Few things are as compelling to marketers as the promise of prediction. Every marketer wants to know what will happen; what has happened is of less interest because we can’t change the past. If we knew what was likely to happen, we could plan in advance for it.
Suppose we knew what was going to happen next year in organic search for our industry. What would we do differently?
- Would we create different content?
- Would we augment our organic content with paid amplification?
- Would we share our content more aggressively on social media before peak season?
Whatever choices we’d make, knowing in advance would allow us to plan ahead.
A Very Brief History of Predictive Analytics
Predictive analytics aren’t new; data scientists have been working with predictive software since the 1940s. However, until recently, marketers haven’t had access to the power of predictive analytics because the technology was locked away in statistics and IT. With the democratization of statistical software, marketers now have access to a treasure trove of powerful predictive tools - and 70 years of proven, tested methodologies.
Today’s predictive analytics tools use algorithms and machine learning techniques to generate accurate, durable, resilient predictions - and at very low cost. Software packages like the R Project and Python are open-source and free of financial cost, available to any marketer.
Example: NYC Tourism
Let’s look at an example of how we’d mix predictive analytics and SEO to power a tourism marketing program. Suppose we’re the managers of New York City’s convention and visitors’ bureau. What would we want to know about tourism in our city?
Based on some quick keyword searches in any competent SEO tool, we’d look at searches like “flights to NYC”. People generally don’t search for intent-based phrases like that unless they have some intent to visit NYC by plane. Next, let’s obtain the actual keyword volume for that search and chart it out:
So far, so good: we see weekly keyword searches for “flights to NYC” for the last 5 years. As a tourism manager, we see the search volume on the rise - that’s good news for us. However, we’re still stuck in the past. We’re still looking backwards. Let’s use the R programming language and any one of the major time forecasting packages available to project forward:
Next, let’s make this a bit more marketing-friendly to understand:
We now have a calendar of operations. For times when we have peak search demand, we could run additional advertising and paid campaigns to double down on popular times.
For times when we have declining searches, we could take the time to improve our on-site content or work with a public relations agency to improve general brand awareness (which powers branded organic search).
We could even advise our business partners - NYC hotels and other venues - to forecast demand appropriately. Hotels could ensure they have enough rooms available for peak times, and plan sales for when demand is weaker. Restaurants could plan a restaurant week when demand is low to keep revenues coming in steadily, rather than be surprised at weaker-than-expected periods of tourism.
No matter what tactics we choose, knowing the organic search volume in advance helps us to plan our resources, staffing, budgets, and timing appropriately. Instead of reacting to recent search data, we look ahead to the future. Instead of scrambling, we plan calmly and methodically to ensure maximum impact.
The Future, Today
Predictive analytics is within our reach as marketers. Use the tools and data we already have access to and project ahead likely outcomes, from SEO data to social media data to hard dollar revenues.
Obviously, no amount of predictive analytics can anticipate black swan events like a meme going viral or a negative news event, but the vast majority of businesses rarely face black swans. Most of what we do as marketers is highly repetitive, and thus very predictable.
Get started with predictive analytics using R or Python and start building next year’s marketing plan today!
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