Since Google’s big reveal at the Partnership Conference in October, I’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of what universal analytics means for the analytics industry in general and more specifically for our clients here at SwellPath. What are the ramifications for our ecommerce clients? How can we increase conversion rate and avg. order value with this new data? What about our b2b marketing automation wizards? Will this new “analytics” finally allow them to get proper segment reporting of their website, along with the individual detail afforded to them by their marketing automation platforms in one place?
I’ve spent countless hours creating how-to and what-if articles around what Universal Analytics means for the marketing world, unfortunately I just was never happy with the result and ended up deleting each one after 400 words or so. After my 5th attempt, I realized that I was really having a tough time focusing, because I would always start to digress into my opinions about what I feel Google is really up to. I have a thought, which unfortunately sounds more like a conspiracy theory, but after putting the research in and stepping back to see the big picture, I feel rather confident of this hypothesis:
I believe that Google’s Universal Analytics is actually Google’s covert operation to dominate the emerging Big Data market which is expected to grow to be a $16.9 Billion industry in 2015.
Big Data = Big Opportunity
The problem with “big data” is that it is literally too BIG. By tweaking some words from a quote about “space” from the wonderful Douglas Adams, we can begin to appreciate what type of scale we are using: “Big Data is BIG. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think a phetabyte is big, but that’s just peanuts to the amount of information ‘big data’ systems must go through.”
Big Data has been blown up by business media and analysts into this giant monstrously powerful force, akin to The Wizard of Oz or the Continuum Transfunctioner. Let’s, for a second, take a step back from this sensationalism; let’s look at what Big Data really is. In its purest form, all Big Data does is take huge amounts of data and cross-reference it (imagine being able to add more and more columns to your excel sheet) against itself in a reasonable amount of time. Really, that’s it; just like an excel pivot table you might use every day, except it is looking at trillions of lines of columns and rows instead of thousands. What makes Big Data so wonderful is that, just like an Excel pivot table, when put in the right hands, amazing analysis can be done, leading to more efficient business operation and amazingly effective marketing.
The best current example I can think of is from Target. They are able to take customer data dimensions and are able to figure out if someone is pregnant BEFORE they have purchased anything explicitly baby or pregnancy-related. In their case, this backfired horribly of course, but I would like to believe it showed the marketing world a good lesson on how this new informational power must be used responsibly. (Source: http://blog.rewardme.com/data/big-data-how-target-knows-you-are-pregnant/).
Google’s True Mission
Google is addicted to information. They love data! I’ve always felt Google’s true business mission was to index and “control” all of the information in the world; their stated one is a little less ominous of course “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Sergey and Larry started Google as a Computer Science project while they were studying to get their PhDs at Stanford. The original focus of this project was to see if they could download the internet onto their computer (Source: The Google Story – http://englishatfelix.net84.net/morea/Doc08B-Txt3-ASuccessStory.pdf), which would be the precursor to the Google search application we all know today.
Since then Larry and Sergey have been obsessed with the categorization and indexation of all the information in the world. This pursuit of indexing information now includes maps, books, website usage data (analytics), yellow pages, product catalogs, emails, videos, document files (docs), language (written and spoken), all collected and used through apps that we literally all take for granted today. I mean, they are so good at collecting information from everything that they literally disrupt every market they enter by giving out amazing applications for free, but in reality they are paying you in an ingenious way for your information. But as they grew and expanded with the Internet over the last decade, information evolved and expanded as well. Siloed systems once only held on internal local servers like CRMs, shopping carts, ERP systems, data- warehouses, etc., each containing terabytes and phetabytes of information we’re now joining the internet under the omniscient term “cloud”. But unlike other information on the web, this was strictly off-limits to Google, unless they were given permission to access it. But why would someone want to give Google access to their most precious data?
But What Does this Have to Do with Universal Analytics?
Google has never been allowed to view, let alone crawl and index, a company’s data outside of their website, until now. One key feature for Universal Analytics is the ability to upload new data dimensions into Google Analytics; that’s right folks, new columns and rows, with data from (drum roll please)….EVERYWHERE. I know what you’re thinking, “So what? Google Analytics still can’t do Big Data.”
What if I told you that Google isn’t really just a search engine only focused on advertising revenue.
Most people think of Google as the premier search engine, but in reality, they are one of the largest computer hardware companies in the world, with more data storage and processing power than anyone, by A LOT. If the Terminator movies were an accurate predictor of our future, then Skynet’s parents would be a Google server farm. Remember, Sergey and Larry were able to make Google by creating customized servers that could easily index the web and also access this index to search queries, this is how Google started and they never stopped. In fact, they have only kept expanding. In 2010, they had over 1 million dedicated servers across the globe (http://www.neowin.net/news/google-is-way-bigger-than-you-realize) and it’s been hinted that by 2013 this will have doubled to 2.3 million. Remember what Big Data needs: storage space and computing power. What does Google truly dominate the market with? That’s right, raw CPU power and storage space. Google is positioning itself to not only be a contender in the Big Data industry, but is making the play to dominate it. In fact they already have quietly entered the Big Data market earlier this year with Big Query, but it is not exactly the most user friendly application for everyday business use. So, I ask myself, how can they hope to compete with giant companies like, Intel, SAP, Oracle, and IBM? These monoliths of Big Business have spent hundreds of billions on creating Business Intelligence and Big Data tools to sort the data, display it, create reports, etc., for businesses for years; how can Google even hope to compete? Well, to be honest they have already spent half a decade refining and polishing the perfect analysts tool, Google Analytics. It has reports, dashboards, notifications, user access, profiles, profile hierarchy, filters, search, visualizations, API, etc., and it’s got a pretty slick User Interface and great usability to boot. When’s the last time someone said how awesome his or her Oracle dashboard was? Another thing Google Analytics has going for it, the millions of people who already know how to use it. For these users, that means there’s no need to learn a new interface, no need to sell IT, no need to train, no need for an expensive analyst who really doesn’t analyze, but just knows how to use the tool. Big Data for the masses is here. Yes, Google will bring you what the kings of the Fortune 100 and governments have taken for granted for decades. Knowing Google, they probably will give it to you for free as well.
The Information Age has Finally Reached Maturity
Until now, this information was impossible to crunch unless you were a large global corporation with monster-sized IT infrastructures and amazingly expensive business intelligence systems, but now we have the technology that can provide these services at a lower cost. This technology has been given the name “big data.”
Yes, Universal Analytics is a game-changer. It will change they way every business looks and uses data forever. Analysts and marketers will now be the kings of not only the web data, but all of the data. Internal resource data will be crunched, logistics information analyzed against payroll, what we know as business intelligence today will just become analytics or maybe just to be cute “big analytics”. Everything will be connected, crunched, and run through Google’s liquid-cooled and colorful server farms and Sergey and Larry will have their mission completed: an indexed and searchable platform for all of the information…of the entire planet. We are approaching the zenith of the Information Age, so hold onto your butts.
What Does it Mean for Us?
Being an analyst and data geek, I for one welcome our new Google overlords. I’m glad we’ll be using data to make better decisions; in fact that’s why my firm SwellPath exists. But also it does make things a bit scary; I do like my privacy and information is power. With this kind of power, people, governments, and companies could do terrible things. Only time will tell what this will mean for all of us, but one thing that keeps me on the glass-is-half-full side of the argument is that I remember that Google is not evil…right?