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How to use data to grow your online business

spy
You could call the Internet economy, the information economy where data and knowledge have value. You could also call it the digital economy where the bits and bytes contain information that you could use to grow your business.

While most marketers will be aware of online news sources and spy tools, it’s worth taking a step back to gain a wider perspective of what’s out there and how you can use it to your advantage.

Whether you have your own product or you’re promoting someone else’s product as an affiliate, distributor or reseller, you can benefit from the following 3 types of business intelligence.

Technology intelligence: You might be doing search engine optimization (SEO) or some form of paid traffic. Now, stop. How much time do you spend reading up on the available FAQs, instructional materials, tutorials, step-by-step walkthroughs?

I’ve met a number of Internet marketers who gobble e-books on traffic sources and continue to do so. But the strange/weird thing is that they haven’t gone through the introductory material and training materials posted on an ad network. Which is weird. If your traffic source has gone through the trouble and effort of creating an information resource – creating a blog, posting instructional videos on YouTube, having white papers, organizing regular webinars or training calls, then why wouldn’t you want to go through that material? It’ll only help you, wouldn’t it?

In the absence of such material, then sure, go ahead, ask a friend about what they think about how to use an offer or an ad platform. You might do better with that instruction. On the other hand, you could do worse.
(Think of the times where you might have been getting an informal course in sex education through your teenage friends. Yeah, not that good).

Bottomline: If you want to get accurate information, especially on ad platforms where you’re spending hundreds, if not, thousands per month, then it makes sense to invest a little time in searching out material related to being able to use that platform better.

There are also external resources like AffPlaybook for traffic-related stuff. It’s also important to balance out how much you might be paying for a monthly subscription vs the time and money it would cost you if you did your own tests, screwed up and had to learn things the hard way.

Offer/Industry Knowledge: If you’re an affiliate, it would be useful to go through the marketing material or background offer information provided by the advertiser. Also, if you have a competent affiliate manager, then their feedback and suggestions might be useful too.

But there’s not substitute for doing your own offer research. Resources like Google News, stock annual reports and quarterly earnings reports for major companies in the sector will give you an insight into what’s happening in the space. If a large online dating site is spending significant capital acquiring mobile-related technology providers, or dedicating a large chunk of their capital towards expansion efforts in Latin America or Asia, that would influence your marketing efforts, wouldn’t it? Old-line media like cable news channels, newspapers can also provide data to help you make better decisions.

It helps to be focused in a vertical, whether it’s dating, finance offers, software offers, etc and once you’re locked in on an area of specialization, then have a resource of 5 sites that you regularly go to to stay current with developments in your vertical. Your success is only as good as the information you have.

Competitive intelligence: The last couple of years have seen an exponential increase in the number of services, commonly known as spy tools. While these can be useful, take note of the potential drawbacks with using some of these services:

  1. The data could be dated and may not reflect market conditions now
  2. The data shown represents one aspect of the traffic campaign. It doesn’t mean that the product owner or affiliate running that set of keys is profitable, or even breaking even.
  3. Most importantly, you’re locked in to the assumptions the service has already made in scraping the data. The assumptions behind what and how the data is extracted are factors you don’t have control over.

When you’re starting out, the best form of competitive intelligence would be checking out the competition by hand and keeping notes/records. Doing it manually may seem “old school” and inefficient.

I feel that doing stuff this way does take more time. At the same time it gives you a pulse of the space you’re playing in, which looking at a series of scraped stats may not. The more information you have access to, the better quality decisions you’re likely to make.

The tendency I’ve observed is that many affiliates will be quite dependent on the competitive intelligence side of things, specially data scraping and copying/cloning other affiliate’s creatives. While this might help in the short term, on a long-term basis, you’d want to focus more on the other 2 elements – the technology platform and industry updates because these generally give the biggest boost when it comes to building and expanding your business.

Whichever path you take down the intel route, having a system to record and analyze your data is key to planning for business growth.

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