Ditch the Vanity Metrics for Digital Metrics that Matter

team looking at digital metrics

From the time you were a kid in high school, you probably understood that popularity contests were never about skill and substance. That’s the way it is with vanity metrics in digital marketing. They’re fluff without merit. They can make you feel good, but they play more to your institutional ego than the actual merits of your school and its programs. If you want to truly measure your online marketing accomplishments, you need to look at digital metrics that matter and not vanity metrics like:

Website Traffic

Most higher education marketing agencies will promise an increase in website traffic once you engage them. And that’s a good thing. An increase in traffic (hopefully) means that they’ve taken steps to bring more potential students onto your site to check out your school. They may have made structural changes, performed optimizations or beefed up content. They may have enhanced your social media presence to send more traffic your way or assisted with PR campaigns. All of these are pretty standard means to acquire more traffic. But if your only measurement of success is through traffic, you’re missing the mark.

Increased traffic can be good, but what you really want is quality traffic. Rather than measure volume, look at conversions. Are users coming to your site and requesting more information? That’s a metric worth noting. If they don’t fill out a form, are they at least visiting several pages to demonstrate a real interest? Are they return users? Do they spend enough time on your site to get the information they’ll need to make an educated choice about their higher education options? And from where does your traffic come? If you see a spike in traffic but it’s well outside the geographical area you serve for an on-ground program, it may raise your profile a bit in the eyes of a search engine, but it won’t directly increase your enrollments.

Followers and Likes

It’s hard not to get excited when you finally hit that 5,000 or 10,000 followers’ mark. And who wouldn’t want to get a few hundred likes on a social media post? But both of those metrics are passive. At some point in time, you probably actively sought out followers and page likes. You may have even induced users to follow your school or like your page. On the other hand, shares require a bit of effort and will help expand your brand exposure. Engagement—as in actual conversations about what you post—brings others into the fold. They may even allow your advocates to sing your praises, which in turn can entice potential students to check out your programs. And even on social media sites, you should be able to track that engagement and interest to actual conversions. Can you?

Email List Size

Wow! You have 50,000 names on your email list and you regularly send out blasts far and wide. So what?  When it comes to email lists, more names on a list are meaningless unless you see engagement. In fact, from a deliverability perspective, more names could actually harm your sender reputation. What you do want to see are opens and clicks. A click through to a landing page means you have a user’s attention. It’s a metric that matters. It means your message resonated and it also helps you home in on messaging for the next email send.

Another email metric that agencies love to boast about is the size of an eNews subscription list. The opt-in feature of eNews may seem like a worthwhile metric to consider. But the truth is that people tend to be a little lazy when it comes to opting out. As easy as you may make it to unsubscribe, people still don’t bother. So if you have a huge eNews list but no engagement, it’s a vanity metric that could cause more harm than good.

Ad Impressions

Isn’t it great to think that thousands upon thousands of users might see your ads? Not really. Effective digital marketing isn’t about quantity; it’s all about quality and the ability to measure results. And while lots of ad impressions might give your brand a bit of a lift, you should place emphasis on might. Just because your ad appears in a feed doesn’t mean an actual human sees it. Also, lots of impression with few clicks can mess up your quality score. A poor quality score means your ads will cost more. So, unless your ads get impressions and conversions, they’re vanity metrics that won’t help you achieve the marketing results you want.

Want to learn more about how we measure results at ESM Digital? Check out ESM Central. It’s our proprietary cloud-based data dashboard that allows our clients to see the metrics they care about most.

~Linda Emma