I just got back from the Omniture Summit. On the flight home, I read the Feb. 27-March 5 issue of The Economist, which featured a special report on "Big Data." The main focus was what to do with all the data we have access to.
In our business, there are a variety of organizations driving a flurry of data innovation right now. A notable handful range from Omniture (with strength in the site analytics, search and reporting integration); Kensho, Marin (next-generation bid tools taking increasing market share); Tableau (data visualization specialist); and Tagman (tag and reporting management). Even the main tracking platforms, DoubleClick and Atlas, are quickly trying to stay in the game by making major changes to their legacy platforms.
Can these new and/or enhanced platforms really usher in a new era of SEM and analytics?
I think so.
I see the enhancements in three key areas:
With the first, simply putting analytics front and center, with rich interfaces for dynamic analysis and visualized reporting, teams can focus much more on actionable insights. Historically, data files and pivot tables were a handicap, because it took so much time to get at the data and generate reporting that insights were broad. The Economist report referred to this as "dead data." These new platforms are allowing us to process more data than ever and with greater efficiency, due to Web-based visualized reporting interfaces for enhanced accessibility.
This leads to bucket two. While as an industry we have always touted the need to integrate SEO and PPC, SEO has largely lived in the analytics world. Our search tools were very focused on PPC, while the SEO insights we needed usually came from the Web analytics platforms and some specialty tools. With the aforementioned enhancements, we can now better deliver on SEO and PPC integration. This will lead to better cross-pollination, and greater success and visibility for search marketers.
The third area focuses on search management. Across the board, we are moving toward a reduced reliance on the Excel spreadsheet -- both bulksheets for trafficking and pivot tables for reporting. The more time specialists can spend making changes, analyzing performances, and setting rules within a Web-interface versus pulling down excel files at various intervals, the more current will be the data, which means more efficient teams and ultimately means better results.
These platforms are trying to solve a major industry challenge. Due to the lack of automation and richer technology, we get bogged down in just managing data. These tools are empowering search and analytics specialists by using technology and automation to improve efficiency and performance.
There are risks, though. If I were managing an agency review, these are key items I'd want to see ingrained in my agency's culture:
One, we can't forget that automation and technology is still useless without expertise and experience. Technology and automation may be the best way to manage and report on the data, but it then needs to be set up and managed properly. The more powerful reporting gets, the more confusing and inefficient things can get -- and quickly.
It's become clear to me that there is a lot of industry confusion and fear around search and data management, attribution, tool selection/combinations, etc. The more we can track and quantify, the more help is required to decipher what's appropriate for our organizations. Tool selections and combinations, as well as attribution models, will change over time according to business requirements, which means experienced specialists will be needed more than ever.
Two, using automation and technology doesn't mean campaigns can go on auto-pilot. These platforms should help us move away from-set-and-forget-it approaches, not create more of them, as I have seen many do. These tools should automate campaign set-up, management, and analysis to enable fast and granular optimizations. I'm not saying you can't set rules from day parting to match type, I'm just saying, don't set them and walk away, as these rules will need to be continually adjusted. This marriage of automation and human experience yields the best way to scale, extract insights, and adjust to market forces.
My main point, albeit somewhat self-serving, is that specialists are still required to leverage these powerful platforms to their fullest, from strategy through execution.
Regardless of which platform you select (I won't get into that here), make sure you have strong specialists driving them. I'd also encourage readers -- whether they are agency, brand, or publisher -- to make sure their search teams talk regularly to their analytics counterparts. The combination is really powerful. This is your ticket to getting the most out of your search campaigns, improving the performance of your site, and leveraging advanced insights in order to begin to truly understand what attribution can do for you.
I also encourage everyone to go read The Economist's special report called "Data, data, everywhere." In closing, I loved that one of the pieces ended with a quote from "The Rock" by T.S. Eliot:
"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"