Online marketers have been realizing more and more the value of having a lot of data and making educated decisions for your site and your business based off of that data. Data can tell many tales and point the direction in which a site, and even more importantly a whole industry or vertical, is heading. This can help us avoid upcoming algorithm changes, or make adjustments based on our competitor’s moves so that we can continue to stay on top.
We must be careful, though, to be sure that we looking at full enough of a dataset, with long enough of a view, to make correct decisions. Otherwise, it is quite easy to misinterpret what is actually going on and thus make unwise decisions.
Long Enough of a Timeline
It is impossible to make good decisions based on a short period of time of data. The other day, for example, I was asked by a client to investigate why a certain site was gaining a lot of links. It sure looked like it from the SEOmoz campaign:
But when I pulled up this exact same site, the one with the green bar above that looks like it is gaining a lot of links, I found that actually their link velocity has slowed:
So what looked like a huge gain on their part really was not as much as we thought.
Large Enough of a Dataset
Similarly, it is tough to make good decisions based off of a small amount of data. Take for example this screenshot, which is the demographic data we are pulling for a client. Because there is so much data that is not passed to us from Facebook, it is impossible to make good decisions based off of the data:
Unfortunately here, the best thing we can do is wait for more data to collect. This is why we must wait for a point where we have reached statistical significance, where the data is unlikely to have happened by chance. This is why scientific experiments run for a long period of time.
Comparisons to Others
Data in and of itself is not enough. When making decisions based on an industry, you must also have as good of data as possible on your competitors, or at least others in the same vertical.
This is why I like tools like LinkResearchTools’ Link Velocity landscape, as it shows who is gaining links the fastest amongst the compared websites:
Searchmetrics provides this as well:
You could do this yourself as well, but must realize that you have to pull enough keywords to get a real grasp on how you compare. Remember statistical significance. If I was doing this manually, I’d select my 100 most important terms, pull the ranks for myself and my competitors, and plot it out. Then, look for the hotspots. These are probably where you are going to need to put in work to rank over your competitors.
I’d then draw up something like this in Excel to get a visual snapshot (as I’m a visual person):
What do you think?
How would you do this differently? Do you disagree with anything I’ve said about the need of a perspective when dealing with data? Do you have any examples of a bad perspective negatively affecting a campaing? I’d love to hear them!