Why Web Metrics Don’t Matter

If your work involves measuring and analyzing activity on web sites and social media, or using that data to make business cases, read this.

Here’s the bottom line:

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

The article is a clear eyed look at something those of us in the digital world have long argued with clients, bosses and investors: Numbers can infer exactitude but they often don’t mean anything.

I remember, from 20 years ago, talking with clients about how digital metrics would make advertising more efficient. Instead, we got something that’s not just terrible, but terrifying:

You know how at the end of the day all nuclear power does is boil water? All of the advanced technology that’s been developed over the last decade has ultimately been about being better at advertising than the other guy. We literally broke most of the actual world and almost the entire damn Internet so that a crappy ad for something you’re probably not buying could follow you around the web that much better.

I don’t see much value in talking about metrics, though I still have to do it. Instead, I’d rather steer conversations toward activation. How to get real people to take real actions beyond clicking in ways that a room full of computers and cell phones can mimic.