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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Use Your Data with More Certainty: The Benefits of Data Consolidation, Optimization, and Automation

Examples from affiliate marketing shed light on three important data tasks.

I love data. I don't, however, love being overwhelmed by it. Gaining insight from data and acting on it excites me; getting bogged down in it, not so much.

For Further Reading:

AI and BI Projects Are Bogged Down With Data Preparation Tasks

Eyes on the Data: The Growing Importance of the CDO

Free Up Your Data Science Team with Augmented Data Management

Seth Godin -- author of nearly 20 books on topics related to the post-industrial revolution, marketing, and entrepreneurship -- blogged about this recently. He pointed out that when most people say they want "more data," what they really want is "more certainty" about how to use their data. They want to find a way to move forward with what they have.

More certainty is available.

This article views data ecosystems primarily through the one I work in most frequently: affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing enables publishers to earn commissions off sales from their audience by referring them to online retailers. Because of its ability to use technology to streamline monetization practices and create opportunities, this industry has seen tremendous growth in the past few years. Innovative publishers can extract value directly from their content, all while effectively managing their affiliate data and content monetization efforts through KPI-driven initiatives.

My experience in this corner of ecommerce and advertising shows me that three elements of data management -- consolidation, optimization, and automation -- are applicable to varied business use cases across many industries.

1. Consolidation

Data consolidation is hot right now. The efficiencies and cost savings it represents are so attractive, even the U.S. Office of Management and Budget is actively pursuing a data center optimization initiative. The beautiful thing is that consolidation creates briefer processes for a variety of data monitoring and reporting systems, which benefits organizations of all sizes.

One of the main drawbacks of affiliate marketing is that the administrative side is excruciatingly difficult. Historically, this is what's prevented it from being a cornerstone of online advertising. Data collection is siloed and businesses are forced to access multiple platforms to see results. Impressions, clicks, and conversion data are frequently spread across as many as 85 affiliate networks. (The average content publisher works with six affiliate networks; many work with more than a dozen.) Each network requires the user to manage integration manually, evaluate specific reporting capacities (such as reporting time zones, which often vary from network to network), and work with the varied functionalities of affiliate URLs provided by the networks.

Management of this process can be a full-time job in and of itself and scaling network relationships is difficult without a serious staff to take care of the work. Gleaning clear data is the biggest pain point.

Consolidation can normalize the data and provide access to advanced data insights -- what people are linking to and what they're buying, even at the transaction/SKU level. Marketing data can be aggregated and presented with a unified view, then exported into business intelligence tools. Consolidating data monitoring and reporting addresses the argument that managing multiple affiliate network relationships is too complicated. Cutting down on network administration time allows staff to act on that data granularity, analyze performance across partnerships, and derive value from their affiliate programs.

2. Optimization

Optimizing resources means making a process as efficient as possible. Within data use, this can take on multiple meanings. One of my favorites is creating efficient operations -- efficient Affiliate Ops, if you will -- for staff.

Creating affiliate links can be a pain. Writers find a product they want to include in an article, grab the URL, go into another system, paste the URL, get the affiliate link (which may or may not reflect the specific metrics the company is tracking), and work with that. For the average user, it's time-consuming and vague. Having an optimized process for affiliate link creation shortens the process, shaving off time, ensuring inclusion of relevant data points, and improving the reliability of reporting for the entire program.

One major content publisher -- with a staff of fewer than 50 who manage another 50 writers who contribute articles to a site with more than 25 million readers per month -- adopted an optimized process for link selection. This process saved an estimated 80 percent of editorial administration time. With the newfound time, the company was able to identify and branch out into new verticals, all while understanding the bottom-line impact of each campaign.

3. Automation

Eliminating the manual hassle of logging in to multiple networks, aligning or translating reports, and tracking initiatives' performance can create huge time savings. With appropriate automation, relatively small teams can launch and maintain dynamic programs.

Automation is gaining traction as its implementation in various industries grows. Perhaps most controversial as applied to manufacturing, automation's upsides include huge operational efficiencies. In technology, automation transfers time previously used for largely manual efforts to tasks (such as analysis) that facilitate thorough and efficient scaling of programs.

Within affiliate programs, automation can abridge core tasks, such as multinetwork/advertiser reporting, link building, link health checks, content ROI measurement, automated link-tagging to gather page-level data, and user/channel-level attribution.

One dynamic example of automation in affiliate programs is in link rot. Link rot occurs when deep-links decay to the point that they no longer earn money for publishers. This happens when a URL is dead, a product is out of stock, there's a price mismatch, or a link redirects to the wrong place. Link rot costs the industry an estimated $4.3 million in commissions monthly. Automatic scanning for link rot facilitates repair, improving the revenue stream from evergreen content.

A Final Word

How can you use your data with more certainty? By not having to worry about how long it will take to get each report (and whether it will provide actionable insights). By not wasting time on unnecessary or cumbersome tasks. By not investing efforts into habitual tasks.

Eased workflows free up time and brain power to use your data to make smart business decisions.

About the Author

Hanan Maayan is the cofounder and CEO of London-based Trackonomics, an enterprise-level automation platform for performance and affiliate marketers. You can reach the author via email.

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