“Big Data” Is Not “Big Data” Unless It Gives You Actionable Insight

by  and first posted on SearchEngineLand.com.

Occasionally, marketers want something because the media attention around it demands it.  There was a time, not too long ago, when CMOs sent urgent, late-night emails to their teams asking about their “link-shortening strategy.”

In some ways, “big data” technology falls into that category. Mainstream tech media and even traditional media outlets write about it incessantly — there are 5 pages of results for “big data” on Techcrunch…

big data techcrunch

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

big data mashable

While I don’t wish to disparage marketers by implying that we pursue the latest and greatest thoughtlessly, any Communications major can tell you that the influence of media on perception is powerful. The result of the increasing buzz surrounding big data is that we are in danger of wanting a big data product for the sake of having big data, without really understanding what a big data product can actually do for us.

Why Now?

The data show 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, with nearly 6 out of 10 search marketers (59%) currently using or looking to acquire a big data product (e.g., Conductor Searchlight, Moz, Marin Software, etc.).

conductor big data product adoption

Given the large number of search marketers that are using or considering using a big data product, I’d like to take this opportunity to do two things:

  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 follows:

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 this warehouse of data. But, there is another, more sophisticated way of thinking about big data.

A recent Geekwire article on Seattle startup IdealSeat describes the company’s clever use of big data — one that leverages large quantities of data to produce actionable insight for the user.IdealSeat maps foul balls at stadiums, and its mobile app tells you where to sit for your best chance of catching a foul ball.


Source: Geekwire, Want to catch more foul balls? IdealSeat shows you where to sit at the ballgame

Source: Geekwire, used with permission.
Want to catch more foul balls? IdealSeat shows you where to sit at the ballgame.


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 an adjustment 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 amended the 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 that “scaling keywords” is now the second biggest goal for search marketers, even ahead of further developing a social presence. With more keywords comes more data, and industry big data applications can now gather, mine, and (most importantly) present the data in such a way that visibility trends become immediately apparent for marketers to take action on.

conductor big data searchlight

  1. Discover and monitor the 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.
  2. 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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