(Warning! This is a rant, and it has to do with the new burdens to small business marketing.)
We get access to amazingly complex and free social platforms to play with, promote our businesses, and gather free data that allows us to measure how we are doing. Just think about LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, Flickr, and Youtube, and you begin to realize that the free services that are out there are pretty amazing.
We get free tools to enhance the user experience on our websites, free tools to encourage visitors and fans to share our stuff, and free tools that make our mobile devices dance, sing, and perform in amazing ways. We get free data here, free entry there, free content just about everywhere, and tons of great tools and information for free.
And we wonder why our current generation has a sense of entitlement. I get a real kick when I read rants from people that complain about these free services as though they have rights to demand quick customer service, or features that should be added. Okay, I digress—let me get back to the Cost of Free.
Hordes of users get angry and demand privacy of their content and selections on these free-to-use sites, and become outraged when they discover that this very tracking data collection is being sold for a profit—a hefty profit. But no one seems to mind using those bar coded discount cards in the drug and grocery stores that track your every purchase, or your credit card companies and your bank packaging and selling your data.
The currency trade is that you get discounts from your drug store in exchange for tracking your buying trends, matched to your psychographic and demographic profile. You get free information and tools in exchange for your interests, from your buying, clicking, sharing, connecting life, plus your psychographic and demographic profile.
But when the data dries up or becomes distorted, then the currency exchange rate is not in balance anymore. That’s my beef with Google. Yes, me, I have a beef with Google. I’m the same person who sings the praises of Google, but now I have a bone to pick. And yes I am seeking alternative tracking methods, since I can no longer rely on Google to ‘do no harm.’
A real point of pain for me, as I am sure for tons of others doing what I do for a living, is Google’s move in November 2011 to block data in analytics reporting. The way this works is if you go into your analytics report you will see a new keyword category named (not provided). Huh? Yes, (not provided) is a new keyword. Well, no, not really—but here is the scoop.
Google will not share keyword search analytics from searchers who were signed into any Google product at the time of their search. Google product users’ keyword selections now get anonymously bundled into the (not provided) category. Google’s sentiment is that this will represent a small percentage of your search analytics. Now, they really don’t believe that, as they continue to roll out products and promote services that take on major market share.
The idea that the (not provided) keyword is a small fraction might be true if you have hundreds of thousands of visitors to your website each day, but this is a small business killer. Basically, it renders your search analytics somewhere between mildly useful to totally useless when you are analyzing small traffic for small businesses. Realistically, the percentage of (not provided) can reach well over 50 percent of your search volume.
So while you are getting all huffy about your Tweets and Facebook posts, clicks, and shares being packaged and sold, so is your search. And if you are a small business, you’ve just been forced into a greater marketing spend and are going to have to cough up more money to market. That level playing field is no longer level because as you are forced into PPC campaigns, you will be competing with pockets far deeper than your own.
Now, if you are wondering why Google made this move, allow me to offer my point of view. All these free sites need to make money to stay in business, and they aren’t making money directly from you. Now, it isn’t like Google is hurting for cash flow, but clearly this is a new direction to enhance their revenue streams. The new buzz in the big data collection world is ‘proprietary data.’ What that means is, while you are using these free tools, these companies are gathering ‘proprietary data’ and this allows these big data collection companies, like Google, to court the big advertisers with their point of differentiation being access to their proprietary data. This is the new battleground for large companies who make their money through selling ads.
The only way that this data becomes ‘unlocked’ is through the purchase of their higher performing services and their advertising platforms. So if you want to know how your keywords are doing through your search engine optimization and marketing efforts, you will be forced to add PPC in to the mix or get a third party vendor who has access to some ‘not provided’ data. Search marketing, SEO, and PPC tactics will become far less valuable and far less accessible to small businesses in short order.
My suggestion, in the meantime, is to start enhancing your social media and content marketing efforts. In the end, it is the customers who decide what and where they will buy, and they will share what they value. Your marketing can continue to be a cost-effective strategy if you pay attention to the people and less on the statistics. It is time to go into warp speed to enhance your engagements online and enhance and grow your value as a business to motivate customers into becoming raving fans.
If you want to conquer, build a volunteer army.
Mardy Sitzer is a certified inbound marketing professional and president of Bumblebee Design & Marketing. Since 1993, Mardy has been delivering creative and innovative marketing solutions. An avid reader of all things internet and marketing, she also writes blogs, articles, and web content for industry magazines as well as for Bumblebee’s clients. She is an adjunct professor at Fordham University and instructor at Rutgers University teaching social media for business. Follow her on Twitter or email her at email@example.com.