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8 Silly Data Beliefs

According to Google’s digital marketing evangelist.
The myths of big data
image credit: Gandee Vasan

“In the last couple months, I’ve spent a lot of time with senior-level marketers on three different continents,” writes Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist, on his Occam’s Razor blog. “Some of them are quite successful; sadly, many of them were not.” He goes on to list “eight silly data myths marketing people believe that get them fired.”

Here are two that resonate with us, and we strongly recommend clicking over to Kaushik.net, where you can read the rest.

1. Real-time data is life changing.

“It seems absolutely stupid to say, ‘No, I don’t want real-time data.’ It’s like saying no to chocolate/Jesus. You just don’t say no! But I want you to,” writes Kaushik (@avinash). “I want you to say, ‘I don’t want real-time data, I want right-time data. Let’s understand the speed of decision making in our company. If we make real-time decisions, let’s get real-time data. If we make decisions over two days, let’s go with that data cycle. If it takes 10 days to make a decision to change bids on our [pay-per-click] campaigns, let’s go with that data cycle.’

“Here’s why . . . Real-time data is very expensive. It is expensive from a systems/platforms/data processing/data reporting perspective. You end up paying substantial amounts of money to your analytics/big data vendor—for questionable value.

“It is also very expensive from a decision-making perspective, because if you have real-time data you’ll darn well make sure that it is being shoved down every single person’s throat… After a few days of ‘OMG, I can’t believe I have data! It is real-time! Call my mom!!!’ their eyes will glaze over and they will ignore all the numbers flying by because they won’t know what to do with [them].

“So, shoot for right-time data. That is a cheaper systems/platform/data strategy. (And remember, even the most idiotic system in the world now gives you data that is a couple hours old with zero extra investment from you. When you say ‘real-time,’ you are really saying, ‘Nope, two hours is not enough for me!’)”

2. Top search-result ranking equals SEO success.

“Much money is spent on all kinds of shenanigans to try and get to No. 1 (in Google search results). Sadly, all that yields very little,” Kaushik writes.

“The main reason, as all decent SEOs will tell you, is that search results are no longer standardized. Rather, they are personalized. I might even say, hyper-personalized. Regardless of if you are logged in or not.

“When I search for ‘avinash’ on Google, I might rank No. 1 in the search results because I’m logged into my Google account, the engine has my search history, my computer IP address, it also has searches by others in my vicinity, local stories right now, and so many other signals.

“But when you search for ‘avinash,’ your first search result might be a unicorn. Because the search engine has determined that the perfect search result for you for the keyword ‘avinash’ is a unicorn.”

If SEO ranking is a red herring, what’s a better standard for marketers to use? Kaushik suggests using “crawl rate/depth, inbound links (just good ones), and growth (or lack thereof) in your target key phrases as decent starting points. You can graduate to looking at search traffic by site content or types of content.” The latter, he says, is a great signal your SEO is working.



What, exactly, is Occam’s razor? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary dates it to circa 1837 and defines it as “a scientific and philosophic rule . . . that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex.” In other words, it’s a fancy way of citing the “keep it simple, stupid” rule.

For a contrarian take, we recommend “Razoring Ockham’s Razor,” an essay by Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at City University of New York. “On what basis are we justified to think that, as a matter of general practice, the simplest hypothesis is the most likely one to be true?” Pigliucci asks. “Setting aside the surprisingly difficult task of operationally defining ‘simpler’ in the context of scientific hypotheses (it can be done, but only in certain domains, and it ain’t straightforward), there doesn’t seem to be any particular logical or metaphysical reason to believe that the universe is a simple as it could be.”

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