Whether you’re a small business owner looking to expand into a new market or monitor current operations, or you’re an entrepreneur testing out a fresh business opportunity, take advantage of these online tools, platforms, and information portals to conduct sophisticated market research.
Not only are these Internet-based services relatively easy to use, but they are also free- which is a big plus for frugal-minded entrepreneurs and small business owners.
For this post I will explain the six major ways the Internet and social media can be used in your business’ market research endeavors, namely: “secondary” data sources, online company records, keyword research, online surveys, web traffic analytics, and finally crowdfunding platforms. I will also provide you with several relevant tools and websites to start you off in each category.
But First… What is Market Research?
Market research is the dynamic process of trying to understand the relationship between consumers and a particular product or company. It involves the systematic collection and analysis of consumer, company, and economic data that can include economic reports and industry trends, as well as measurements of consumer attitudes and behaviors.
With this information in hand, businesses can then adjust their operational policies and strategies so that they are in line with current market realities, and entrepreneurs can test the viability of a new product or idea.
Internet Tools and Platforms to Conduct Market Research for Free
1. “Secondary” data sources. Secondary data simply refers to information and research that has already been collected, typically by government agencies, research groups and organizations, non-profits, and other companies. The Internet is a virtual well-spring of this kind of information, you just need to know where to look for it.
- I maintain a list of various governmental agencies, web portals, and non-profit organizations on this site
- For research papers, try a search under Google Scholar
2. Online data on competitive companies. The Internet makes it easier for business owners to determine what their competitors are doing and the way consumers are responding. It also allows Internet users to get a sneak peak into numerous company-specific details, including employee listings, investment portfolios and investor analysis.
- Alexa Website Audit- The ubiquitous global website ranking system provides in-depth web traffic analysis data. Check out your competitor’s website to see who is visiting, who is linking, and get a snapshot of performance trends.
- CrunchBase- A wiki-based, free database of technology companies, relevant technology news, people, and investors that is edited by the public.
- CBInsights- An extensive database of market data on high growth, privately-owned companies
- Glassdoor- Want to know what salary to offer for a new position, or how to conduct an interview for that new sales rep you’re hiring? Go to Glassdoor and get information on company salaries, reviews, and interview questions, as well as job listings left by anonymous users.
- LinkedIn – The social networking site provides employee listings, acquisition and subsidiary data, and a slew of general company news and data.
3. Keyword research. One of the results of Google’s rise to prominence as the Internet gatekeeper is the role and importance of keywords. Keywords are like a compass that both positions a website and reveals reams of information about what different people want and how they are going about getting it. If your business is maintaining any kind of online presence, then keyword research is a must.
- Google Insights- Compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time periods and other variables.
- Good Adwords- See which keywords competitors are using to target their Adwords advertising
- Google Blog Search- Conduct keywords searches across the blogosphere
- Twitter Search- Search keywords mentioned throughout provides Twitter
- Kosmix- Produces a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for each keyword with results culled from blogs and social media sites, including notes from human editors.
- Social Mention- A real-time search engine that searches through user generated social media content and includes statistics of the keyword: strength, sentiment, passion & reach.
- Omgili- This site lets you search online communities, message boards, mailing lists, discussion threads, blogs, and reviews about any topic.
- HowSociable- This site provides a visibility score ranking based on the number of keyword mentions across various social media platforms.
4. Web traffic analytics. Thanks to powerful web traffic analytics programs anyone can easily measure and qualify how current and potential customers and other visitors are using a particular website site. You can also get a complete demographic breakdown.
- Google Anaytics- A free, robust web analytics package provided by the company king of web analytics.
- Alexa Website Audit
5. Online surveys and focus groups. The best way to know what your customers want an what they are doing is to ask them directly, and by far the cheapest and most efficient way to do this is online. There are various ways to go about surveying the market. Some examples include:
- You can a survey on your blog or website
- You can send a survey via email
- Both Facebook and LinkedIn support their own short, online surveys
- You can send out a question or two to your followers on Twitter
- You can conduct an invitation-only online focus group.
- Survey Monkey and Question Form- Free online survey creators and analytics.
- For online focus groups- either you can conduct meetings through video conferencing or collaboration software. In that case, there are many free, open source options to choose from. For the best results, however, you’ll need a paid service. Two options are Qualvu and Itracs.
6. Crowdfunding for market research. Though crowdfunding is generally regarded as a creative way to microfinance a business or a project, it is also a decent market research tool. Entrepreneurs can utilize these social fundraising platforms to see what the user response is and then have a general idea of what the future market demand will look like. Moreover, with most of these sites, funds are only given out once the full requested amount has been raised. It thus creates a virtually risk-free situation for the entrepreneur.
Suggested crowdfunding sites:
In short, there are numerous tools and platforms online that allow anyone to conduct quality, targeted market research and analysis- often for free. Those entrepreneurs and business owners who take the time and expend the effort, will find a literal treasure chest of useful data and resources.