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Market research is the first step in the marketing process. Typically, when you think market research, you think online surveys or polls.  While these are, indeed, market research tools, there is so much more to market research today.

In this article, I’m going to share a variety of market research tools for small business owners that will help you identify your ideal customer and choose a marketing strategy.

infographic of marketing process

How to Use Google as a Market Research Tool

Google is, by far, the best market research tool you have at your disposal.  Not only that, but it’s FREE.

Think about all the things you “ask” Google.  Well, your ideal customers are doing exactly the same thing. When you realize that people will ask Google questions they wouldn’t ask their closest friends, you immediately realize the deep insights Google provides.

Google Trends

Google Trends tracks global search terms. You can use Google Trends to see which specific terms are more popular. Google trends will also help you choose which terms people are more likely to use in their searches –so you can use them too,

google trends for market research

Just look at this simple search for “T-shirt” compared to “tshirt”! If you’re selling T-shirts on your website, this kind of information can make a huge difference on your e-commerce site.

Notice that between 2004 and 2010 people were searching for “t-shirt” and then something magical happens — people shift from t-shirt to tshirt! In other words, if your website used t-shirt as a product category, you might have lost traffic to that page. This data tells you that you should adjust your product descriptions to “tshirt”!

Another powerful way to use Google Trends is to see the “demand” for a particular product or service. What you want to see on Google trends is a nice steady line over time. This tells you that there is a steady demand for this product.

google trends market research - team building vs team training

Say you’re an expert in working with teams. And, you want to sell your services. Should you sell “team building” or “team training”? Well, Google Trends can help you choose. As you can see, “team building” is definitely a better way to describe your services. Nothing important thing to note is that “team building” appears to be somewhat seasonal, while team training has a lower, but more steady demand.

As an exercise, sit down for an hour or so and play around with Google Trends. Enter your keywords and topics, compare them over time and see what you discover.

Google Suggestion

Every time you enter a search in Google, you’ll get autosuggested phrases —

google suggestion tool for market research tools

Sticking with our team building example, you can see that my Google search is suggestion “Team building activities” as the most popular phrase searched on Google.

If I wanted to write an article or blog post or even do a webinar, it seems that “Team building activities” is a topic that people want to learn about.

Don’t mistake this for “keyword search”. These are long-tail phrases that people are actually typing into Google. If you were to enter this into a keyword search tool like SEMRush, you might not see a big number. But don’t be fooled. Google wouldn’t give this as the top option if a lot of people weren’t searching for it.

Another fun way to play with the Google suggestions is to see what pops up when you ask a question —

google suggest market research tool to find questions

In this example, you can see that a lot of people are interested in using Myers Briggs in team building.

Another twist on this fun way to search Google is to play the Google alphabet game. It’s simple, just enter your search topic, and then go through the alphabet – it looks like this…

google market research alphabet game

I simply searched for my question phrase “How team building” and added an “a”. Then Google gave me suggestions of questions people asked.

Answer The Public

Now that you understand the power of Google’s autosuggestion feature, you can appreciate the power of Answer The Public. This brilliant market research tool takes all of those Google autosuggestions and gives them to you in ONE report. All the question combinations, all the alphabet combinations and everything in between.

It’s my new favorite tool because when you see all of these combinations in ONE single report, you really get insights into your audience and what really matters to them.

The power behind Answer the Public is entering a one or two word phrase to see a full accounting of what people are searching on Google.

answer the public market research tool

To make the tool even MORE powerful and get into what your ideal customer is thinking, ad a possessive word like “my”. Since I’m focused on team building, I decided to see what comes up when I entered “my team leader” and all I can say is WOW!

Look at the results! “My team leader is bullying me” and “My team leader is rude” and “My team leader is incompetent”. The power behind possessive searches like this is that Google is sharing real searches from real people who are struggling with their team leader.

The bottom line is that you may never get this type of depth from a survey. But a tool like this can actually provide you more insight that you can use in your content or product development.

Google Keyword Tool

Google keyword tool shows you the volume of keyword searches, how competitive those keywords are, and how keywords are related to each other.

If you want to learn about the mental associations that consumers have between products, concepts, and events you can easily find it here. To start you will need to create a free AdWords account. You don’t need to place a Google Ad to use the tool.  BUT, if you are considering using paid advertising, this tool will help you

Think With Google

Think with Google is a market research tool designed to help improve your brand’s marketing, web performance, analysis, digital experience, and more. Choose a use case below to find the tools to match your needs. Here are all the different areas where you can gain market research insights:

Culture and Trends: Specifically, check out the tips, tricks and hacks section where you can get insights from YouTube, Google News and Google Play

Competitive Analysis: In this section, learn how to set up Google Alerts to get a notification every time your brand is mentioned. You can also learn how to use “incognito search” to get an unfiltered view of how people are searching your brand and your competitor’s brand. Check out “Find My Audience” in this section! Find My Audience will help you Identify new audiences that match your current business goals, whether you’re focused on building awareness or growing consideration.

Google Analytics

A lot of business owners look at Google Analytics as a type of report card to see how much traffic their website is getting. But it’s so much more than that.

If you’re a small business owner, Google Analytics will tell you where your customers are coming from and what pages they visit most often.

Online Surveys as Market Research Tools

After you’ve done a lot of the technical research I mentioned above, you can start using online survey tools.

Years ago, online surveys were the primary step in doing market research. The challenge with that is that response rates for online surveys are very low. Another challenge is that jumping into online surveys too quickly will not provide you with reliable insights — unless you spend thousands of dollars.

A better practice is to do your technical and secondary research first, define your questions and then use online survey tools to reach a targeted audience and receive really valuable information.

PRO TIP: The best way to use online survey tools is to define a primary decision you want to make and what specific results will give you enough information to make that decision.

For example: Imagine that you want to launch a new product. You know that your launch will only be successful if you can get at least 1,000 people to be interested in a specific list of features.

This is an ideal online survey project. You can target an audience, and have them rate which features are most useful to them. If you get more than 1,000, then you can move forward. If you get less, you might step back and get more information about which features might be more useful to your target audience.

Below is a list of my favorite online survey tools.

QuestionPro

Most people have heard of SurveyMonkey, but my favorite online survey tool is QuestionPro. I’ve been a QuestionPro customer since 2004! And I have found this tool to be the best value for the price. QuestionPro gives you access to enterprise level survey features and reporting at affordable prices.

QuestionPro online survey market research tools

Ask Your Target Market

This is software that surveys the demographics that you’re interested in. The online survey software has a consumer panel to record response data. It takes only a few hours for the software to cull information from the Internet. The data is presented in the consumer panel in the form of statistics, charts, and graphs.

TryInteract.com

Did you realize that a quiz or an assessment is a type of online survey? Better yet, did you realize that a quiz or an assessment survey is an insanely powerful lead generation tool? Maybe Not. This is where TryInteract comes in.

If you want to kill two birds with one stone, then check out TryInteract’s online quiz maker tool. It’s both a market research tool and a lead generation tool!

This tool is a great way to run online quizzes inside your blog posts or to post on Facebook. The best part is that it will engage your audience like nothing else and give you valuable information about what their needs and wants are.

Website Visitor Analysis Tools

Your very own website is another wonderful source of customer insights. For example, imagine being able to see where all of your visitors click on your website. Or, what if you can see your visitors scrolling patterns? All of this is possible as well as a few other nifty features with the following website experience research tools.

HotJar

hotter market research tool

We talked about how powerful Google searches are and Google Analytics is in helping you understand which pages your website visitors are visiting. But then what? What are they doing on those pages?

This is where heat mapping tools are so useful. And a popular heat mapping tool I HotJar. There is a free plan which will get you started and depending on how you use it, might be just enough to give you some powerful insights about how users experience your website.

Zoho PageSense

If you have a Zoho One account, then you automatically have access to Zoho PageSense. Like HotJar, Zoho PageSense will provide heat maps as well as interactive polls and questions you can ask your website visitors.

I want to focus on the power of interactive polls in PageSense. You might have a “Google Search” tool on your website to capture what people are searching for on your site. It looks like this —

google search bar

This is absolutely a useful tool. But seriously, when was the last time you actually searched INSIDE of a website.

This is where PageSense polls become extremely useful. Adding a PageSense poll to any web page (or all web pages) will engage your visitors and also give you more powerful insights.

Basically, a little box will pop up when your user lands on the page. You can ask them anything. In my case, I ask them exactly what they were looking for. Here’s another example:

page sense poll

How to Use Market Research Tools

Hopefully, this article broadened your thinking about market research tools and the different (and unusual) places where you can find deep market insights about your audience.

When you think about market research for your small business, don’t just assume you have to spend a ton of time and money on online surveys and feedback forms. You have some of the best data and insights right in front of you.