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If you’re like most business owners, when you see or hear the phrase “big data,” you probably think it doesn’t apply to you. You think, “I’m running a small business doing $5 million a year in revenue. I don’t have big data and even if I did, I couldn’t afford the technology required to process it! Big data is for big companies.” If you think this way, I’ve got news for you—not only are you wrong, but if you don’t change your mindset, you might find yourself in a situation where you’ve been left behind by your competitors with no possible way to catch up.
A couple months ago, the research arm of Blue Corona analyzed nearly 10,000 HVAC and plumbing websites. One of the things they discovered was that there appears to be a rapidly growing digital divide between companies that have gone “all in” with big data and analytics (as well as web marketing for that matter) and everyone else. We noticed something similar when we did our analysis of the fenestration industry earlier this year. My guess is that it’s happening in every industry.
The thing about data is that it grows exponentially. According to Wikipedia, as of 2012, every day 2.5 quintillion bytes of data were created. Let me put this in perspective for you. According to Answers.com, if you counted constantly—day and not nonstop—it would take you 316,889,554.1 years (rounded) to count to one quintillion! If your competitors start collecting data now, but you don’t, they may get to a point where they have so much more than you that you’ll never be as informed as they are.
Google knows this. Data is Google’s single biggest advantage over its competition. Given the volume of data Google has on user intent—provided by both the number of search queries they process as well as the information provided to them from Chrome and Google Analytics—how can another search engine possibly know more about the world’s desires and what users are thinking than Google? So far, it’s a nut Google’s competitors have not even come close to cracking (with the exception of maybe Facebook).
Interest in big data and analytics is on the rise and it shows no signs of slowing down:
Big Data & Analytics Applications for Small(er) Businesses
You don’t have to be running a huge company to benefit from big data and analytics. Data-driven improvements are possible whether you’re doing a million in revenue per year or $10 million. Here are three applications that are inexpensive to implement and offer an incredible short-term payoff:
Virtually everything on the web can be measured, tracked, and quantified—this includes what your competitors are doing to market and promote themselves online.
With a little research, you can find, collect, store, and analyze data relating to things like:
- Which tracking tools your competitors are using
- How many websites they have
- How well each website is ranking on Google
- Whether they invest in pay per click ads (and if, so how much they spend)
- Which keywords they target
- The contents of their email newsletter
- How active they are on social media websites
- And much more
When done correctly and over time, what you end up with is your own mini data warehouse chock-full of awesome insights and historical trends.
Let’s say you own an HVAC and plumbing company and you have a competitor that is consistently out ranking you in the organic search results on Google. You could keep doing your own thing and hope that you’re on the right track, but you could also reverse engineer (and improve upon) your competitor’s strategy (since it appears to be working!).
There are a number of ways you could go about doing this—everything from setting up a basic web crawler which can find all the external sites linking to your competitor’s site to renting or purchasing industry-specific website data from a third party. While it’s more complex to do something like this on your own, it doesn’t cost much more to get the data from a third party. And in either scenario, the cost is nominal considering the gain from the effort.
Phone Call Data Mining
Even small businesses generate a lot of phone call data. When I talk to small business owners about marketing, there’s a common theme—make my phone ring! While almost every business can benefit from getting more phone leads, a more efficient option would be to first get more out of what they already receive—AND then spend money to generate more.
I don’t know what percentage of small businesses use call tracking to record all their business calls and then analyze the data, but it can’t be more than a single digit percentage (in our analyses of the fenestration industry and the HVAC and plumbing industry, it was a fraction of one percent). This is unfortunate because contained within each phone call is marketing GOLD.
By tracking, recording, and listening to each inbound phone call, all sorts of interesting insights emerge. We worked with one local business where practically none of their inside sales reps asked for the sale. Some of their reps didn’t even ask for the caller’s contact information, so if a sale was not made, there was no opportunity for follow up! Another client, a local bottled water delivery company, found that they could increase the sale of ancillary products such as office coffee service, simply by training their customer service reps to add one phrase to their standard inbound, existing customer call script.
While phone call tracking is very inexpensive and there are dozens of providers to choose from, listening and analyzing each call can be time consuming and costly if done by a human. However, I think most companies will still find it to be one of the best customer service and marketing investments they’ve ever made and there are companies, like Blue Corona, that are using advanced voice recognition programs to automatically listen to, parse, and take action on recorded phone call data.
Predictive Analysis Using Web Data
Virtually every website I investigate has Google Analytics in place; the trouble is that not much is being done with the data. In order to take action on the information you collect, you have to be able to filter it and analyze it. Of course, filtering and analyzing data intelligently can be tricky; however, it’s a puzzle worth solving because it can reveal some very powerful insights about your company’s status both in the present and historically.
Without question, the greatest added value of methodical data collection lies in predictive analysis. Knowing where you’ve been is usually beneficial; getting even a glimpse or snapshot of where you’re heading borders on cheat-codes for the real world. So how would you go about creating a predictive analysis of your company’s web presence—and more importantly, why?
Guarantees from SEO companies are practically useless, given the inherently changing and chaotic nature of the industry and the internet itself. What is possible, and what we practice at Blue Corona, is using advanced tools and a bunch of really smart people to identify the reliable and significant repositories of data and combine them with conservative assumptions which, together, provide a much better picture of where you could end up given a particular strategy or course of action.
Let’s say you’ve taken the advice offered above and you track your calls. On top of that, you also have Google Analytics (or a similar service) installed on your website. With some clever manipulation, you can take that data and project several incredibly complex growth factors for your company’s web success into the near future. For example, we’ve built some fantastic models to show clients, based on their historic data and some basic assumptions, a very good idea of what they can expect to get as a result of investing in SEO (vs. pay per click, vs. social media, vs. email marketing, etc.).
As you go through this process, don’t forget the golden rule of projections: be aware of your assumptions! Assumptions should be clearly defined, and more importantly, as iron-clad as possible. A good assumption for a plumbing company would be something along the lines of “the rate of people needing to hire plumbers should stay pretty much constant.” This is simultaneously conservative and valid because the general public is not making any particular strides in educating themselves on plumbing techniques, and there is a tremendous amount of existing plumbing infrastructure to maintain.
A poor assumption for a home remodeler would be that growth or economic conditions could be held constant. This assumption is flawed because the home remodeling industry generally tracks with fluctuations in the housing market, and as we’ve seen in the past five years, the housing market can change rather rapidly.
Conclusion & Takeaways
Let’s step out of the technical jargon and review. It’s a serious mistake to think that big data is just for big companies. With the right tools and team in place (hint hint), even local “mom and pop” businesses can quickly turn pretty massive datasets into measurably improved marketing performance. The key is to get started—like yesterday!
There’s data divide that’s widening with each passing day. On one side you have companies that have gone “all in” big data and analytics. They span all industries—from plumbers and roofers to HVAC and remodeling contractors. You know them when you see them because they’re leading their respective industries and markets. On the other side of the data divide is everyone else—companies being left behind and they don’t even realize it.
If you’re looking for a web analytics partner to help you collect and analyze your web data as well as provide you with actionable takeaways from that data, we’re your guys (and gals). Give us a call to learn more about how to take your small business to the next level with big data.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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