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Using strategic data isn’t as daunting as it might seem

Business strategic data
Mining pots like customer reviews can help inform the business proposition

Even if your company isn’t of the digital variety, the volume of strategic data now at the fingertips of most business leaders can be quickly converted into practical improvement.

Businesses have been using data since commerce first began. Roman bakers tracked when demand for loaves was at its highest so that they knew when to get their ovens roaring. More recently, in the late 19th century, early data-gathering machines would go on to form the basis of IBM.

Today, the data we hear about every day is mostly of the digital variety. For every business owner who has a handle on it, there will be another for whom the very mention of data, metrics, Google Analytics and the like leaves them cold. But those in the latter camp are missing out on golden opportunities to improve their businesses.

“We are surrounded by data,” said Reggie James, founder of digital marketing agency Digital Clarity. “There is data that is collected by others about us like Companies House and HMRC. Equally, there is data we collect as businesses. One of the most common areas of data that is collected on a daily basis is from our company website, and while Google remain tight-lipped about the number of businesses using Google Analytics, it is probably safe to say that if you own a website, best practice by your web developer will mean that Google Analytics is implemented.”

Google Analytics is not only extremely powerful – given that it can help show where visitors come from, where on your site they tend to exit and countless other metrics – but there’s a chance that it also contains some incredibly useful strategic data you didn’t even know you had. “We actually find that almost 65 per cent of companies have it all set up incorrectly,” said James.

Getting to sold

“We’re all over Google Analytics every day,” said Ann-Marie Rossiter, head of marketing at online event space marketplace HeadBox. “Learning how to use it is vital for any business. I think it’s a skill that should live in-house, and we train the team here how to use it. It lets you know if there are pages that aren’t working or if visitors are leaving your website straight away, and even if people are lingering on certain pages for too long. You can find this information almost instantly and then make really good tweaks based on real-time user data.”

Rossiter asserts that one thing Google Analytics is extremely useful for is in creating sales funnels. “It relays to you how people get stuck at certain points and really shows you the opportunities for your business. When you look at how many people enter into the top of the funnel and how many then drop off, you can work out how to optimise each page in order to maximise the chances of them progressing through the funnel and your business making a sale,” she said.

Whilst a hundred articles could be devoted to the importance of mastering Google Analytics, it’s worth remembering that there is other strategic data within a website. HeadBox, for example, saw that multiple employees from the same companies were often searching and booking venues via the HeadBox marketplace. This data led them to create a new product named HeadBox Business.

“When we started in 2015, the website was constructed so that people would create a personal account, just like Airbnb or Facebook,” said Rossiter. “Over time, we saw from data on the website that there might be ten different users from a major bank or a certain media agency, and sometimes there were enquiries from different people all working on the same events. We realised that there must be lots of friction and issues with managing an event spend across a whole organisation, and that’s how we got to HeadBox Business – a centralised dashboard which pulls in all the information from all the individual team members.”

Learn from reviews

Tracking customer comments and reviews, she added, can also reveal ways to make improvements, and it can lead to new opportunities. This data gold hidden in reviews is something that Nick Olosunde, head of ecommerce Pooch & Mutt, makers of health food for dogs, keeps a very close eye on. “We’ve been using the keyword planner of reviews platform Feefo to help identify terms that people are mentioning in reviews, and this has helped us find new keywords that we would never have thought of normally,” said Olosunde.

“For the little amount of time that we’ve had to invest in setting up the resultant AdWords campaigns, we’ve seen really good return on investment – in fact, they have the best return of non-brand related keywords. Your reviews are certainly a great way to find some long, obscure keywords to boost results.”

As well as your own website, your social media channels are a rich source of strategic data, thanks to tools like YouTube Analytics and Facebook Insights. Among the things you can learn about your YouTube viewers, for example, are their age range (meaning you can then adjust/tailor your content accordingly); how long they watch for (giving you the impetus, perhaps, to shorten your videos if 80 per cent of people leave after 60 seconds); and where in the world people are watching – which might open up possibilities for exporting overseas.

There are also paid tools providing data about exactly who has been looking at a website. “This is called reverse IP lookup,” explained James, “and you can actually see the name of the company that visited your site, what pages they visited and how often. Our favourite is Leadfeeder because it integrates with Google Analytics. We use this to find new business.”

Tools like these let you see if a company is coming back to your site and going to the same page – ideally your “buy now” page – and if they are, said James, “You’d want to be picking up the phone and calling them or sending them an email.”

Third-party data

The risk, of course, is that the more you get into analysing your data, the more you might find yourself scratching your head and wondering what to do with it. “The issue is often in finding an effective way to use the data in order to grow your business,” said Richard Strachan, MD at digital product design and app developers 3 SIDED CUBE. “One way of doing this is by using application programming interfaces (APIs) that will automatically gather the data you need from a source that you’ve chosen. This not only automates the data-collection process, but you can also tell the API to export the data it has gathered to another piece of software or document.”

“At 3 SIDED CUBE, we use data from several sources including the Met office and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to power The Red Cross Emergency alert apps to provide disaster awareness services,” said Strachan. “We consume their data and distribute it to users to alert them about disasters. The resource is publicly available, and while you have to get a developer key to access the API data, it’s technically available to everyone.”

There are countless ways in which data can help businesses, and it certainly pays to embrace what’s out there rather than shy away from it. Google Analytics is the sensible place to start – even if it can seem a little overwhelming to newcomers. “When you first look at it and see all these graphs and metrics it can put you off,” said Rossiter. “But Google have a fantastic series of content available that takes you through it, with tests at key stages. I think for anyone who is just starting out, it is immensely helpful – and it can really take the fear of Google Analytics away.”

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