Previously, we talked about why it’s a good idea to do marketing research. For the small business, especially the solo entrepreneur, it can be cost-prohibitive to conduct even basic research – if you don’t know where to look.
Google has a few inexpensive or free tools that small business owners can use to gain insight into what potential customers are thinking and what their pains are. Here are three you can start using today.
Google Consumer Surveys
By far the best way to find out what your customers are thinking is to ask them. But what if you don’t have customers yet? What if you’re expanding into a new market? What if you just want to ask people who haven’t bought from you before?
Google consumer surveys will allow you to ask searchers questions as they land on sites across the web for as little as ten cents per answer. These searchers are often motivated to answer, in order to access premium content, so in some cases it even makes for faster turn-around.
Google Trends complies data on the top searches done in a set time period from various perspectives, going back to 2004. It can help you spot visually whether a term is gaining momentum or losing steam. It also provides great clues for predicting changes in trends – which can be important when you’re trying to figure out what search terms to optimize your site for best results.
For example, let’s say you were attempting to figure out whether your new company site copy should focus on entrepreneurs, small business in general, or small business owners. Linguistically, these all refer to the same thing.
However, a closer look tells us that only one of these searches is actually popular among searchers from the United States.
Without this key element to your research, you could end up creating a site, blog post, or item of content that’s extremely relevant to your product, but only appeals to a group of searchers to which you aren’t equipped to sell.
Google Trends has more to offer – it’s actually several tools in one. I’m especially fond of Google Hot Searches, as it helps you see at a glance what people are searching for on the web, which isn’t always the same as what people are actually discussing. It’s quite helpful when you want to center a blog post or other content around national or industry news.
It’s a great tool – and it’s free!
Google Alerts is another free service Google has that allows you to track the mention of any phrase in its news, blog, video, discussion, or all its web results (using the default filter “everything”). You can ask it to email you results or update them to an RSS feed you can subscribe to in your news reader.
Frequency and relevancy can be controlled too – make sure you choose as-it-happens under “how often” if you’d like to get updates as news breaks, and to change the “how many” option from “best results” to “everything” if you’re tracking all mentions of something, rather than just top mentions.
Some things you could use Google Alerts to track are:
mentions of your name
mentions of your company
video demos of a competing product
For example, if you wrote a book on Do It Yourself Woodworking, you might want to see where you can find people who need help with woodworking right now. You could set up a Google alert for every time someone uses the words “help” and “wordworking” together, setting it up to “as-it-happens”.
You’d not only find live potential customers, build trust and demonstrate expertise by answering live questions, you’d also be able to find out through these searches where you best customers gather.
As a bonus, you can also use the Google Alerts page to search discussions – once you get the result, if you don’t need to track the results, just don’t save the query. You can also add characters to the end of a regular Google search to get discussion-filters to show up.
There’s a rumor that Google Alerts is going to close at some point.
However, as there has been no official announcement from Google, and the product is still supported, it seems the RSS feed options were only temporarily offline – perhaps to deal with the frequent republishing of them as content, which is against their usage policy.
Either way, it still exists now, can be tracked via email, and will be around at least long enough for you to use it to perform research.
Google has a lot of great tools you can use to do marketing research and other small business functions. I often find the best ones with an alert for “Google tools”.