Don't Drown in Data: Advice From Google

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With all the noise in the world, how do you actually make day-to-day decisions using data? Bridgette Beam from Google for Entrepreneurs has tips.  By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

With all the noise in the world, how do you actually make day-to-day decisions for your business using data?

That was the topic of today's talk from Bridgette Beam, Global Entrepreneurship Manager at Google for Entrepreneurs. To start off, she highlighted exactly what a difficult question this can be. Even Google gets it wrong. How does the search giant measure the success of YouTube? The correct answer until 2012 was views. But then Google started to think that engagement might be more important that views, as people may click on something but not find it compelling, quickly abandoning lame videos. So what did they switch to? Watch time.

When you determine the measure of your success, every decision you make is aimed at moving that number. So changes like this are critical, Beam said. "The first thing you have to do when you think about data is choose the correct data point," she concluded, before offering the following advice on how to get the most out of the tsunami of data available out there.

  • Choose the right data to measure. See above.
  • Who and what contributes to your business? Don't treat all the people the same. Power users should get special treatment. "I'm challenging you to find them and engage with them," Beam said. All platforms may also not be the same. If customers coming from Facebook are different from those coming from another source, that's good to know and helps you focus your efforts.
  • Test and validate. For example, Google has tested hundreds of colors for the box that contains the ads that appear on the top of search results. The lesson here: test the important things for your business rigorously. You may be good, but doing so can only help you be better. Crowdsourcing, Beam added, is another way to test ideas.
  • Explore new opportunities. From FusionCharts and DataMarket to Data,gov and industry specific sources, there are a ton of sources and tools out there. Set aside specific times in your schedule to explore them.

Are you getting the most out of the data available to you?

Jessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.