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‘Big Data’ is Not ‘Big Data’ Unless it Gives You Actionable Insight

Occasionally, Marketers want things because market and media attention around it demands it.  There was a time, not too long ago, when CMO’s sent urgent late night emails to their team asking about their “link-shortening strategy”.

In some ways ‘big data’ technology falls into that category. Mainstream tech media and even traditional media outlets writes about it incessantly—there are 5 pages of results on Techcrunch for the term…

..and the ‘infinite scroll’ of Mashable’s search results really is infinite when it comes to results for ‘big data’:

While I don’t wish to disparage Marketers by implying we pursue the latest and greatest thoughtlessly, as any Communications major will tell you, the influence of media on perception is powerful. The result of the increasing attention around ‘big data’ is that we are in danger of wanting a ‘big data’ product for the sake of having ‘big data’, rather than understanding what a ‘big data’ product can actually do for us.

Why Now?

The data shows that now is the right time to be having this conversation. A recent Conductor survey of Search Marketers shows that we have hit critical mass, where nearly 6 out of 10 (59%) Search Marketers are currently using or looking at acquiring a big data product (eg. Conductor Searchlight, Moz, Marin Software…):

Given the large numbers of Search Marketers that are using or considering using a big data product, with this article I want to:

  1. Redefine how we think about ‘big data’ technology products
  2. Based on our newly adjusted definition, offer several examples of how ‘big data’ applies to Search Marketers

Hitting Home Runs with Actionable Big Data

Wikipedia defines big data as:

a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications.

This definition focuses primarily on the quantity of data in a ‘big data’ framework, rather than the insight gained from the warehouse of data. But, there is another way of thinking about this.

A recent Geekwire article describes a use of big data that cleverly leverages large quantities of data to extricate actionable insight for the user.  IdealSeat maps foul balls at stadiums and its mobile app tells you the best place to sit for your best chance of catching a foul ball.


Currently, IdealSeat only works for two stadiums: Safeco and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. But there are plans to have three-to-five “research team members” collect data at places like Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

(Incidentally, if anyone knows if they are hiring, let me know.  I am available to, ahem, be a ‘research team member’.)

This example of a technology solution that inhales large quantities of data and exhales actionable user insight from that data is reflective of the way we should be thinking about big data.

With that revised understanding, I’d like to suggest a change to our ‘big data’ definition:

a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. A ‘big data system’ is one that warehouses the data, but also extricates and displays the data in a manner that makes it actionable for the user.

Examples of ‘Big Data’ Applications for Search Marketers

Now that we have a corrected definition of ‘big data’, let’s explore ways in which big data can produce actionable insight for the search marketer:

1.  Identify search visibility trends:

A Conductor study showed ‘scaling keywords’ is now the second biggest goal for Search Marketers, ahead of even further developing a social presence. With more keywords comes more data and industry big data applications can now gather, mine, but most importantly, present the data in such a way that visibility trends become immediately apparent for Marketers to action on.

2. Discover/Monitor Competitive Landscape:

Another example of actionable insight from ‘big data’ is competitive landscape discovery and monitoring. Big data technology can discover natural search competitors, display trends over time and also allow for analysis on a more granular level. When combined with keyword segmentation, this kind of ‘big data’ application can be made even more powerful and provide the Marketer with actionable insight by product line.

3. Discover Content/Optimization Opportunities

The data and sophistication now available to search’s big data products means they can now mine on-page, off-page, PPC, social and other data sources to discover actionable opportunities for content development or on- and off-page optimizations.

Conclusion:  Focus on the Actionable Insight, Not the Hype

Although ‘big data’ is a hot topic in Marketing circles these days, it is important for Marketers to focus on the actionable insight that a ‘big data’ platform can bring rather than focusing on ticking a box on the hot trend of the week.  Today, modern Search ‘big data’ platforms can leverage the large quantities of data available across disparate sources and produce insight for those with an ‘actionable’ mindset.

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