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Don’t Be Fooled by Vanity Marketing Metrics

Get real numbers from your Marketing Company.

There’s an old adage that says “Half of my marketing works, I just don’t know which half.” It’s a cynical comment about the mystique of the business marketing function. Its origins pre-date the digital age, but the saying still holds true for many businesses.  

Thankfully, because most marketing happens in a digital form nowadays, it is far more trackable.  Competent marketing companies justify their efforts by showing their clients metrics that prove their worth. But which metrics matter?  

The marketing leadership company, Atlas Rose shows their client a dashboard every week that tracks all-important ROI. “Not all metrics carry the same importance for the client,” says Branden O’Neil, CEO, and founder of Atlas Rose. He gets animated when asked about the metrics that some marketing companies report back to their clients. “Clients can’t be expected to know everything about marketing, that’s why they hire experts, but when these experts report back misleading or ‘vanity metrics’ it gets me fired up. It can falsely paint a picture.”

When asked which metrics he considers vanity, he clarifies:


Pageviews can be an indicator of the effectiveness of paid search campaigns and organic web traffic, but to see increasing page views and think the marketing is working is false. If this activity isn’t translating to action (complete form fills, phone calls, emails) then it’s useless. 


SEO companies can be guilty of this. First, let’s define a conversion. In the marketing world, a conversion is someone that has successfully been attracted, indicated their interest, and has qualified themselves. When this person completes this process, it is known as a marketing qualified lead or MQL. It’s at this point, the lead is turned over to the salespeople for closing. 

Anything less is not a true conversion. SEO companies sometimes call traffic delivered to the “contact us” page of a site, a conversion. The problem lies when this data is reported as a “win.” That’s not necessarily true if they stop their tracking there. 

Push back if that’s happening to you. Demand full accountability to know where a lead is coming from, what got their interest, and how you can replicate more. The good news is, all of this is trackable. Our clients have access to arOS, a proprietary system where clients can see what MQL’s they have, where they came from, and at what point in the sales process they are. 

There’s no ambiguity. We know what brought them in, what documents they opened, what emails they were sent, and how engaged they’ve been.  

“All digital marketing is trackable, you just have to set up the right systems”– Branden O’Neil

Geographic Noise

When looking at Google Analytics, you may be encouraged and find it interesting that your company is attracting attention from around the globe. Are prospects from China, India, or Russia interested in doing business with you? Maybe, but for most companies, probably not. More than likely it’s from spammers or bots trying to hack your systems. 

Make sure you’re drilling down to understand where your traffic is coming from. Is it organic, social media, or paid search? Understanding this will help you allocate budgets better. 

Branded or non-branded?

Users have different intentions when they visit your website. We like to pay particular attention to this “user intent.” If a user already knows about your company and dials up your website to find your phone number, that’s branded traffic.  Another example is if your clients need to visit your site regularly to access an online portal. Conversely, if a new visitor comes to your site and has never visited before, that’s unbranded traffic and arguably even more valuable. When new prospects enter your marketing funnel, the revenue pie grows. 

While both are good, be careful not to be fooled by putting too much emphasis on returning users. 

Ad spend

I rarely want our ad spend to go down. While that may seem foolish, it’s not. Don’t let your SEO or marketing company gloat about how much they have caused your spending to go down. I haven’t met a business owner yet that isn’t willing to spend one dollar to earn ten. I want company owners to say spend MORE money IF you can show me it’s working.  The “if” is the tricky part. Your marketing company should accurately be able to tell you what your cost per customer acquisition is. If they can’t complete the loop and answer that question, you’re most certainly wasting marketing dollars somewhere. 

Social media

Social media should be part of any modern marketing strategy, but be careful not to have it overweighted. Relying too heavily on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or others means your business is at the mercy of their algorithms and their willingness to show your content to the right audiences. Think of it as renting your audience. You don’t own or control it. 

Sure, getting likes and page comments is good, but it hardly defines success. A random “thumbs up” doesn’t do much. Avoid going down a rabbit hole and chasing “followers.” It’s very difficult to get good results this way. Better to let it develop organically. 

Influencer marketing

This is a fast-growing marketing technique that is evolving quickly. One example is paying a YouTuber to endorse your product or service. Just because the influencer talked about your company for 45 seconds in their 10-minute video that was watched 25,000 times, it doesn’t mean it translated to significant sales. To be clear, we love the strategy, we just want to see it trackable with a unique link.  

Technology has progressed to where you don’t have to be left wondering which marketing tactics are working. Hold your vendors accountable to show you the data that matters so you can spend wisely and cut out the portion that isn’t producing.