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What are vanity metrics, and why do start-ups need to avoid them?

The right metrics for success are essential for any business, and start-ups are no exception.


Teijo Javanainen

projektipäällikkö, yrittäjyys ja liiketoiminnan uudistaminen
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 08.03.2023

There are several reasons why start-ups need metrics. Metrics provide a deeper understanding of the business by tracking key metrics such as customer acquisition and retention rates. This data can be utilized to make informed decisions to enhance the business.

Start-ups may require more metrics than established businesses as they are still navigating the market. When a start-up measures its progress over time, metrics help track progress toward business objectives. By keeping track of metrics, start-ups can determine if they are heading in the right direction and adjust as required.

Measuring progress helps to identify areas of the business that require improvement. For instance, if the customer acquisition rate is low, the start-up should rethink its marketing strategy.

In addition, metrics can be beneficial in fundraising since they offer evidence of the business’s potential to investors. Investors seek proof of progress and a clear pathway to success, which can be demonstrated by tracking metrics.

How to identify vanity metrics?

In StartUp School’s Re-Startup pre-incubator program, we strongly emphasize the importance of measuring progress. This is even more important when a starting entrepreneur is developing a new product or service. But how to identify that you are measuring the right things?

Croll and Yoskovitz (2013) state that while measuring progress, there are still some metrics that are less important for start-ups. Getting caught up in metrics that show an upward trend is common. However, it is vital to avoid eight notorious vanity metrics that can be deceptive in measuring success. The most common vanity metrics are:

  1. Hits. This metric needs to be updated and more accurate as it counts each object on a website. Counting people is a better alternative.
  2. Page views. This metric is better than hits since it counts the number of times a page is requested. Counting people is more meaningful unless page views are vital to the business model.
  3. Visits. This metric doesn’t differentiate whether one person visits a hundred times, or a hundred people visit once.
  4. Unique visitors. This metric only shows the number of people who viewed the home page, providing no information about their actions, interests, or retention.
  5. Followers/friends/likes. Counting the number of followers and friends is nothing more than a popularity contest unless they are useful to the business. Knowing how many followers engage with the brand can be meaningful.
  6. Time on site/number of pages. These metrics are a good substitute for actual engagement or activity if the business model is tied to this behavior. Spending much time on support or complaints pages is likely a bad sign.
  7. Emails collected. Although an extensive mailing list can be exciting, it is only useful once you know how many people will open and act on the emails. Testing emails on a sample of subscribers can provide valuable insights.
  8. Downloads. This metric may affect app store rankings but doesn’t necessarily lead to real value. Measuring activations, account creations, or other metrics can provide a better understanding of value.

By focusing on meaningful metrics, start-ups can make data-driven decisions and set themselves up for long-term success. Measuring the right metrics is a critical part of any start-up’s journey, and it’s important to prioritize them for growth and development.


Croll, A. & Yoskovitz, B. 2013. Lean Analytics. O’Reilly Media. Sebastopol, CA.