5 Data Tips for Small Businesses

While the blue chips talk about big data, I'm rather excited about small data. Little things that can educate us as business owners, and give us an edge over the competition. I'm excited about how the data that we've always held can transform the way we do business, and the way we talk to our customers.

Most data is free. We can safely assume that most of our competitors are getting the same data. What will give us the competitive advantage is the ability to dive a little deeper into that data to understand what our customers are thinking and doing.

1) What questions are your customers asking?

In all buying cycles, there is a research phase. In some cases, it's a long phase, with many stages. In others, particular low-cost B2C purchases, it's quite short. However, it will almost always involve some kind of research-based search via Google (other search engines are available, even if they aren't used).

To find out what questions are leading customers to your website, drill down into your Google Analytics data. First of all, go to Traffic Sources, and then "Organic". Above the list of keywords, you have a filter field. Start refining your keywords by entering words such as "what", "how", "why", or "when". You may start to find questions that users have typed into search engines, and have stumbled across your site.

If you don't have that level of data in your Analytics, try something like ubersuggest.org - a free resource where you can see what Google's drop-down suggest would be if you were to carry on typing a particular search query. Start typing a question related to your industry, and you'll be given a list of suggestions that Google thinks are most relevant.

Knowing what your customers are asking allows you to formulate content that will answer those questions, and attract more traffic at the start of the buying cycle. Once that traffic enters your funnel, you have to do something with it, of course...

2) Set conversions, and measure what converts

If you own a physical shop, and the only piece of advertising you do is a half-page in the local newspaper, you can safely attribute an increase in footfall to that piece of advertising.

Online, you have so many other forms of 'advertising' - organic search, paid search, direct search, referring websites, social... it can be hard to know exactly which ones are successful, and which are not.

Google Analytics allows you to create 'conversions' - which you can define. For example, it might be a visit to a specific white paper that you've written, or it could be someone filling out an enquiry form. When you set up a conversion in Analytics, it matches that conversion up against its source. To find out how sources convert, visit the source in Analytics (Traffic -> Sources -> Organic / Paid / Referrals) and use the link that says "Goal Set 1" - this will display the conversion rate for each source.

For example, you may discover that the keyword 'blue widgets' converts at 2% (i.e. 2% of people who search that phrase, and visit your site, make an enquiry). However, the keyword 'green widgets' converts at 10%. As a result, you can start to allocate budget towards specific keywords in paid search, or you can focus your SEO efforts on these phrases.

As always, it's one thing to have the data - it's another to be able to split and slice it!

3) Give away the house in exchange for data, sell the back garden

One of the favourite maxims at the moment (that I've heard, at least) is that you need to give away the house and sell the back garden. As small business owners, it's hard to give everything away in the expectation that buyers will come back at a later date.

However, what intellectual property we do have, we should be prepared to let go of, at the price of a small piece of data. It could be an e-mail, or being followed on twitter. Regardless, we need to change our attitudes to intellectual property and expertise. We have to let go, and accept that we live in a freemium world.

Using "freemium" for data collection is easy, and helps you fill the top of your funnel quickly and easily. The best examples I've seen involve landing pages for downloading research white papers or e-books, but equally, be prepared to blog frequently and in some depth, in order to increase the number of eyeballs around your brand and your website.

4) Track IP addresses, it's not Big Brother...

This, for me, is the biggest advance in the last 5 years - the ability to match a website visitor to a physical business location, and therefore match up web activity to a prospect or a customer. It's not free, but it can be cheap, and there are a variety of services out there to choose from. They will put a piece of code on your site that matches IP addresses against various centralised data sets (e.g. Dunn & Bradstreet) and will then report back on what that business has done on your website.

I remember watching a renowned international airline visit my last company's website 7 times before making an enquiry. They started with a question, and visited 3 pages. Their next visit, a week later, was a more refined visit, looking specifically for providers. Further visits used the brand name, and then brand name + service as a search query. The final visit, where they typed the URL directly, resulted in an enquiry.

What knowledge can this give us? Well - as much as you like. But at its most base level, you will know what customers are doing on your website, and what they're looking at - there are upsell opportunities galore. You will be able to track prospects, and define a level at which a sales call might be required - remember, not everyone buys or enquires.

5) Centralise everything

The biggest problem small businesses used to face with data was the expense of centralising everything. That resulted in fragmented data sets, duplication, and as a result, wasted effort and lost leads. Even in global businesses, there's a lack of centralisation, with some organisations having multiple CRM systems that don't talk to each other.

So, the ability to centralise is actually within the gift of small businesses, and cloud deployment has actually brought those costs down to reasonable levels.

You should always have one central database. Even if you have access to multiple databases, if you want to make quick, educated decisions about leads, you need all of those databases to push data into one central location. If you're IP tracking, and you know that customers are visiting certain pages - you want everyone to know. So centralise.

Warren Butler explains in some detail how IP tracking can integrate with MS Dynamics CRM in his blog, and while Dynamics might be at the higher end of the cost scale, there are lower cost alternatives for smaller businesses - but the imperative must always be: centralise, integrate and never duplicate.


I hope these data tips help. As our economies move towards recovery, we can take lessons from the downturn to keep outwitting organisations who have more financial clout than ourselves. I'm convinced that over the next couple of years, small businesses will see greater investment, and will therefore be able to invest more in marketing. Understanding and interpreting data is going to be more important than ever.



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