Vanity Metrics Are The Best Metrics. Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise.
When it comes to content analytics, the ‘pros’ have a term for data that seem impressive but tell you very little about the user experience or the quality of your content.
It’s a term that describes things like claps, likes, comments, ‘hits’, and other metrics that don’t provide real insight into the content’s actual value. They say you shouldn’t use these data to understand what actually works and what doesn’t in your writing.
“Amateurs use these metrics to stroke their egos,” they say. “Instead, we should be focused on better data, like read time, subscribes, and sales.”
I’ll agree with that to an extent. But I also stand by “vanity metrics” without apology.
I give clicks and read time much higher value when making decisions about what to write moving forward. And Medium seems to agree. That’s why they recently changed how writers get paid. Rather than basing your pay on claps and comments, the primary metric used to determine your compensation now is reading time.
Basing your pay on reading time does a couple of things.
First of all, it encourages writers to create more in-depth and higher quality stories.
Of course, just because a blog post is 1,000 words long and another is 300 words doesn’t mean the longer one is better. Quality isn’t solely determined by length. You know this if you’ve been to middle school.
When the teacher required us to write a 1,000 word research paper, we’d stuff it with every fluff word we could think of just to make it longer. But typically, well written pieces tend to be longer because the writer put more thought into them.
Second, I love getting paid based on reading time because it means I get paid for the quality of my content, not for someone’s reaction to it.
Many readers will love a piece of content but never react to it (I do this often). Other readers may never clap, comment, or share it on social media, but they’ll copy the URL and text it to a few close friends. That’s why one of the best ways to determine whether a piece is good is that someone actually read the whole thing.
What You Can Learn From Clicks And Reading Time
The two most valuable data Medium provides are clicks and reading time. Here are the insights these two data can give you.
1. Clicks tell you about the quality of your headline.
When you write consistently, you’ll get an idea of how many people on average tend to read one of your posts. Ideally, that number will grow steadily over time. But overall, you’ll have enough consistency to have a reasonable average. So when a post gets a lot more clicks than usual, or a lot fewer, that tells you how good or bad your headline is.
If you get half as many clicks as you usually do, your headline is the problem (this just happened to me yesterday). Before a person starts reading, they decide whether your piece is worth their time solely on your title because that’s all they have to work with. So if they aren’t clicking, your title is to blame.
On the other hand, if a ton of people click on your piece but don’t read the whole thing, this tells you that your title was too strong — i.e., clickbait. The content didn’t deliver what the headline promised. Maybe that’s because the headline over promised and under delivered, or maybe that’s because the content was just boring. This gets into reading time.
2. Reading time tells you the quality of your content.
I love the reading time metric. While not perfect, average reading time can give you a basic idea of where a reader stopped engaging with your piece.
Suppose the average reading time for your post is 2 minutes. Most people read between 250 to 300 words per minute. So you have a pretty good idea which section of your post lost the majority of your readers. Look at your content at the 250-ish word mark and start reading. See if there’s anything that may bore your readers or cause them to lose engagement.
But Vanity Metrics Are Powerful! Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise.
While you can gain much better insights into the data with other metrics, that doesn’t mean we should downplay the power of vanity metrics.
You gain something far more valuable with vanity metrics than with any other type of metrics.
I like them best because they benefit me the most.
Sure, clicks tell me how good my headline is. And reading time tells me how good my content is. But claps, highlights, and comments do something even better.
They inspire me to keep going.
I don’t like the term “vanity metrics.” I prefer “inspiration metrics” or “courage metrics.” Most of us thrive on positive feedback. Even if you’re internally motivated, it still feels good when someone tells you that you’re doing a good job.
While I appreciate the insight that other metrics give me, data doesn’t inspire me. Positive feedback does. What I need more than data and insight is a crowd cheering me on.
Don’t let anyone look down on you for talking about how many likes, claps and comments your piece got. Those stats are worth their weight in gold. They give you the courage to keep going and not give up.