The Best and Worst Thing to Ever Happen to SEO

BY RYAN CONNOR, VERNDALE 12.30.13 3:36 PM  ||  http://www.wired.comgoogle_660

In the space between art and science lies a discipline that’s been completely disrupted over the past 5 to 10 years — marketing. Like an awkward adolescent finally coming of age, marketing has finally been given the validation and direction it needed for businesses to make smarter investments. This is because decisions and resources are now, more than ever, being based on analytics, data and attributed sales. In the world of SEO, this translates into referring keywords, keyword rankings and organic user behaviors.

Up until recently, it seemed as if SEO had finally become a science, with mounds of data and standardized industry processes for reporting. Efforts to shape content around search engine marketing objectives were fruitful, and the data-loving SEO’ers became a staple in the modern marketing team. All was well.

Then, seemingly without reason, Google began to cut-off the life blood of search engine marketing and started encrypting searches and withholding search referral data. In fact, by the time you read this, Google will have effectively cut off 100% of the search referral data that was so critical to the status quo. Notwithstanding the remaining PPC referral data, this tectonic shift by Google sent a lot of marketers back to the drawing board. It was worst thing that’s ever happened to SEO.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why Google seems to have shot itself in the foot. While it’s easy to assume that’s the case, there’s actually solid rationale behind their decision making. For one, Google’s effort in encrypting searches for all users was a way for them to show good faith to consumers in the wake of the NSA spying scandal.

Secondly, it placed Google’s own Adwords advertising platform in a good spot because advertisements within the platform still pass on referring keyword data. And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they were politely reminding marketers what their philosophy on content and SEO has been since day one…

“…make sure that you’ve got high-quality content, the sort of content that people really enjoy, that’s compelling, the sort of thing that they’ll love to read that you might see in a magazine or in a book, and that people would refer back to, or send friends to, those sorts of things…”

– Matt Cutts (Head of Google Webspam)

The recent changes and historical stance by Google’s team embody their efforts in trying to shift the focus away from the Wild West that is search engine optimization and back to the consumers and consumable content. While SEO is clearly still relevant, many efforts are for naught because businesses are caught up with rankings and pursue less-than-ethical tactics trying to achieve them. Thankfully, Google has started penalizing those that game the system, and reward those that make customers happy.

So why is this shift the best thing that’s ever happened to SEO?

For starters, it makes SEO more about the users and the content, and less about gaming the system. In the past few years, Google has really thrown down the gauntlet with updates like Penguin and Panda, essentially saying that if you game the system, you’re risking your entire business (because Google has removed and will continue to blacklist websites that game the system). It’s the long-overdue coup-de-grace for grey-hat and black-hat SEO trickery. For the good of Google’s users, great original content will continue to separate the ordinary from the extraordinary and the front page rankings from the long tail.

As an avid Googler myself, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I for one, see the future of optimizing for Google search as much more intuitive and straightforward. Much like how you don’t need map making skills to use a GPS, you shouldn’t need SEO skills to drive traffic via search engines. After all, it’s Google’s job to create the content and it’s our job to make it. However, until the day search becomes all knowing (I’ll give it 5-10 years), we still have to focus on making sure the information is provided in the right way for search engines to crawl and rank it. So be sure to keep up with the targeted keywords, site optimization, mobile and responsive readiness, personalization, redirects and so on.

As search comes of age, SEO best practices will grow in importance as competition rises and the landscape evolves. If anything, (not provided) shouldn’t slow down your SEO, it should open up a wider conversion on the need for a more holistic, customer-centric strategy. Anything short of that is now snake oil.

Ryan Connor is an analyst at Verndale.

Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

By , Saturday, 21 Dec ’13 , 08:00pm  ||




Denis Duvauchelle is the CEO and co-founder of Twoodo, the ultimate online collaborative tool.

Why does researching [hash]tags matter?

Whether it’s blog articles, publications, videos, images, podcasts, infographics or simply the text of your website, your content wants to be found. Your contentneeds to be found. The main difficulty is that there are so many of these being published every day that yours is becoming increasingly hard to find. 2014 will be the year of the content marketing deluge.

Researching the right keywords, expressions, tags and hashtags is more essential than ever. The case for keywords is pretty much won. But many marketers still overlook the importance of researching tags and hashtags.

Here, we will explain how tag research is related to your core keywords, and how it is an essential growth hack. It can also be quite simply applied once you follow the process detailed later in this article.

But first a little fact. Did you know that all these platforms use [hash]tags as a way to organize their content?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • Google+
  • Squidoo
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Kickstarter
  • Tumblr
  • Friendfeed
  • Waywire
  • Diaspora
  • Tout
  • Vine

What do keywords, tags and hashtags do?

  • The keyword or keyphrase is the key information that your content is about. It is usually found in the title, content and meta tags of your content. If you are making a video about how to wear a bicycle helmet properly, then your key phrase would be “bicycle helmet.”

  • The tag functions within the website, and can link the information about “bicycle helmet” to related categories such as “bicycle safety” and “helmet design.” Since the video is about wearing a helmet, using “helmet design” as a keyword is not valid.

  • The hashtag functions sometimes like tags, but with the additional capability of adding current affairs and topics of interest to the content. It has the shortest lifetime relevancy of the three. Example: #bicyclehelmet2013 (this will be redundant within weeks).

Ultimately, tags and hashtags have the same purpose – to make you findable on websites loaded with content and to draw people’s attention to whatever it is you want them to see. As I always advocate, however, it’s about relevancy.

Both tags and hashtags play their role in the SEO of your website and content, because they are strongly related to the core keywords your website and organization are based on. Keywords with the right tags built upon them will ensure the long-term drive of relevant traffic to your website. Hashtags will keep your content appearing in relevant popular streams.

Well-researched tags, (based on your core SEO keywords/keyphrases) will increase the quantity and quality of visitors to your website thus giving you more return on your content marketing efforts.

Hashtags become very useful when you want to remarket old content. I’m a strong believer in maximising the use of the content you produce. Imagine spending hours and hours on a blog post, and then it gets published in silence… AAAH! Or after an exciting spike, then what? The blog post gathers internet dust for eternity?

keyword 006a 520x474 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

Image credit: Larry Kim

“The keyword, however, does have its own advantages [over hashtags] when it comes to time. It is everlasting, unlike the hashtag. A hashtag is prone to changes of opinion, whims, boredom of users, and can fizzle out just as quickly as it came. A keyword though is strong and unwavering; it will never leave your web page, or Google’s index for that matter. It will forever more be ready to be called upon.”Richard Eaves.

Your keywords are the base for your [hash]tags research. When researching for keywords and hashtags, there are limitations. Keywords have much less flexibility than hashtags.

As the previous example showed, if your company is making a new kind of bicycle helmet, then “bicycle helmet” is going to be the core phrase of your company, right? With [hash]tags you can be a little more creative.

hashtag bicycle helmet 520x349 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

Let’s test that assumption. Google Adwords showed the following:

“Bicycle helmet” gets about 5,000 searches a month

“Bike helmets” gets about 27,000 searches a month

Well, well, well – “bike helmets” is searched over five times more. A quick run through the Moz keyword difficulty calculator shows a 73 percent competition rate for both. That’s very high.

ut what can you do? That is the product you sell. So it’s going to be about getting the sub-categories and the [hash]tags right to grab niches from around the internet.

Key point: DO NOT assume to guess the words people use. Get your evidence first. You might be completely wrong.

WordPress tags

wordpress tags Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

Blog tags are perhaps the least researched and most abused. WP tags are not there to be slapped on without thinking. Who knows how relevant they may become to Google in the future? WP tags are supposed to aid the reader in navigating your site. If you tag everything with “sport” that’s going to lead them nowhere valuable. With 18.9 percent of websites now running on WP, adding tags should be done properly.

Finding out the right words

The process for researching keywords and hashtags is not so different. You need to find out the terms that people are using for the product or service that you are offering. You need to find out what they associate it with, and what keywords they use for that. Think about it like building a house.

  • First, a strong foundation, bricks and mortar: the core keywords and keyphrases to do with your company. Eg. Core keyword: “Bike helmet”

  • Second, the floorboards, wallpaper, tiles and carpeting: keywords and keyphrases that overlap with the core keywords and other topics. These can change, but not regularly. Eg. Secondary keyphrase: “bike helmets for kids”, or Eg. Secondary keywords: “bicycle safety”, “sports equipment”

  • Third, the decor: these are your in-the-moment or trending hashtags, the short-term attachments or personal touches that come and go with changing fashions, needs and wants. Eg. In-the-now keywords/phrases: “yolo bike helmets”, “miley cyrus bike helmets”, “tour de france helmets”

Best research tools for tags and hashtags

  • TrendsMap – find popular hashtags in your area.

Zoom in on any part of the world to see what the popular hashtags are. It is limited to larger towns and cities.

Use it for: if geography is important to what you do then use the local hashtags to get seen; how people are spelling words (eg. xmas or christmas?)

Influencers are inaccurate; no point in the common spellings feature (just shows capitals or not which do not matter); ideas for co-occurring words and word popularity is very useful.

Use it for: finding co-occurring words (i.e. what people relate to your categories) and finding out word popularity.

  • Tagboard – track topics across social media

Board-style visuals of social media mentions (inc. Twitter, G+,, instagram) on a selected tag. You can reply, RT, block etc. from here.

Use it for: spotting spam accounts; seeing where conversations are happening; sentiments on your topic; spotting influencers.

  • Topsy – find influencers, videos, photos, tweets and links with a word or phrase all across social media

Twitter Search Monitoring Analytics  520x424 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

They are certified partners of Twitter, which explains a lot: real influencers, quality content links, language options. And it goes beyond Twitter, such as photos on Pinterest.

Use it for: finding influencers who are using your word/phrase; finding content to share.

  • Tweetreach – find out how many accounts your word or phrase hit on Twitter

Not sure if this is important in your core keyword research but I guess you can use it occasionally to see the impact of your hashtags.

Use it for: if you want to know how many accounts you were potentially visible to.

  • Statigram – stats and searches for Instagram.

A tool for Pinterest – cool tool for catching up with trends, seeing the popularity by quantity and finding relevant images to comment on and start a conversation.

Use it for: finding out if your Pinterest hashtags are popular and for finding places to join in and build your community.

A carbon-copy of Google Adwords search (no surprise since the takeover).

Use it for: checking that your search term has a high search quantity – no point in making a title that nobody searches for.

flickr search 520x231 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

For Flickr tag searches and word correlations – simple, elegant and shows trending co-occurring words.

Use it for: co-occurring words in Flickr labels.

Made by Twitter, so it’s one of the best tools for managing Twitter. Tweetdeck’s functions eclipse most of the other Twitter tools. Set up columns that follow words, phrases, people, URLs and so on across all of Twitter. Tweet, reply, RT etc. from here.

Use it for: if you prefer viewing topics in a list rather than a board, this is for you; keeping track of conversations on topics; spotting influencers on these keywords.

How to [hash]tag

Refreshing the basics of tags:

  1. capital letters don’t matter in searches (but they improve readability)
  2. plurals do matter
  3. don’t bother with “-” in hashtags
  4. misspelling changes everything (eg. “startup” = about startup companies; “startip” = a star tip on something random)
  5. variations on grammar produce different results (eg. “cook” vs. “cooking” vs. “cooked” vs. “cooker”)
  6. spaces can be used in keyword tags but not in hashtags
  7. no special characters or numbers only (and don’t start with numbers)

Everypost Blog had this handy summary of the functionality of tags across the major platforms:

Rule of thumb: 1 – 3 tags is best over all platforms.

  • Twitter: to categorize
  • Pinterest: to brand, and be specific (tags are only clickable in pin descriptions)
  • Instagram: to build community, and be unique/detailed
  • Google+: to categorize; autogenerates tags based on what it thinks your post is most relevant to
  • Tumblr: to categorize interests, can be specific and general (has a “track your tags” feature)
  • Facebook: sort of a hashtag fail – if your audience is very business-minded, follow Twitter rules; if it is community-oriented, follow Pinterest/Instagram rules
  • WP tags: to label; must be an internal navigational aid on the website

Case study of a step-by-step guide to Twitter hashtag choices

Company: Relayr

Step 1: what are your core values?

Ask yourself what you do and what is most related to your service. Think about your users and audience. Also, if you have done SEO keyword research for optimizing your copywriting, you will probably have a good idea of the words you should use.

  • sensors
  • app developers
  • arduino
  • beaglebone
  • hardware
  • internet of things
  • iot
  • light blue cortado
  • smart things
  • geek

Step 2: what are your platforms?

Where do you users learn about you, connect with you, spread news about you? Take the number of “likes” as an indicator if you have been actively encouraging followers on social media. Otherwise, look to where your competitors are most active.

  • WP (website, blog)
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+ (because it will be very important to Google searches in the future)

LinkedIn? Nope!

relayr Overview LinkedIn 520x224 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

Facebook? Yes!

Relayr 520x269 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

Step 3: test your assumption.

We’ll take the example of “sensors”.

On Topsy: it’s trending – 11k mentions in the last 12 days

On Tweetdeck: it’s hot – 1 or 2 mentions per minute, the stream is overflowing

On Tweetreach: 18,500 accounts can be touched

Looks good!

Step 4: related words and categories

Next, see how “sensors” fits into a category, or if it is strong enough to be a category of its own.

Use to test this. Search And Find The Best Twitter Hashtags Free 520x466 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

It looks like “sensors” is not a major group all by itself. However, it could be in the category of “IoT” which is already on our list. “Innovation” “bigdata” and “wireless” are also relevant to our company.

Step 5: repeat step 4 until you have all the categories and related niche keywords (plus alternative spellings) that your company is relevant for.

For Relayr, “sensors” is now listed under the category “internetofthings” (alt. spelling: “IoT”).

Record your research on a spreadsheet like this (sample template provided).

Do not stick to broad terms such as “technology” or you will get lost in the noise. Identifying the niche tags that work for you within the broader scope of “technology” will find you the optimal audience. Use the big terms sparingly and preferably always with a niche tag.

Step 6: revise your list once a month

The categories you choose should be consistently popular topics, or growing general trends. Do not use tags that are redundant – you will get no value out of it. Revise your list once a month to make sure your words are fresh and relevant.

Google trends shows that “internet of things” is a good basic category to choose. Over the past three years it has stayed at a steady pace. However, “sensors” is beginning to dramatically dive despite being a highly-popular search term at the moment.

Google Trends Web Search interest internet of things sensors Worldwide 2010 520x300 Tags and hashtags: The ultimate guide to using them effectively

To conclude…

There are long-term and short-term benefits for doing your word research properly. Not only will you become much more savvy on what phrases to use for SEO, but you will also be much more likely to be considered an authority in the niches that you consistently target.

It’s a cost-effective method of advertising and it will improve your Google rankings (especially through the use of G+). You will also be much more likely to find users/customers that matter.

Top image credit: lculig/Shutterstock

The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

By , Monday, 23 Dec ’13 , 06:25pm  ||



Mikael Cho is the co-founder of ooomf, a network that connects short-term software projects with handpicked developers and designers. Mikael writes about psychology, startups, and product marketing over on the ooomf blog.

I’ve noticed how seemingly small things like font and the spacing between letters can impact how I feel when reading online.

The right font choice along with the absence of sidebars and popups makes everything feel easier and better to read.

Websites like MediumSignal vs. Noise, and Zen Habits are like yoga studios for content. Their presentation of content puts me at peace while reading, allowing me to fully focus on the stories without distraction.

Just look at the difference between Medium and Cracked:

Exhibit A)

medium 730x600 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

Exhibit B)

cracked 730x600 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

When you compare the two, it’s obvious which one makes you feel like crud.

The Cracked layout is painful to look at. Your eyes squint and dart, constantly second-guessing what you’re reading now with what you should be reading next.

After experimenting with how we display content on the ooomf blog, I discovered there’s an element of science behind why we feel this way toward certain typefaces and layouts.

How we read

When we read, our eyes follow a natural pattern called a Scan Path.

We break sentences up into scans (saccades) and pauses (fixations). Here’s theScan Path for a typical reader:

fixation saccade 730x239 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

Your eyes typically move across a page for between 7 to 9 letters before needing to pause to process what you’re reading. As you scan a sentence, no useful visual processing is happening in your brain. Visual processing is completely dependent upon the information taken in when you pause.

So why does this matter? Understanding the way we read is important for designing how words look because you can directly impact someone’s connection to your writing with the right font and layout.

Why the right font layout makes you feel good

When I set out to write this post, I wasn’t sure I’d find scientific backing for why we feel a certain way toward certain fonts.

I thought choosing font was mostly art, with a sprinkle of science.

That was until I came across a study by psychologist Kevin Larson. Larson has spent his career researching typefaces and recently conducted a landmark study at MIT about how font and layout affect our emotions.

In the study, 20 volunteers – half men and half women – were separated into two groups. Each group was shown a separate version of The New Yorker – one where the image placement, font, and layout were designed well and one where the layout was designed poorly:

good bad The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

The researchers found that readers felt bad while reading the poorly designed layout. Sometimes, this feeling would be expressed physically with a frown.

The corrugator supercilii facial muscles that help produce a frown have been linked to the amygdala, an area of your brain responsible for emotion.

Meanwhile, the participants who read content from the good reading layout, felt like it took less time to read and felt better.

People exposed to the well-designed layout were found to have higher cognitive focus, more efficient mental processes, and a stronger sense of clarity.

The researchers concluded that well-designed reading environments don’t necessarily help you understand what you’re reading better, but they do make you feel good, causing you to feel inspired and more likely to take action.

Culture impacts your preference for fonts

One explanation for why some fonts make you feel a certain way is because of deep links in culture.

For instance, Courier fonts were designed to resemble old memos written on type writers:

courier inside The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

Many people relate Helvetica with the US Government because it’s used in tax forms.

These associations are difficult to remove and should be considered when deciding on a font choice. Here’s how Bank of America’s website would look with the Impact font associated with News headlines:

Original Bank of America website:
Screen Shot 2013 12 11 at 4.36.18 PM 730x555 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

Bank of America website with Impact font (associated with newspaper headlines):
Screen Shot 2013 12 11 at 4.37.11 PM 730x545 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

When the fonts are changed to Impact, Bank of America doesn’t exactly seem trustworthy.

Because fonts are designed by humans, there is usually some meaning attached to them. You don’t want to choose a font that is easily associated with something in our culture that’s markedly different than the vibe you’re trying to give off.

How to design better content

The quality of your content is the most important thing but how you present that content by choosing the right font and layout still has it’s place.

As French poet Paul Claudel put it, “The secret of type is that it speaks.”

So how can you design your words to help elicit positive feelings in people? Here’s a few techniques from typography experts that you might find useful:

1. Choose an anchor font

Type designer Jessica Hische recommends first selecting a typeface for the content that is most prevalent in your project (most likely your body copy).

This will be the typeface that you base your other font decisions on like headlines and subheads.

There’s four main categories of fonts to choose from:

Serif Fonts – Letters with short lines coming off the edges. Viewed as more formal and traditional. Best suited for print.

serif sansserif The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

  • Sans-serif Fonts – Letters without serifs. Viewed as informal and playful. Best suited for digital.
  • Script Fonts – Resembles handwriting and often used in formal invitations. Not ideal for body copy.
  • Decorative Fonts – Informal fonts viewed as original. Best suited for headlines but not body copy.

For reading on the Web, it’s best to stay away from script or decorative typefaces. Most Script and Decorative fonts have low legibility which slows down your reading because you are busy trying to figure out what letters are.

You don’t want your readers asking, “was that an ‘a’ or an ‘e’” every word.

If you’re scrunching your eyes trying to figure out a word that’s a signal that your brain is dedicating unnecessary energy to identifying words.

Decorative typefaces should be used for content that is meant to be seen at a glance, like in a logo, rather than read as multiple paragraphs in body text.

When choosing a font for body text, it’s usually best to stick with a Serif font or Sans-serif font.

Some typography experts recommend sans-serif fonts for reading online because the quality of screen resolutions is less than in print. But, as screen resolutions dramatically improve, Serif fonts are becoming easier to read on the Web. Content-heavy websites like Medium use a Serif font (probably to give off the vibe of a print editorial).

The most important thing with choosing a font is to make sure the letters are easily decipherable from one another so your readers don’t have to spend precious mental energy identifying letters.

There’s a trick that Hische uses to make sure your font choice is a good one. She recommends that you make your fonts pass the Il1 test:

Il1 730x482 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

2. Pick a font size bigger than 12pt

In 1929, a study was conducted called the “Hygiene of reading.” One thing researchers were trying to determine was which font size would be best for reading. The study looked at 6pt, 8pt, 10pt, 12pt, and 14pt type sizes.

The researchers concluded that a font size of 10pt font is the most efficient for reading but a lot has changed in how we consume content today compared to the 1920s.

However, as more reading shifts to digital and screen resolutions improve, the way we read content is changing. Many designers mention that 16pt font is the new 12pt font. A recent study has also shown that larger font sizes can elicit a stronger emotional connection.

Medium has one of my favorite reading environments online and they use a 22pt font size. Several of my other favorite websites have adopted a font size over 20pt for their content:

  • Medium – 22pt
  • 37Signals: Signal vs. Noise – 22pt
  • Zen Habits – 21pt

While having a huge font over 30pt most likely wouldn’t make sense, many blogs have font in the 10pt-12pt range. Try increasing your font size. If you’re using 12pt font, try increasing to 16pt font. If you’re using 18pt font increase to 22pt.

You can feel the difference.

3. Watch your line length

The line length is how far your sentences stretch across the page. The ideal line length should be between about 50 to 75 characters.

Here’s an example of the longest line length from Zen Habits. It’s 78 characters, about 6.5 inches:

zen habits The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

This line length has been shown to be most effective in helping readers move through their Scan Path.

If the line length is too short, your reader’s rhythm will break because their eyes must travel back to the left of the page too often.

A line length that is too long makes it hard to find where lines of text start and end. It can make it difficult for your reader to get to the next line without accidentally jumping to the wrong place.

Research shows that your subconscious mind gets a boost of energy when jumping to a new line (as long as it doesn’t happen too often) but this energy dwindles as you read over the duration of the line.

Here’s the line lengths from the sites mentioned above:

  • Medium – 75 characters
  • 37Signals: Signal vs. Noise – 76 characters
  • Zen Habits – 78 characters

4. Mind your spacing

Adequate spacing between letters is important for your readers to be able to move through sentences fluidly. The tighter your letters are together, the harder it is for people to identify the shapes that make up different letterforms.

Take a look at another example from Jessica Hische of the readability of Helvetica versus Avenir. Hische recommends Avenir because of its more open spacing:

13 730x303 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

Proper spacing makes your readers feel good. Here’s 5 recommended font combinations from Google Web Fonts that have good spacing for reading long blocks of content.

I decided to put these tips into practice with our ooomf email newsletter campaign. Here’s a comparison between our original campaign and our new design:

email campaign comparison 730x453 The science behind fonts (and how they make you feel)

By changing the font and increasing it’s size, our email content felt much better.

Packaging content the right way is important and knowing why we feel the way we do about the look of content will hopefully help next time you design content for a project. As Aarron Walter, author of Designing for Emotion, writes,

“People will forgive shortcomings, follow your lead, and sing your praises if you reward them with positive emotion.”

It’s important to remember that while there is a science connected to how your words are designed, no amount of good design can save bad content.

Write well first. Design well second.

10 ways modern enterprise performance management is changing businesses

By , Saturday, 28 Dec ’13 , 04:00pm  ||



“This data is 90 days old, but that’s okay.”

When was the last time you heard a C-level executive say that? My guess is it’s been a while, because these days, if you don’t have real-time access to the data that drives your business, it’s all but impossible to arrive at meaningful results that help you grow and compete.

Unfortunately, this problem is all too common in enterprises today, where enterprise performance management (EPM) platforms fail to produce actionable insights from current and relevant data. On top of that, most EPM implementations remain complex and difficult to manage requiring power users that serve as data gatekeepers. Not exactly a recipe for success.

But EPM is changing, and as a result, it’s changing the way enterprises operate around the world. So here are 10 ways that a new approach to enterprise performance management is changing the game for businesses globally.

1. Cloud-first is the new normal

IDC Research  predicts cloud technology spending will grow by 25 percent in 2014, reaching over $100B. Along with further adoption comes further specialization – and cloud services are increasingly becoming differentiated as vendors seek to provide more infrastructure capabilities.

Better infrastructure for the public cloud begets more capable and scalable enterprise apps, with Amazon, Google and others offering more tools for companies to run on the cloud. EPM solutions that offer improved cloud capabilities will be the ones leading growth for businesses in the New Year.

2. Mobility cannot be ignored

Workforces are now global and remotely connected all the time, so it’s not surprising that tablet and smartphone growth is predicted to continue into next year. Mobile is now the de facto platform on which business people and consumers are devouring data, and unlike in previous years, they are now acting on the data as well.

EPM tools now need to be able to provide reports on the fly – on any device. Technologies that aren’t designed to be device-agnostic will lose market share in the coming year.

3. Big data turns to focus on actionability

Big data is a key consideration for any EPM system – and today data crunching capabilities alone aren’t enough to move the needle. Decision-makers are now looking for easier-to-manage apps that provide more granular, actionable insights in real time.

Expect cloud apps with the ability to sift through disparate data streams to become widespread in the finance department.

4. Collaboration has emerged from its awkward adolescence

Several years ago, collaborative technologies in the enterprise were new and a little clumsy. But that’s history. Platforms that don’t include collaborative features are becoming extinct.

Innovative technologies such as Yammer and Box that enable employees to collaborate and share information have become critical business functions, not just the latest shiny object. IDC also expects that by 2016, 60 percent of the Fortune 500 will have social-enabled innovation management solutions in place.

This also has implications for EPM: Solutions that enable collaboration across the organization fit into today’s enterprises, while those that don’t literally have no place to go.

5. CFOs have become more influential

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on how CFOs have a bigger say than ever in determining where and how companies place their bets. Citing new research from Gartner, the Journal notes how CFOs now have 40 percent more influence over IT investments than they did two years ago.

So while CFOs have a leading role to play in transforming organizations, many are still struggling to identify best practices for implementing EPM solutions that can help them make the most of their growing influence.

6. In-context analytics drive decision-making

We are moving from an age in which log analysis was enough, to a business analysis perspective that is predicated on what’s happening right now. The importance of context and real-time data is now mission-critical for EPM.

In the coming year, the role context plays in making smart use of data will start getting the recognition it deserves.

7. Machine-generated data is now part of the package

With more data attached to every system, machine-generated and unstructured data represents a wealth of information that EPM solutions need to take into consideration. RFIDs, sensor data and more will become more important.

8. Enterprise technology innovation will start to drive consumer technology innovation

The enterprise is becoming a new source of innovation. While in past the consumerization of IT drove enterprise trends, next year the enterprise will start to take the lead.

The intersection of cloud, mobile and social at enterprise scale is helping to create highly available and user-friendly experiences in the workplace.  Enterprise applications that aren’t designed with these considerations in mind will not be adopted.

9. Competition will drive rapid technology adoption

It’s dawning on CFOs that their systems are outdated, and budgeting platforms that still require up to four months to complete a budget are no longer sufficient. On average, companies that employ rolling forecasts save between five and 25 days each year in their budgeting process, according to research by the American Productivity & Quality Center.

CFOs are beginning to understand that the current environment is “eat or be eaten,” and if they don’t adopt new technologies to reduce the time they spend planning, they will become irrelevant.

10. Agility always wins

In today’s evolving market, there is no silver bullet to success – in any industry. But what does work is to continually be looking to the future, and considering the next move.

Forward-thinking CFOs will be looking for EPM solutions that think like they do – well ahead of the now – and if the variables change, they want a solution that can pivot quickly and adjust to the new conditions. For the only constant is change itself – and even that needs to be planned for.



Unlocking the potential for Big Data in 2014

By Martina King  ||



Martina King is the CEO of Featurespace where she is responsible for the strategic direction and corporate vision at the company.

popular internet meme goes something like this: ‘It’s 2013: where’s my flying car?’ The question, asked on t-shirts and coffee mugs around the world, debated on technology forums, or bantered around with friends at a café, is essentially one that asks: Where exactly are the benefits of this ‘better future’ we all signed up for?

The answer is simple: the benefits are in the data.

The age of data

Flying cars notwithstanding, 2013 was the year that data and its potential became widely acknowledged. It’s also the year that data was demonised—everything from government leaks to questions surrounding privacy and personal security has turned our idea of data from a neutral concept of tiny bits of information to a murky shadow that follows us around whether we want it to or not.

There’s a bit of irony here: the term itself is Latin for ‘gift,’ but increasingly more people are beginning to question where, how, and to whom they want to give their data. In a post-PRISM world, lines are drawn between those who see data as a threat, and those who envision it as a way to solve the biggest challenges of our lifetime.

In truth, data presents an opportunity to realise incredible positive changes to our lives: the ability to improve the way we live, how we discover and solve problems, and most importantly how we approach and implement solutions that change everything from the way business is conducted to how natural disasters are predicted, prevented, and responded to.

Changing our lives

Using data to change our lives isn’t some unrealistic dream for the future—in fact, in some ways the idea has been around for quite a while. Meteorological data has been collected in various parts of the world since 3000 BCE; the 19thcentury introduced a range of library classification methods.

And with the holiday season in full swing, let’s not forget the ancient Roman census—another example of how data collection and interpretation have enjoyed a long history of impacting every facet of our lives.

The difference now is simply one of scale. We are at a turning point for humanity, as for the first time in any civilisation there is enough information being collected to start to apply mathematics to many of our greatest, as yet unsolved, problems.

Forget flying cars: data is already enabling scientists to cure disease, predict when we’ll get sick, and generate higher crop yields to feed our expanding population. A bit closer to home, you know data is working in your favour when your mobile suggests a better route for the evening drive after a traffic app picks up accidents or delays near your neighbourhood.

A new view of the future

But the proper, safe use data is all about intentions, and the intelligence behind intentions is crucial. Are we determined to use the goldmine at our fingertips in ways that fundamentally improve our future?

Imagine: with data analytic tools stepping in to automate the process of understanding vast amounts of information, humans are free to apply our energies to more creative tasks. How much more productive would you be if data were to automate the repetitive, auto-pilot moments of your day?

Driverless pods2 Unlocking the potential for Big Data in 2014

Connected, driverless cars, for example, would take away the stress of the morning rush hour, letting you log on and get ahead of the day, kick back and have a coffee, or work in a little extra playtime with the children.

It is no longer a question of whether there is enough data yet, or if technology can process it. For the first time, the answer to both is a resounding ‘yes’. Given that data is the key to unlocking solutions for the modern world we’ve dreamed of, we must be able to see past the Orwellian scaremongering and tap into the huge potential for progress and enhancement that understanding data provides.

Unlocking the potentials of data

To understand this in the real world, look at retailers. On the whole, retailers have embraced data, using it to build a pattern of customers’ online shopping habits to improve communications and loyalty.

That means retail organisations no longer have to take a stab in the dark as to our preferences and needs based on our age and gender—they can now predict our purchasing patterns before we even decide, giving us personalised offers or product recommendations to encourage good spending habits and completely eliminating the need for guess-work and assumption.

Making decisions based on assumptions is how most problems have historically been approached. We tend to decide on solutions that appeal to what a problem looks like, not necessarily what it is.

Coming at a solution this way means that the nuances–the human element–tend to get lost: again, people become simply numbers on a page. But it’s the nuances that are all important, and although you may have not been looking for them, what you don’t know often represents the biggest opportunity.

Insight beyond insight

A method that flips the traditional approach on its head and gives an approximate answer for the exact problem—like Adaptive Behavioural Analytics—gives you exactly that insight in to the unknown and unexpected. This means that things you weren’t necessarily looking for can now be discovered and acted upon. Let’s not forget that Columbus wasn’t setting out for America!

Adaptive Behavioural Analytics is clearing the way for us to approach data safely, with good intentions, and most importantly armed with the right tools to tease out nuances and solve exact problems. Its automated and adaptive characteristics level the playing field for businesses who want the most out of their data: there’s no longer a need for a team of scientists to support and maintain complicated analytics.

As a result, small companies can make sure they reap the benefits of this insight without spending precious resources on maintaining a data science team—organisations can spot road bumps before they appear, hijack new opportunities before they even occur, predict customer behaviour and habits in order to drive profits and identify fraud before it happens.

And the possibilities that data—coupled with the right analytics—can deliver are limitless. Only our imagination draws the boundaries of what we can accomplish, and new applications are becoming feasible every day.

Why restrain data’s future potential with fear, when the right tools and intentions are driving incredible solutions to global problems? That sounds much more exciting than a jetpack or a flying car—and those who are poised to step into the forefront of this revolution agree.

Image credit: Filipchuk Oleg/Shutterstock