Search marketing agencies and professionals exist mainly to do two things – one, manage digital programs with a specialized set of knowledge and experience. Second, just as important but highly underrated, is the ability to tell their bosses, clients, or stakeholders what the hell all of those numbers mean.

Parallel that with Data, the lovable (or annoying, depending on your taste) android from Star Trek: The Next Generation. While one of the most intelligent crew members, a major portion of his character arc is spent attempting to become more human. To learn to socialize, to experience emotions, and to communicate to his peers in a way that allows him to be part of the group. This quest makes a point for us – that knowledge is powerful, but is not the defining factor in human communication.

Pretty good with Pivot Tables.

Yet in our industry, our communications are always focused on the numbers. In fact, every new platform or technology focuses more and more on data. More data. Better data. More analytics options. But rarely, if ever, is the data ever made more human. And it’s time that changed.


Right Brain vs. Left Brain

Take a look at the following articles, both of which report on the safety and efficacy of a made-up clinical drug.


In a controlled study at Chicago Memorial Hospital, Drug A is blamed for causing the deaths of three young women during the clinical trials. The girls were participants in the experimental group of 125,000 participants, and were all under the age of 24. Participants ranged in age group, ethnicity, education level, sexual orientation, and income.


In a controlled study of Drug B at Chicago Memorial Hospital, over 99.997% of the participants in the trial experienced none of the potential side effects, which included headaches, nausea, vomiting, and in severe cases, heart failure. The drug has proved to be an effective treatment against Condition XYZ and is set for a market rollout of 2015.

Notice anything? In each case, the data is the same. Three people out of 125,000 equals .0024%. Yet, most people skip over the math, even if they understand it, and react with immediate judgment based on the headlines.

So how does this relate to search? Imagine your next QBR takes one of the following paths:


Impressions are down year over year by 20%, even though CTR and Conversion Rates were up by 15% each. Campaign performance in Q3 was off by 30% of ROAS goal of $200,000. This is over the 25% threshold defined in Q2; recommend pulling out of project.



Although total impressions are down year over year by 20%, CTR and Conversion Rates have increased by 15%. Campaign performance in Q3 was 70% to target ROAS, generating a return of $140,000 during the Quarter. Recommend revising forecasts to account for consumer index data both market-wide and vertical-specific.

Again – same data, but the headline directly influences how you interpret that data. So why, with all of our logic and intelligence, are we still impacted by something as simple as semantics? Evolution, of course.


Planet of the Apes

Assuming you believe in evolution (although a few episodes of certain reality shows may rid you of that notion), the human race is currently believed by scientists to only be about 300,000 years old.

Meanwhile, the science of statistics is less than 300 years old, advanced mathematics is less than 3,000 years old, and the earliest known human drawing is less than 40,000 years old – the point at which we began to understand symbolic concepts. Language, however, is millions of years old. Even our genetic cousins, the apes, communicate with each other through body language, grunts, and other primitive language cues.

My, how far we’ve come.

So the older the communication systems we use, the longer it has been ingrained in our brains and the more we understand it on a raw level.


So… how do you make your data more human?

Since your clients, bosses, and stakeholders will never be comfortable without data, you can’t abandon numbers altogether. But, by understanding the role of pictures and language, you can reach a deeper level of understanding that data alone will never demonstrate.

With Data:
While important, data is just the co-star. Numbers are never your real insights– they are what back up and validate your insights. So, when presenting a performance report, don’t just present the data. Present the information, and work in the data as an afterthought.

With Pictures:
When you see a picture, you don’t see the exact placement of several hundred pixels, you see a symbol or a concept that is made up of those pixels. Likewise, use your data points as pixels – zooming out of the individual points to see the intended image. Additionally, whatever we see on a single canvas, digital or physical, our brains interpret as one single item. This is why infographics, dashboards, and summaries are so popular in data-heavy industries like ours. So let your data points paint the picture you need to present.

With Language:
You may speak in statistics, but your audience hears headlines. And if you don’t give them the headline you want, they’ll make up their own, which may conflict with what you’re trying to show them. Preempt that with your headline, and make it quotable, so it can be passed up the ladder and understood easily. If you’re quotable, you’ll be quoted.


So there you go – a few concepts on why and how to make your data a whole lot more human.

It worked!


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