Be smart — use big data for your small business

Large companies have already embraced the rise of data and analytics. An IDG study last year showed 78 percent of larger employers agree data collection and analysis have the potential to completely change the way they do business.

But their smaller brethren still aren’t reaping the same benefits of real-time digital interconnectivity. According to an SAP-sponsored global survey of small businesses, many are still in the early stages of digital transformation.

But there’s no reason for small businesses to fear big data. If you know where to look and have the right strategy, there are many ways you can gather, analyze and make sense of data you already have without breaking the bank.

Set your goals

Define the goals you want to meet when running analytics projects. Your goals should be based on what action you want visitors to your site to take. This doesn’t mean only searching for hits to your site. Website visits should translate into conversions, so you need to decide what you want to track — downloads, registrations, inquiries, leads, appointments, purchases, new accounts — and shift your focus from hits to those measures instead.

Use your assets

Many small businesses often overestimated the potential challenges of adopting new technology. The SAP survey showed 80 percent of small employers said technological deployment was actually easier than they’d expected.

This is because you don’t need fancy, expensive software to begin gathering data. It can start with an asset you already have: your website.

Google Analytics, Google’s free Web-traffic-monitoring tool, uses a multitude of metrics and traffic sources to help you find out valuable information about site visitors.

For example, if you’re a business-to-consumer company, you can find out about buying behavior from tracking the point-of-purchase pages on your site. That information can help you understand who you’re selling to and what your most-searched-for products are.

Once you understand which demographics and customer segments are spending the most time on your website, you can use these insights to more accurately interact and engage with people’s pain points and shopping habits — and even predict or influence what they’ll buy next.

Use it to produce rockstar content

It’s not rocket science, but many companies forget the key to keeping people interested in your brand is often through great content. It can drive traffic to your site, influence decision-making, and support lead generation.

If you’re posting a blog on a particular topic, use tools such as Google AdWords Keyword Planner to find out what words people are searching for, increasing the likelihood your blog will rank higher in Google.

You can then track your success through Google Analytics by looking at the number of views the piece has and where the traffic to this page came from.

Use it to collaborate

Cloud storage providers such as Amazon Cloud Services have grown exponentially in creating cloud and data storage for small businesses.

Cloud services mean you can access files on any computer, even when you’re offline, so you can work from anywhere. Many offer shared folders, too, so multiple members of your team can work on presentations together without emailing versions back and forth.

Often you just need Internet access and a small subscription fee to access these types of services.

Use it to problem-solve

“Why did you leave me?” Your ex might not give you an honest answer, but web analytics tools definitely will.

Search for pages with high exit rates on your site. This will give you an understanding of current user behavior and help you work out where content needs improving. Once you know why people leave, you will know what turns them off — and, more importantly, how to keep them turned on.

(If only this worked for our personal lives, things would be a lot simpler.)

Scope out the competition

Free and easy-to-use tools such as Google Trends can be used alongside social media analytics to show how popular a product or brand is and see what others are saying about you.

You can also use these types of tools to sneakily check out your competitors. For example, if you notice a rival is getting more media coverage and social mentions, you can compare their content and campaigns to see what they’re doing better than you.

Adjust campaigns in real-time

If you’ve ever binge-watched Netflix and then received a list of recommended shows just for you, you know the list changes every time you finish watching a movie or series.

You can use this type of real-time big data insight for your business, too. In fact, instant big data updates are often better suited to small businesses that may be better positioned to act on insights quickly.

You can use this type of machine learning by tracking the changing behaviors, interests, and engagement of your site visitors. Respond in real time by nudging consumers to a specific page you think they’ll be interested in or sending them a coupon or discount code to entice them into a purchase.

While big data is redefining the world of business, it’s clear more needs to be done to streamline strategies and avoid using it in an ad-hoc or unstructured way. You may occasionally get lucky and fall across useful insights, but to remain competitive and consistent, a well-thought-out plan will help your business play in the same league as bigger competitors.

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