traffic, but not results. If, however, we are getting only a small amount of impressions and views, our targeting is really off.

Use this metric only in conjunction with other data to determine how effective or ineffective an ad campaign is running.

Conversion Rate

What is “conversion rate”?

A conversion rate is when we take the number of conversions and divide this by the number of interactions it has received.

CR = Conversions / Interactions

Conversion rate allows us to see how people are interacting with our ads. Are they only seeing them? Or are they seeing them and clicking on them?

Where conversion rates can be an issue is when we are not tracking, nor understanding, what the conversion actually is. Is the conversion tracked as a website visit? Is the conversion tracked as a click on the website’s landing page? Is the conversion tracked as a click on a phone number?

The conversion type, fully detailed and defined and outlined, is one of the most important parts of utilizing conversion rate correctly.

CTR (click through rate)

CTR, or click-through rate, is a baseline metric in all of marketing and advertising.

CTR = clicks / impressions

Simple, right?

With the main ad platforms like Google AdWords and Facebook Ads, you can see a CTR from the overall campaign, ad sets and even keywords in Google AdWords.

CTR is a bulky factor in increasing your Ad Rank in Google AdWords. The more that people click on your ads, the better those ads are, after all.

Let’s talk about Clicks

Clicks only are useful in conjunction with other stats.

Low clicks seem like a problem – but what if there are seriously low impressions of an ad campaign or ad set? Well, then, of course the click count will be low.

Conversely, what if there are an extremely high amount of clicks in an ad set? Seems great, on the surface. What if the impressions are incredibly huge as well?

This is why a metric like CTR, which incorporates clicks in the equation, is so important. Clicks are ONLY useful as a metric when we look at it in conjunction with other metrics.

And now, the biggest lie of digital advertising…

So, we need to talk about a big lie that marketing agencies, freelancers and other “pros” like to tell business owners. You probably won’t like it, because you may have had something similar happen to you.

So, here we go…

Targeting in an advertising campaign can skew results to make the marketer or advertiser look like a god.

Here is an example for you. Remember, don’t kill the messenger.

You hire an advertiser. They set up the campaign. You then get a report in 2 weeks or 4 weeks outlining hundreds of thousands of views of your ad. You then are told that here are the hundreds of clicks on your ad. “Wow”, you think.

Then, the advertiser tells you something like…

“Now we need to start testing and making the ad campaign more optimized. So, we are going to use focused targeting and some A/B testing.”

In 4 more weeks, you get another report. This time, the advertiser doesn’t talk a lot about raw numbers. Instead, you hear more about CTR, clicks and conversions.

In another 4 weeks, you get another report, which is pretty good actually. It details the results of the A/B testing, where the ad campaign is now going, and the results from the efforts. Within it, you will see a lot of Cost Per Lead, CTR, Conversion Rate and suggestions for remarketing.

What’s the punchline?

The punchline is that you spent 3 months of advertising on collecting data, when the advertiser could have just said that. The advertiser could’ve set up A/B testing on day one, not within the middle of the campaign. The presented data should’ve been focused on conversions and leads (and sales), rather than on buffing vanity metrics.

Truth works.

I’m sure you can agree as a business owner, if a marketing agency or advertising agency tells you, “look, to get the most accurate data and real, solid results, we project 3 to 6 months for maximum efficiency”, you would understand. Results can take time. And if your advertising campaign is done correctly, you can turn it off and on as necessary, only changing some copy and offer information, and it will keep working.

Ok.. rant over!

What SEO metrics are real (and not)

SEO (search engine optimization) is a bit of a touchy digital marketing method. Kinda like using car salespeople, insurance salespeople and personal injuries lawyers – there is a stigma, and a negative one.

SEO marketers have done this to themselves, and the industry. Things are changing over time, but the idea of SEO services is still a problem.

In these metrics below, you are going to see why. We are going to look at “good” SEO metrics, and the bad ones. Plus, we are going to talk a little about the methods used for those negative issues (and what you can do about it).

Not all traffic is good for your website

Just like in paid advertising, not all traffic is good traffic. In fact, traffic is a secondary stat that should only be used in conjunction with another metric.


Where is the traffic from? Regional issues with traffic can lead to skewed results (and positivity). If a source of traffic is from your business’s service area, then great! But if you are a roofer in Pittsburgh, then traffic from Australia makes no sense.

Contextual relevance is the same.

If your business website is located in Youngstown Ohio and is in the Lawn Care industry, it would make no sense to have traffic come from China. If you are posting about cupcakes and frogs on that website, then your contextual relevance is a HUGE issue.

Instead, you want traffic locally. You want to make content on your website, with the correct keywords, that targets the correct regions.

A misalignment skews your traffic numbers, and this is why raw traffic numbers are a massive issue.

CTR By Keyword

CTR by keyword is a good metric to use to get feedback for interactions between people using Google Search (and other search engines) and your website’s content.

In most data analytics packages (Google Analytics, Google Search Console, etc) will let you see this stat. You can view this in real time.

Why is it important?

Because we not only see the keywords that drive traffic to our website, but we can see the clicks as those keywords are presented.

Not only do I use this metric to see the strength of the keywords I use. I also use this metric to see the increased traffic or decreases based on the content I create and the links I build.

Pageviews (count)

Traffic, as we’ve talked about, is a problematic metric.

Pageviews can make an SEO look like a genius. But, this information should be combined with other engagement metrics and action metrics to understand it.

Using Pageviews in conjunction with the following should be used:

  • Unique Visitors
  • Bounce Rate
  • >Visit time on site
  • Content downloads
  • Conversion rates
  • Pages per visit
  • Time on site, bounce rates, unique visits and conversions (meeting your goals) are what matters when it comes to Pageviews and traffic.

    Lead generation gone wild

    Ok, so we’ve talked about specific members of the digital marketing family like social media, digital paid advertising and SEO. Now, we are going to talk about an overarching strategy in digital marketing known as lead generation.

    Lead generation is the process of using traffic and visibility to walk people through the buyer’s journey.

    Lead generation is also one of the most effective and solid strategies that you can use to increase revenue and business growth. Lead generation is also one of the most valuable strategies you can use over time for your business.

    CTR (click through rate)

    CTR, as we’ve said earlier, is the baseline, the standard for digital marketing and digital advertising.

    With lead generation, though, CTR is an even stronger stat. CTR is a necessary metric to see incoming traffic, we use it for offers, for the CTAs (and types) as well as direct sales. Every step of the lead generation path uses CTR as the cornerstone metric for determining ‘next steps’.


    A conversion is a trackable event within a lead generation funnel.

    A conversion happens when someone sees a Facebook post, when they click on the link on the post, when they visit the website from that click and then for every action they take on the website.

    Conversions, as a raw number, is a vanity stat. Conversions are truly effective as measurement tools in conjunction with other metrics.

    Let me explain…

    If I say my website had 10,000 conversions, that sounds impressive. But if I say those conversions were website visits over the course of a year, does it sound as impressive? What if I say those 10,000 visitors were for a dentist in Western Pennsylvania – and those visitors were only from Western Pennsylvania?

    Now that initial 10,000 is overwhelming. If all of those visits were globally for a small dentist, the number is underwhelming.

    So, when we talk about conversions, we need to have a focused family of metrics.

    “We had 10,000 conversions which were signups of a lead magnet on the offer titled ‘The Offer 2’ from March 1, 2023 until March 22, 2023.”

    That above statement is concentrated, validated and even framed in time. It is an exact metric, not a simple number.

    Clicks, Views, Traffic

    You know the deal with these; they are usually vanity metrics. However, in lead generation these metrics will be necessary for directions, reflection and success in lead generation campaigns.

    How so?

    Raw click count is just an un-validated, undefined and hollow stat. But, if you tell me how much traffic we received after each CTA gives me an idea of where a hole in my funnel might be.

    Views are the same thing. Telling me you had 10,000 views tells me nothing. However, if you tell me where the views are, what preceded their view, their source of traffic and what their next actions were, then we have some gold.

    Traffic is more of the same.

    Wrapping it all up

    Today we looked at a lot of metrics that are involved in your brand’s marketing and advertising. We looked at vanity metrics, or metrics that look really good, but have no substance. We also looked at the “good” metrics – one that you can use to make smart business decisions.

    Now, it might seem like I think a lot of marketing agencies lie to their customers. I honestly don’t think that at all. There are some sketchy individuals out there, but for the most part, agencies, freelancers, consultants are all there to help your business grow.

    I just wanted to spotlight some issues that could potentially be your reality. I want you, as a business owner, to be more conscious of what can go wrong if you aren’t aware.