For many small-business owners, big data analysis has either been too expensive or too complicated to consider. But times have changed, and if you're relying solely on web analytics -- how many clicks your web pages receive, for example -- your company might be dangerously behind the times.
A flurry of new marketing analytics tools can help small-business owners understand how effectively their marketing turns browsers into buyers. "There is no excuse now for not having basic marketing analytics on a website," says Elea McDonnell Feit, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, a research center that focuses on applying big data to corporate decision-making.
Here are three steps to revamping your marketing analytics and choosing the software that's right for you:
1. Choose a new e-commerce platform: Online store-building services such as Shopify, Magento and Highwire now also offer users the ability to analyze user-engagement. The interfaces are simple enough for the non tech-savvy, and can help design customer rewards programs, discounts and gift cards.
Most include free mobile features and integrate with tools such as Google Analytics to actively measure their effectiveness. Magento, now owned by eBay, offers a free open-source version (designed for developers), and an easier to use commercial product for $15 per month. Shopify's software starts at $29 a month and Highwire's starts at $20 per month.
Related: 10 Online Marketing Trends for 2013
2. Control your social chatter: Driving and monitoring interest in the content you publish on your company's blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts is known as "inbound marketing." Companies such as Hubspot can help monitor and compile the data from all those social channels in one location, while tracking which customers engage with your social activity and which platforms drive the most user interest.
Hubspot can also tell you if a follower is a "social influencer" based, for example, on the size of his or her Twitter following. It also lets you set up automated email messages to follow up with these "power" followers.
Hubspot's basic package starts at $200 per month. Similar tools include social media dashboard Hootsuite (basic accounts are free), U.K.-based social media monitoring and analysis tool Sentiment Metrics (starts at $475 per month) and SocialMention, a free program that allows you to track what people are saying about your company, your products or any keywords you set.
3. Start merging online and offline data: Tracking your customers in stores and online can be ideal, but services that provide such a 360-degree view often come at high prices. Still, there are affordable work-arounds for small businesses.
Offering e-mailed receipts -- using companies like Third Solutions -- can save paper and help translate in-store customer information into digital data that can be used to send coupons, promotions and messages directly to those customers. It can also help give you a more complete understanding of purchasing history and sales trends. Pricing varies, though a basic package including marketing capabilities starts at around $500 per year.
Implementing digital punch cards or loyalty programs can also help brick and mortar retailers collect the same data in-store as they would online. RewardLoop, for instance, allows users to scan their in-store receipts to receive points -- a gamified way to incentivize future purchases, but also to collect the purchasing history of each individual customer. Prices start at $40 per month.