Vanity of vanities, all is vanity OR Why webstats don’t exist

I’ve been learning how to get data on our website usage from Google Analytics.

It’s very hard, both cos Google Analytics front end  is so badly designed and cos you need to learn how websites work. There’s lots of different things you can measure, do you want:

  • pageviews
  • unique pageviews
  • bounce rate
  • session duration
  • entrance
  • exit
  • source
  • and so on and so on and so on

There’s so many, so how do you choose? What webstats are important and should be collected and analysed, and what are not? Which staff should receive which webstats?

Then it hit me…

There’s no such thing as webstats!

They don’t exist.
Thinking of a website and THEN starting to think what you can measure is the wrong place to start.
If you start at the website and think “what can I measure?” or even “what should I measure?” then you will end up measuring activity and what people (i.e managers) think is important.

The typical webstats collected will be…

  • number of hits
  • number of page views
  • number of unique visitors
  • number of followers/friends
  • number of email sign ups
  • time on site

These have a name, they are…

Vanity metrics make you feel good.

The higher they are, the better. That is there only benefit, the ability to make you feel good.

“Ten thousand views! Better than 5,000! In fact TWICE as good!”

Vanity metrics cannot be USED. They don’t tell you the “now what?” answer. They just make you feel popular.

This is like call-centre stats. If you start off measuring the call-centre you get rubbish like the % calls answered in 20 seconds or the average handling time. These are measuring the call-centre but they AREN’T measuring anything the customer cares about or tells you how well they are being helped. In fact they can drive bad performance and create failure demand if they are targetted (as they are).

Webstats and call-centre stats do not exist. They are not things.

Just like any old measure in fact. There’s no such thing as housing measures, there’s no such thing as social care measures. There’s no such thing as planning measures, there’s no such thing as Housing Benefit measures. These all do not exist. They are not things.

What are things are your customers, their problems, and your organisation’s attempts at helping solve them. Measure these instead. Start there.

Start with a customer, find out their problem and what matters, then measure how well your system helps them with this. If this cuts across a website, then find out what you need to measure from that website in order to see how well you are helping your customer. This is totally different from measuring the website as a starting point, because you now have a proper question to answer, how capable are we at helping our customers. Not how many people click through our website. They could be clicking around angrily not finding what they need.

This is like starting with a customer need in a callcentre, find out how well you help them, not if they were answered in less than 20s and the call ended within 6 minutes. These are not things.

Actionable metrics are things that connect customers and your organisation. They create learning by showing what happens when you make a change to your system and whether that is good or bad for the customer and therefore your organisation.

Ultimately feeling good cos of hits/likes/visits/mentions are not important. If it is, you should be in the cute cat gif business. A very unprofitable business.


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6 Responses to Vanity of vanities, all is vanity OR Why webstats don’t exist

  1. The System might have got you but it won't catch me says:

    Interesting post as ever.
    I have something for you to think about. How do you measure the success of ‘think purpose’? We’ve already dismissed vanity metrics as not very valuable (I can’t help but think the numbers of subscribers is important but I’ll come back to it as it’s interesting).
    What matters is how effective is this blog in meeting it’s purpose and how would you measure it? When I was thinking about subscribers I’d assumed what my purpose would be (spread systemsy goodness across the interweb) but of course I hadn’t asked you what your purpose was – I’d guessed! An notable lesson for us all – don’t assume purpose, go and find out!
    If the purpose of this blog is for Mr TP to have an outlet for expressing thoughts on the world then the web metrics are irrelevant as that it is an internal thing for the author.
    So, what’s the purpose of this blog and how effective do you think you are at meeting that purpose?


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Ooh, that’s VG, well done.
      In MY case I’m ALL ABOUT the vanity metrics, cos I’m vain
      The purpose of this blog, for me, is to validate me. Tell me I’m not alone, that there are others in similar situations in silly command and control organisations.
      Total views and Facebook and Twitter shares say “you’re not wrong”.
      So I’m all for vanity metrics, cos that’s all I need, something to make me feel not wrong.


      • The System might have got you but it won't catch me says:

        So even then some web stats would be less valuable than others. Page views could be people looking for pictures of onions for example. I would be interested in likes, shares and subscribers as well as comments as that suggests what you are writing resonates with someone!

        As you know though, the day you determine the purpose to be ‘get more subscribers’ rather than ‘validate I am not alone’ the purpose of the blog changes, ie adding funny cat gifs to posts. People like cats so are bound to subscribe for more…..

        Seriously, I’m off to nonsenseland now and I’m going to have a challenging few hours this morning as I’ll be a lone voice in a room suggesting what we’re doing is wrong. Your blog helps me remember I am not mad so thankyou.


        • ThinkPurpose says:

          Yes I’m being facetious. I’ve noticed that I get loads of hits on a picture of an astronaut, and on my thing about 4 German words, cos people came from a popular YouTube channel that mentioned one of the words. I’m not bothered about them. What I check for is people signing up, especially from the same workplace. You can tell from the email address, if they use a work one, and it only takes one and with a bit of digging and use of you can spot a group signing up. And I use to search for retweets which is a sign that something resonates. Any sharing on Facebook, LinkedIn etc is good. Comments are the best though, cos they take time and effort compared with clicking a share button.


  2. Peter says:

    You’re not alone! But systems thinkers are. Out conterintuitive thinking is rarely welcomed in the mainstream. Keep ’em coming.


  3. Peter says:

    By the way, I went over to Google Ad metrics. I didn’t understand a thing. My normal website was at the top of the ratings list until I signed up. My website disappeared and plunged so low in the ratings it was difficult to find. I found I had to pay more to get it back. I lost business. I simply don’t see the business sense in the model. I got rid of google ads and all is well again!


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