Any business owner can tell you tech terms or services they are tired of hearing about, including examples like "cloud computing" and "marketing automation." But I can think of few terms or tech services that are grumbled about more than the term "big data." Stuffed into IBM commercials, displayed prominently in marketing magazines, and thrown around by people like me when the term small data just won’t do, big data is everywhere and yet nowhere. Few small to midsize businesses have the staff, client data or monetary resources to realize its benefits. But just because big data isn’t an option for your business doesn’t mean small data can’t be considerably advantageous and in many cases help level the digital playing field against your larger competitors.

As a digital marketer, I focus on data that can be pulled in and out of Google Analytics. If you aren’t familiar, Analytics is Google’s free service that can be installed by a simple snippet of code onto a website. From there, you are provided information about how visitors have come to your website, what they are doing on it and, if you look hard enough, what things your website may be missing in order to engage the visitor enough to keep them coming back or give you a call.

Most companies I run into have installed Analytics and are using it, the same way I use my elliptical machine at home this winter (by looking at it out of the corner of my eye every once in a while as I quickly walk by). Or, they may measure specific data points like "How many people came to the website this month compared to last month?" While that metric is important, it is akin to measuring at a retail store how many people came to your store. What you would really like to know is, how many people came to your retail store and bought something and how you can bring in people just like them. Google Analytics can tell us these things and much more when set up appropriately.

We can also learn things about the people coming to the website that are important for creating marketing personas. Marketing personas are set up around a company’s targeted demographics – what age group does my audience come from, what interests do they have, what gender are they – Google provides this information within Analytics (and much more). In the past you would have needed to pay a marketing company thousands of dollars to find out your visitors’ interests. Google provides the service for free, and does so with a tool that can tie certain demographics to sales when appropriately set up. This is the kind of data that can make a real difference to your bottom line.

Some companies selling to other businesses (B2B) may believe that demographic data like this has no bearing on their company. But even when you sell to a business, you are really selling to a person that works at a business with their own individual makeup. Learning more about these folks can be incredibly helpful – especially since many of your competitors have not tried doing it themselves. 

Being able to tie visitor data to a payoff (leads or direct sales) is really the type of data that any business would love to have. In the past, only companies with large budgets could do this type of market research. Within Google Analytics, this can be done for free within an area called "Conversions." Think of a conversion as a metric that shows you are moving people towards a purchase or towards a business goal. The closer they get to the final goal, the more valuable the conversion. By setting up and monitoring these conversions within Google Analytics, you can tie a website visitor’s behavior to how much revenue your company is generating. If the data shows they aren’t doing what you want them to do, you’ll know why and where they stopped moving forward with the goal, and you can work to fix it.

If you are a business owner always looking to eek more revenue out of your existing overhead (probably everyone, right?), take a look at Google Analytics and its capabilities. Then the next time one of your buddies mentions big data, you can tell them you use a little.

Cody Sharp is the owner of Sharp Guys Web Design.

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