The phrase Big Data is everywhere. Not a day passes without the release of another report that describes the extent to which Big Data is influencing how we do business.
But, what exactly is Big Data? What does Big Data mean in the context of digital marketing? How can we be more effective search marketers using Big Data? And, what can we do to make sure we have access to Big Data that works? I will deal with these topics in this post.
Big Data Explained
Big data is a phrase often used to describe the scale of data generated across multiple disciplines including, as IBM suggests, sensors used to gather climate information, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals. It includes massive volumes of marketing data too, spanning search, social, local and mobile analytics, across every geography.
Big Data means massive volumes of information. IBM reports that over 2.7 zetabytes of data exist in the digital universe today. With over 571 new websites being created per minute per day, IDC estimates that by 2020, business transactions on the Internet will reach 450 billion per day.
The data generated is usually categorized as structured, semi-structured and un-structured.
Structured data: this is information with a high degree of organization found in databases, data warehouses and enterprise solutions. Google is a source of ‘big data.’ In 2008, Google was already processing 20,000 terabytes of data (20 petabytes) a day.
Un-structured data: raw data that has been extracted from applications on the Internet but has not been processed into productive and more meaningful formats.
Semi-structured data: this data, depending upon your viewpoint, is where structured and unstructured data meet. Social media data, location type data, and user-generated data are examples.
The article, A Comprehensive List of Big Data Statistics, has great information on the nature and scale of Big Data. You may also find the graphic below insightful.
Enterprise SEO Marketers Should Care About Big Data
There are several drivers behind the phenomenal growth of Big Data, including technological, financial and business considerations. The result is that we now have unprecedented access to deeper and broader insights into user behavior across channels such as search and social, and into key performance indicators, globally and locally.
This is a great opportunity for Enterprise SEO marketers to be more responsive to changes in user behavior and needs, and to industry developments.
No wonder Big Data is big business. Market research firm IDC forecasts that the market for Big Data is expected to grow from $3.2 billion in 2010 to $16.9 billion in 2015 in its report, Worldwide Big Data Technology and Services 2012-2015.
With the prevalence of Big Data and Big Data Enterprise SEO technologies, it makes sense to examine how marketers can make the most out of Big Data. Specifically, I will look at:
- Search Marketing & Big Data
- Big Data in Search & Social
- Accuracy, Security, Reliability & Scalability in the Age of Big Data
Search Marketing & Big Data
Search has changed drastically from the time when it was all about presenting 10 big blue links for users searching from a computer. Search now includes universal search results, social profiles and content, and localized results. In addition, more users now search from their smartphones and tablets than ever before.
In fact, a Yellow Pages study estimates that 30% of search queries on its network now come from mobile. Also, Internet usage is growing in pretty much every corner of the world. From a data standpoint, not only is data generated at a staggering rate, but also spans unstructured and semi-structured data, not just static data.
This multi-dimensional nature of Big Data is a boon for marketers. Marketers can analyze their search metrics and ask themselves: what positions do I rank in, what keywords are driving traffic, what pages are converting, and how’s my lead volume, revenue and conversions?
These metrics inform critical business decisions that contribute to the bottom line. Whether an organization manages a website with dozens of pages or hundreds of thousands of pages across multiple business units and domains, having accurate SEO data is critical to SEO success.
Given the importance of Big Data in Enterprise SEO, marketers should seek out analytics providing data and understand user behavior accurately in a timely fashion. In other words, your analytics should satisfy the following criteria:
- Provide deep and broad SEO insight
- Be ready for the future
1. Provide Broad & Deep SEO Insight
Your Big Data technology should give you data points and insight across the different types of data your users generate through search. In other words, seek insight around:
- Core organic search elements including pages, keywords, backlinks and on-page factors, among others
- Universal search
- Local SEO
- Social SEO
- Mobile SEO
- Global SEO
- SEO ROI
- Content marketing
- Compliance with search engine guidelines
Also, since greater conversions is the end goal, look for a way to correlate this data with Web analytics such as traffic, page views and conversions. Evaluating these metrics for your competition is powerful, too.
You don’t need to look for one perfect technology that includes all the data there is. Make sure that each channel is represented to the extent that you can get meaningful insight into users’ search behavior and your performance across these channels.
Enterprise technology platforms nowadays include best-of-breed functionality in multiple areas/channels with the added and valuable bonus that the technology vendors do the heavy lifting when it comes to tying these channels together. Also, enterprise platforms usually offer the benefit of pre-packaged integration with other platforms that provide non-overlapping data. Ideally, they should offer integration that is based on a partnership between the vendors. I will elaborate on this later.
On the other hand, point solutions which only target one specific type of data (such as organic search only without, for example, social or local data) might help, but at a cost — be prepared to expend huge amounts of energy collecting data from each solution, processing and normalizing data, and collating them to get a holistic picture. Unlike enterprise solutions, point solutions may not gather unstructured and structured data.
2. Be Ready For The Future Of SEO
As Google makes changes, organizations need SEO technology with Big Data processing power capable of analyzing this massive data stream. All this data can be powerful, but only if one has the flexibility to handle changes and gain relevant insights from it. Google makes over 500 algorithm changes a year that can impact rankings, click through rates and ultimately, conversions, so it’s important to future-proof your business.
For example, in August, Google changed the SERP for pages with mega site links and rolled out shorter pages with only 7 links instead of 10. Companies that have big data analytics and are based on the top 10 results will have false positives for keywords in positions 8, 9 and 10 as being on the first page.
Be sure that the analytics you rely on reflect the latest state of search and that you have a process in place to update these analytics as the search industry changes. Have a dialog with your technology provider and understand how they intend to deal with the shifts in search.
Big Data In Search & Social
We looked at how search engines process a tremendous amount of data including search queries, location-specific searches and scans for new content. Behind Google’s search algorithm is a Big Data company that processes over 20 petabytes of data each year. Beyond the search engines, social networks also process a massive dataset, which is an important consideration due to the positive correlation of social signals on search rankings.
There are currently over 1 billion Facebook users, over 500 million Twitter users and 156 million public blogs. Facebook processes 2.5 billion pieces of content, 300 million photos, 2.7 billion Like actions a day and over 500 terabytes of data each day. Twitter, our client and partner, processes over 400 million tweets daily.
When we look at video, YouTube users upload 48 hours of new video every minute. What’s more, with over 5 billion mobile phone devices in use, the convergence of social, mobile and local data creates massive amounts of data to process and make sense of.
Your Big Data analytics should utilize all this data. Look at social media activity and search performance to understand the correlation between social and search. If you are like several of our customers, you can leverage social media to drive rank like TinyPrints did.
The good news is that search and Social Big Data is not just for the SEO teams. The Social team can leverage SEO analytics to make social media campaigns more effective. Read my earlier post on this topic to understand how you can make your Twitter campaigns more effective by using SEO analytics.
Data Integrity, Security, Reliability & Scalability In The Age of Big Data
In the previous sections, we saw what Big Data means for the search and social marketer. Now, I would like to spend some time on how we can make sure that the Big Data we have actually works for us.
Specifically, I believe that four key factors determine our return from Big Data:
- Is our Big Data accurate?
- Is our Big Data secure?
- Is our Big Data available at all times?
- Does our Big Data scale?
Collating and creating Big, Valuable Data is a very expensive process and requires lots of investment and massive engineering resources to create a rigorous and high-quality set of data streams. Currently, 75% of Fortune 500 companies use cloud-based solutions, and the IDC predicts that 80% of new commercial enterprise apps will be deployed on cloud platforms.
Given these numbers, I want to address the 4 factors above in a specific context – using a cloud-based digital marketing technology platform for your Big Data needs.
1. Ensure Your Data Is As Accurate As Possible
As a search marketer, you are among the most data-driven people on this planet. You make important decisions around keywords, pages, content, link building and social media activity based on the data you have on hand.
Before gaining insight and building a plan of action based on Big Data, it’s important to know that you can trust this data to make the right decisions. While this might seem like a daunting exercise, there are a few fairly achievable steps you can take.
a. Source data from trusted sources: trust matters. Be sure that the data you, or your technology vendor, collect is from reliable sources. For example, use backlink data from credible and reputed backlink providers such as Majestic SEO, which provides accurate and up to-date information to help you manage successful backlinking campaigns.
b. Rely on data from partnerships: this is a corollary to the previous point. Without getting into the business and technical benefits of partnerships, I strongly recommend that you seek data acquired through partnerships with trusted data sources so that you have access to the latest and greatest data from these sources.
For example, if you need insight into Twitter activity, consider accessing the Twitter fire hose directly from Twitter and/or partner with a company who already has a tie-up with Twitter. For Facebook insight, use data that was acquired through the Facebook Preferred Developer Program certification. You need not go out and seek these partnerships – just work with someone who already has these relationships.
c. Avoid anything black hat: build your SEO insights and program with a white hat approach and takes a trusted partnership driven approach like the ones mentioned above.
If and when in doubt, ask around and look for validation that your technology provider has partnerships and validate it on social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter. Do not be shy about getting more information from your technology vendors and track back to check that their origins do no tie back to black hat approaches.
2. Ensure Your Data Is Secure
You have, on your hands, unprecedented amounts of data on users and their behavior. You also have precious marketing data that has a direct impact on your business results.
With great amounts of knowledge comes even greater responsibility to guarantee the security of this data. Remember, you and your technology provider together are expected to be the trusted guardians of this data. In many geographies, you have a legal obligation to safeguard this data.
In my time at Salesforce.com, where we built the first enterprise cloud platform, I learned a lot about the right way to securely store data. Here are a few best practices that, hopefully, your technology provider follows:
- ISO/IEC 27001 standard compliance for greater data protection
- Government level encryption
- Flexible password policies
- Compliance with European Union and Swiss Safe Harbor guidelines for compliance with stringent data privacy laws
3. Ensure Your Data Is Available
Having access to the most valuable Big Data is great, but not enough – you need to have access to this data at all times. Another valuable lesson I learned at Salesforce.com is how to deliver high availability and site performance to our customers.
To achieve this, we implemented industry leading IT infrastructure including multiple layers of replication in data centers for a high level of redundancy and failover reliability, and datacenter backup facilities in separate locations for disaster recovery assurance and peace of mind. If you work with a marketing technology provider, be sure to ask them what measures they take to guarantee data availability at all times.
4. Ensure Your Data Scales With User Growth
This is the part that deals with the Big in Big Data. We saw how zetabytes of data already exist and more data is being generated at an astounding pace by billions of Internet users and transactions everyday. For you to understand these users and transactions, your technology should have the ability to process such huge volumes of data across channels and keep up with the growth of the Internet.
Scale should matter even if you are not a huge enterprise. Think about this analogy – even if you are searching for a simple recipe on Google, Google has to parse through huge volumes of data to serve the right results.
Similarly, your technology should be able to track billions of keywords and pages, large volumes of location-specific data and social signals to give you the right analytics. Be sure the technology you rely on is made for scale.
In 2013, we are going to hear a lot more about Big Data and search marketing. The integration and blending of search, social, local, mobile and all forms of user data creates opportunity for the CMO. Marketers who understand Big Data will be in a position to address the needs of their users and customers better and respond to industry shifts faster.
Big Data requires technological resources and investment. In order to maximize ROI from these investments, be sure that your Big Data sources give you all the data that matters to you and that your sources are credible.
Protect Big Data at all costs and have this data at your fingertips always. Be prepared to access and analyze even greater volumes of data when Big Data gets even bigger; that day is not too far away, so the best time to start is now!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.