What is big data exactly? While big data is not a new term, it is often misunderstood. Wikipedia describes it as a term for data sets that are so large or complex that traditional data processing applications are inadequate to deal with them. It is true, most of the time, the data sets are so big that programs written by data engineers are needed to process the data to find business-relevant trends and anomalies. However, this definition makes it seem like big data is not something that small businesses can use.

Luckily, Lisa Arthur of Forbes has a simpler, less intimidating definition. She says big data is a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis. Each business owner knows their business best and what vital pieces of information can help their business. Data has to be tailored for each business. An important data set for a coffee shop may have no relevance for a clothing retailer.

In any business, metrics are integral for operating, learning another dimension of your business and overall, staying competitive. There are free tools that process loads of data that anybody can use to get more insights on their business or competitors.

Google Analytics

Free to use, Google Analytics relies on all the information that Google collects and puts it in an easy-to-navigate platform to provide website owners a lot of data about their website’s traffic, how users get to their website, how long users spend on the website, and what pages are most popular.


SEMrush allows you to enter any competitor’s website to get an overview of their traffic, what keywords people search for to find their business, and estimate their digital ad budget. The keyword research is especially helpful if you run digital ads and can use keyword history to improve your bid strategy.

SEO Quake

Search engine optimization is something that isn’t always easy for business owners to figure out. SEO Quake is a plug-in for your browser that gives you a quick diagnostic on your page and provides feedback on how to improve your SEO.

There are additional big data solutions for small businesses that are available for a monthly fee that can provide additional insights and analytics such as ClearStory.

Big data is a buzzword used by marketers, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating and can benefit everyone, even the smallest of businesses.


Jason Chai is a Marketing Manager at O’Reilly Media for the big data and analytics conference series, Strata + Hadoop World. Jason is also a co-owner of Blue Beagle Coffee, an independent coffee shop and roastery in Sonoma County, California.