We have all heard about ”big data,” but many of us remain unsure of what it actually is.
There’s no conclusive definition that’s been nailed down, but basically big data is the aggregate of information collected from traditional and digital sources, inside your company and outside, that can be used for powerful discovery and analysis about your customers. It may include data about:
- Web behavior
- Social network interaction
- Product transactions
Big data may be unstructured or structured. Unstructured data includes information that’s not easily organized or interpreted by the usual data models. It’s generally text-heavy, and includes metadata and social media posts. Structured data is generally gathered from interactions between people and web apps or social networks. Structured data continues to evolve rapidly as communication, interaction, and social media options grow and change. If all this is still confusing, one analyst described big data simply as ”anything too big to deal with in an Excel spreadsheet.”
What Kinds of Information Are Collected About Site Visitors?
There are a few main categories of information collected about website visitors, typically using third-party cookies. Information about the site and its usability is important to you, the site owner. Cookies may gather statistics (for Google Analytics, for example), or they may add functionality, like if your site has ecommerce features along with shopping cart functionality.
Data important to advertisers is used on sites to serve ads for your visitors, and to track your visitors to serve ads on other websites. Advertisers draw conclusions about what your site visitors like from the data they collect. Your site could be enabling this type of sharing even if you don’t know it, through third-party widgets and add-ons. For example, commenting systems like Disqus track users, which may be fine, but you should be aware if it’s happening.
How Big Data Can Show You What Works and What Doesn’t
You can buy analysis programs to collect and analyze data from your website and its visitors, but there are also powerful, free tools you can use to find out what about your website works and how to increase website traffic. Google Analytics and Facebook Insights are two examples of such tools.
Google Analytics tells you how people arrive at your site, and what they do while they’re there. Google Analytics may show you, for example, that people arrive at your website from a couple of very specific blogs or blog posts external to your site. Knowing what these pages are allows you to tailor site features to those interests in order to increase website traffic, and gives your social media strategy a possible new direction to pursue.
Facebook Insights lets you know what content is viewed most often, what’s being shared, and what goes viral. It can tell you which content is shared and liked the most, so you can determine which content is low-performing. You may then choose to scale back or cease with underperforming content altogether. It can also let you tailor social media posts to what users respond to, which can be a real boost to your social media strategy.
How to Put Big Data to Work for Your Site
Here are a few concrete ways you can put big data to work for your news or trade publication website.
- Use Google Trends as well as Google Analytics. These free tools let you explore keywords to find top related search terms that can give you insight into what you could add to your site to increase website traffic.
- Keep track of social media and respond to your customers. While enterprise-level tracking solutions like Adobe Cloud Marketing can make it easier to do this, there are also free tools like SocialMention.com that let you easily monitor multiple social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.
- Quantify information about visitors to increase website traffic. You can use free tools like the one offered by Quantcast that serves up interesting information about your site’s visitors, like how often they visit, their age, gender, income, and education, whether they’re visiting your site on mobile devices, and what cities they originate in.
Finally, you can increase website traffic by acting on any clear trends that you find. If you discover that many readers find your site from a specific Facebook page, monitor that page and look for opportunities to interact on it. You don’t want to come on too strong, but you should make it easier for these people to find and use your site. Refine your keyword strategy based on what Google Trends indicates is up-and-coming in your niche. And most importantly of all, never give up your commitment to producing high quality, engaging, information-rich content, because without that, all the big data tools in the world won’t help.
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