Big data is more than a buzzword; it’s powerful stuff. Big data refers, of course, to a high volume of data that needs a lot of computing power to make sense of. Typically we think of large corporations when we think of big data, but you may have a lot more data in your business than you realize. Or you may be able to start collecting more data that truly can help your business grow and be more profitable.
Let me show you five methods for making better use of the data that you likely already have in your business--or that you could inexpensively start to collect.
1. Google Analytics dashboards
Google’s free website analytics program has become a standard among small businesses to monitor website traffic levels. However, in my experience, most small business people look at a chart or two about how many visits they got last month and call it a day.
Make sure you use dashboards within Google Analytics. Dashboards are predefined ways to present your data in context, so that you know what to look at among all that data. If you have a lot of time, you can create them from scratch. But a faster way is to import some of the pre-made dashboards from the Dashboard Gallery. Just click on the Dashboards link inside Google Analytics, and “Add Dashboard” to find a few from the gallery. You will find dashboards for understanding your audience engagement, traffic sources (referrals), conversions, mobile visitors, and more.
2. Email marketing segmentation analysis
Do you segment your email list by what your subscribers are interested in? This will help you tailor your email communications to subscribers, so that you deliver what they want. Most email marketing programs today have some way to segment subscriber interest. Some programs can even “learn” what recipients are interested in based on which emails they’ve opened and what they’ve clicked on in the past, making it easy to segment.
It’s getting harder to get readers’ attention. People are overwhelmed, and many email inbox programs do a lot of filtering before people even see your messages. It pays to be as relevant as possible today so that they seek out your messages, rather than become annoyed with irrelevant ones. Only send people what they want, rather than one-size-fits-all mailings. Popular email marketing systems include Constant Contact, Vertical Response, and AWeber.com.
3. Heat map analysis
Do you know how effective that landing page is, or whether tweaking it would lead to more leads and conversions? How about your home page? Could some changes get people to explore deeper into your site? That’s where heat maps come in. Eye-tracking and heat-map technologies can tell you what parts of a Web page get the most attention.
Use heat maps when you are designing or improving Web pages or putting together marketing campaigns. In a world where visuals are increasingly important, knowing how well your graphical elements work together on the page with text, is invaluable. CrazyEgg.com is an inexpensive solution that is popular with small businesses.
4. Site search analytics
Your website probably has a site search feature. How often do you look at any of the data from your site search? Do you know the top search terms people use once they are on your site? That kind of data gives valuable insight into what people want and perhaps aren’t finding. It may lead you to reorganize your navigation or revise your on-page copy or add more information to your site.
If you don’t have a good site search feature with analytics, try Google Custom Search. There’s a free version and a paid version. For $100 to $250 a year (enough to cover most small business websites) the paid version gives you more customization and analytical capabilities.
5. Profitability and other financial indicators
Do you regularly review a profit and loss statement (P&L) for your business? Do you know how to interpret it? Are there a few key performance indicators that you watch, such as days sales outstanding (DSO) to track whether you’re collecting payments promptly, or average revenue per employee so that you know if your labor costs are in line? Do you compare your numbers to prior periods, such as last quarter or last year, so that you can compare progress over time?
For a lot of small businesses it’s a struggle just to organize and manage accounting records. We can feel triumphant simply because we’ve balanced the books, paid all the bills, and ended up with a positive balance in the checking account. That’s working in the business. Take the extra steps to work on the business, by regularly generating reports and analyzing your numbers so you can make strategic decisions. A good accounting program like QuickBooks, Sage One/Sage 50, GoDaddy Bookkeeping, Xero or others can unlock insights into your business that ultimately make you money.
In summary, you probably have a lot more data than you’re using today, or you have the power to start collecting it by deploying the right software programs. That’s just the start. Use--really use--those programs for reporting, and then analyze those reports.