Stakeholders are often on the hunt for the biggest numbers. We call these big, beautiful, but often distracting numbers “vanity metrics,” and it’s important to know the appropriate time and place to use them. You’ve probably heard this before, but bigger isn’t always better, and this same principle is especially true when approaching your organization’s data & reporting. When it comes to presenting your analytics insights to executive leadership — whether through a monthly report or as an agenda item in a quarterly business review — your job is to help leadership to focus on the metrics that best show your organization’s impact.
Beware of the Big Shiny NumbersHigh-level numbers can help set the tone for certain conversations or get you started when digging into the real actionable numbers. However, if you’re looking to understand the success of a specific initiative or optimize your existing tactics, you’ll need to ensure you’re measuring indicators you have a direct impact on as they relate to your organizational goals. These “big shiny” metrics that tend to focus on volume or magnitude can be a great way to showcase growth over time, but if that is not a top priority for your organization, then it can end up distracting your stakeholders from the story you are telling and the recommendations you might make moving forward.
What to Watch Out ForAn example of a major pitfall that teams encounter when they get too distracted with vanity metrics is fixating on one big number, such as total site visits. Getting, shall we say obsessed, with this number may lead to inaccurate or incomplete comparisons. If every organization within a given industry started battling to see who can hit the biggest numbers by the end of the month, then you end up comparing apples to oranges. How one organization calculates website visits may differ from another; so in the end, your big, flashy web traffic numbers might not really be any higher or lower than those of your competition.
What Metrics to Focus onIf you’ve become the designated analytics guru on your team, and are checking in on your data diligently, you already know there’s a lot of insights out there. One of the key skills when analyzing any kind of data is to learn how to cut through the noise. The metrics that you’ll need to focus on once you’ve moved past these vanity metrics are what we refer to as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These metrics should unambiguously illustrate your team or organization’s performance. KPIs can help teams across the organization to work towards a consistent set of objectives as well as clearly demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) for specific objectives. Above all, make sure that the data you are referencing is connected to the goals you have already set out to achieve. Although in some cases they may appear small, they are truly the golden ones that will help you to make smart decisions in the long run.
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