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blog post views 
and vanity metrics

The trouble with blog post views and vanity metrics

Helen Anderson
Data wrangler, AWS Data Hero, and tag moderator on Dev.to.
Updated on ・5 min read

The problem is we can get so caught up in chasing the numbers that we forget why we are writing in the first place.

Even if you've never heard of vanity metrics before, you know what they are. They're the thumbs up, hearts, and likes that you see across practically every social media and blogging site. They are the counters that keep going up as users land on your site. They're easy to get, and since they usually increase over time, we tend to think of them as a measure of success.

The problem is, we can get so engrossed in chasing numbers that we lose sight of why we are writing in the first place.


What are vanity metrics?
Vanity metrics are misleading
Vanity metrics are just the beginning
Vanity metrics and mental health
Where to from here?
Further reading


What are vanity metrics?

There has been a lot of scrutiny surrounding vanity metrics as these numbers don't generate any meaningful results. Most often, they leave us thinking, "Well, that's great, but so what?" At worst, they cause us to focus on writing for the numbers rather than the reader. These are some of the most common vanity metrics generated by analytics platforms:

  • Users – the total number of unique visitors to your page
  • Pageviews – the total number of times a page on your site has been viewed
  • Open rates of an email newsletter - the total number of subscribers who opened an email campaign

Humans are hardwired to measure success by a number, the larger the better. We love to visit the busy restaurant, follow the popular social media accounts, and watch the numbers go up. It's not surprising that these metrics are used to evaluate success, but we should also be aware that they can be misleading.


Vanity metrics are misleading

The number of views is the most common metric used to measure the success of a blog or website. They're easy to misunderstand and easy to game.

No impact on the bottom line

A page view doesn't mean much without a sale on an e-commerce site. A blog post view doesn't mean much unless you use it to improve your content or achieve another goal.

They set unrealistic expectations

You may be disappointed and disheartened if one post gets thousands of views and the next does not.

Views don’t mean the post has been read

Someone who clicks on a link to your post may not read it, they may ‘bounce’ right off the page, or they may skim it and decide it isn't useful at all. This isn't a way to measure the success of your post.

Spam and bots

A spike in page views isn't always good news and not all traffic is created equal. Spam accounts and bots can cause numbers to skew significantly.

Screenshot of google analytics report showing bot traffic skewing number of visitors

Referrals report showing bot traffic that skewed my post views recently

Vanity metrics are just the beginning

Before you disregard these metrics altogether, we should consider how to use them in conjunction with other metrics and tools.

Find out what’s being shared

The best compliment you can receive as a content creator or blogger is having your post shared. Your page views may have increased due to this. If you know who is sharing your writing and where they are, you can have more meaningful conversations with them.

  • Use a backlink checker like ahrefs to find out which newsletters, pages, and even GitHub repos your post has been shared on.
  • Use Tweetdeck to keep an eye on who and when your post is being shared on Twitter.
  • Find out more about the demographics of the people visiting your page using demographics reports.

Find out how the page is performing

When combined with other metrics on your analytics platform, page views can give you a better picture of your post's performance. If you do this, you can tweak your content and identify issues with your site.

  • Use the bounce rate to find out if people are ‘bouncing’ off the page or staying to explore more.
  • Use the new/returning visitors report to find out if people are coming back to your site.
  • The site speed report can help find which pages are loading slowly and why.

Vanity metrics and mental health

In recent years we’ve seen both businesses and content creators lean into vanity metrics so much they start to focus on nothing else. Increasing our page views or following count is not why we write. Knowing that your message is getting out there can be a great feeling, but it shouldn't be the only focus.
Page views are not meant to make you feel badly about yourself. They're also not there so you can get obsessed with earning Internet points. Dev.to doesn't show follower counts on your profile for a reason. You should use them as guides for your content, not as a measure of your worth.


Where to from here?

Vanity metrics often involve big numbers and out of context can imply success. As a standalone measure of success, these can be misleading and sometimes harmful. These metrics can confuse the purpose of blog posts and why we are writing in the first place.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on page views in the blogging world? Should we make these metrics more visible or do away with them altogether?


Further reading

Why Microsoft doesn't share Xbox sales numbers

Vanity versus actionable metrics

Stop measuring these vanity metrics


Read more

Discussion (16)

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seangwright profile image
Sean G. Wright

I love when a post I wrote a year ago suddenly gets a comment or a reaction.

Those are the ones that feel important and genuine because they truly helped someone that was looking.

It also reinforces the idea that the content I write isn't just to get some quick views and forget about. It's there to help others - even if that's only 1 person a year from now.

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson Author

I agree, it's a great feeling when those posts get recognition after I think they've faded away from timelines. In my experience they often come with a comment and start a conversation which is even better.

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andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown 🇨🇦 • Edited

Polywork is not planning to have "likes/reactions" and it had me wondering recently how that affects discoverability or how would one engineer a system that helps with fair or good discoverbility?

I just posted an article the other day on DEV which I have not done in a while, and my primary goal was to get enough reactions within the first hour to get trending so I had any chance of people seeing the article, while it did not reach that goal, people were saying they read it on twitter (instead of just likes) and so that was my metric of impact.

I suppose search engines have been doing it (discoverability) for a long time, though I'm guessing for social platform you'd want to use a classification ML model to say this article goes to these tags, and you could build an ML model to determine the quality to help give articles a boost and then let commentors or page interactions be the defining metric.

Human-assistance is an option for good article curration and I did about 30 mins of DEV moderation for AWS tag yesterday.I just got tired and was thinking, an AI-assistant could cut this down to 90% so the human can focus on uplifting the good stuff.

I'd like to see DEV just get rid of reactions, or at least have them not determine the timefeed. I think this could help cut down on the buzzfeed list-like content.

I really like reading your articles Helen, especailly since right now I've been diving so much into data business intelligence tools. Hope to see you at re:Invent permitting the worlds current circuumstances and mother gia allows.

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson Author

Thanks for your post on Polywork Andrew. I'm also interested to see how the platform is received.

I'm crossing my fingers that the world is not on fire in December and we get to re:Invent. This may be the year we meet in person :D

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

Never heard of polywork. I just signed up and waiting to get in.

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jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel Fayard 🇫🇷🇩🇪🇬🇧🇪🇸🇨🇴

Thanks a lot Helen, I tend to obsess in my bad days to obsess on the views of my successful posts and be disappointed by my non successful posts, and that's energy wasted that could be redirected into writing more articles.

I think genuine conversations is the right metric.

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson Author

I've had the same experiences where posts I've put a lot of time into don't get a lot of views, and posts I've put together quickly get many more.

It's much more enjoyable to have those conversations with those reading my posts rather than trying to figure out why the page views are what they are so I'm doing my best to ignore the numbers.

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

Just as you have eluded to, views != Impact 🙅

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stevezieglerva profile image
Steve Ziegler

Reading this as I just logged in to see view count on my last post. 😀

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson Author

Great post! I've added the #meta and #techtalks tags to it as it fits those categories too.

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memattchung profile image
memattchung

Great article. Ironically, I just recently learned about vanity metrics while reading The Lean Start up and the books perspective on these types of metrics aligns with your article. It's easy to fall into the false notion that page hits (as an example) represents true user engagement.

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

I put most emphasis on the discussion. I get the most value from a good discussion, and its a good sign that the article impacted someone in a good way.

I've taken all trackers off of my personal website so the only thing I can see is click rates from google. This one is definitely in that vanity category, but can give me something to go off to see what articles get picked up and how I might get others to get picked up.

One issue I have had is co-workers will ask me a question about something they have been trying to figure out for days. Often something adjacent to our work like bash or tmux setup. I'll share an article with them and get a response, "this is exactly what I was looking for how did this not show up in the 100 google searches I just did?".

This is the main reason I care about seo, hitting numbers is cool I guess, but being able to help out someone without even having any active input is super cool.

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson Author

That's a really good point. Humans like big numbers, and so do the search engine algorithms.

It's disappointing to see so many 'clickbaity' articles bubbling up to the top of search results in favour of genuine ones. All the more reason to be a part of the community and sharing your knowledge personally with those who can benefit from what you've learned.

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jonasbn profile image
jonasbn

I do check the stats of my own articles, but it is not something I pay a lot of attention to, what I have found out really brings me joy is when people comment. I do not care if people disagree, just clap my shoulder or share something, which broadens the perspective - I just really appreciate comments.

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson Author

The comments are definitely the most rewarding part of sharing knowledge. Those lightbulb moments when someone has grasped a concept because of how you've explained it are priceless.

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brandelune profile image
Jean-Christophe Helary • Edited

Let's not forget that all those metrics come from the marketing world of the late ’90s that was looking for a way to sell web banners and ads. And even now, metrics are just here to show who is the product, and it’s both the blog reader (who will end up clicking, or "viewing" unintended stuff like ads), or the blog writer (who will want higher numbers, just because it will eventually lead to some kind of monetization at one point).

I'm not sure it is fair to state that "Humans are hardwired to judge success on a number." In fact, I'd say that anthropologically speaking it's probably not the case. The bigger the number the scarcer the resources, etc. This kind of behavior started at a time when resources were less scarce and thus is much more recent, but I don't have anything to back that claim ;-)

Anyway, my point is that, we know from existing studies that SEO is a huge scam, and very serious companies have proved it, but web systems keep trying to selling that to us. Why? Because it makes them money, not us.

As you wrote, metrics are pointless. We can't ban them, but people who are serious about engagement should totally get rid of them.

On dev.to, I'd say the most important metric is probably the "Saved" one. And yet, I'm not sure it correlates to an actual process of reading/understanding, which is eventually the whole, and only, point of writing here.