Given the sheer breadth of data and information you will likely collect, and also how it can help with the competitive-analysis process, it is usually a good idea to kick things off with market research. Understanding what it is, and the tools you have at your disposal, can make both activities easier and more effective.
Types of Market Research
For an online business, market research is broken down into two primary types of information and methods used to acquire it.
The first is primary, and includes information you gather yourself, or hire a professional to do it. This usually involves contacting your customers directly, through a variety of mediums. This can either be very general, or specific to a problem, idea, or product.
Secondary information includes gathering information compiled by a third party, which you then use to apply to your own business situation. The internet has become one of the largest and most comprehensive sources for finding the best secondary information, with the number of studies, focus groups, and whitepapers growing with each passing day.
Best Ways to Acquire Primary Information
There are a couple different ways to acquire that all-important primary information, vital since it involves your customers directly. Some are more effective and feasible for an online business than others, but all are choices that can be explored.
There are three primary ways you can use to gather market research information directly from customers or clients. These include:
- Online Surveys: Ever visited a website, and had a pop up asking you if you wanted to complete a short survey? This is a prime example of digital market research, one used by most websites and vendors you visit. Online surveys can also be used after a customer makes a purchase, to rate overall satisfaction with the product and customer service process.
- Email Contact: Surveys and questionnaires can be sent through email as well, either to existing customers, or using a list purchased from a third party.
- Traditional Methods:
Direct mail and telephone contact are two traditional methods that can still be used to varying degrees of effectiveness by an online business. Direct mail involves sending out a survey through the postal mail, which the customers would fill out and return to your business. Telephone surveys are also quite common, but more difficult for a small online vendor to pay for and conduct.
Keyword research is a facet of your overall digital research, and involves the specific words or phrases used by customers to find products. This is especially true for an online business, since the entire operation is conducted virtually. Keyword research is an aspect of SEO (search engine optimization), and involves using digital tools to gather information on specific words that are typed into search engines when searching for something.
This identifies which keywords are used most often and how often they result in a conversion, or someone actually clicking on the search result, and visiting your website. Armed with this knowledge, you can optimize the text content on your site so that your results ranking is high when the keyword is used.
Tools for Keyword Research
While keyword research may seem daunting at first, especially if you have limited tech and online expertise, there are powerful resources and tools that simplify the process greatly.
- Google Keyword Planner: Google Keyword Planner allows you to enter a specific word or phrase and receive detailed information on its usage and effectiveness. Keyword Planner can then suggest other, similar keywords, and even project how much volume to expect if you run an ad campaign for it. It can also give you a clear estimate on how much it will cost to run an ad campaign for a keyword or phrase, as well as many other helpful capabilities.
- SEMRush: Provides detailed keyword information on both paid-per-click and organic traffic in over 130 countries. These can be exact matches, or SEMRush can suggest related keywords.
- Moz Keyword Explorer: A good resource for beginners and the experienced alike, Moz Keyword Explorer gives you detailed information in a very easy-to-read and understand fashion. Given information includes both text and visual representations of keyword usage, keyword suggestions, SERP analysis, and much more.
While Google Trends is technically a keyword research tool, it has a unique approach to it that puts it in a class all its own.
This approach focuses on the historic demand for different keywords, products, or types of businesses. This allows you to see how well it has performed over time, dating back as far as 2005. You can compare different terms and searches, to see which performed better in the same time period, and even when specific events impacted their performance. This is a worldwide approach, and can show in which countries the most interest and movement was seen.
Social media has become a center point of many aspects of daily life, and market research is one of the chief among them. Over 78 percent of businesses plan on using social media in some form for market research purposes, a figure that is likely even higher with online businesses.
It is always important to have a goal when you use social media as a marketing tool, rather than just diving in to just see what you can find in general. If you have clearly-defined objectives, you can cut through all of the extraneous data you are likely to find in droves.
Data gleaned from social media comes in two forms, qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative is concrete numbers, while qualitative expresses more of a sentiment or reaction to brands, products, and ideas. Identify which type you are hunting for, and then pick the social media platforms your projected audience is more active on. Given how many social media outlets there are these days, it is best to focus on those popular with your target demographics.
There are several important reasons to use social media for market research, including:
- Analyzing Your Brand
- Tracking Marketing Campaigns
- Analyzing the Competition
- Customer Service Improvement
- Launching a New Product
A wide variety of digital tools exist to help make your social media market analysis efforts as effective and efficient as possible. Most of these are free, with one or more perfect for virtually any social media market analysis goal in mind.
- Google Alerts: An excellent basic service you can use to monitor any time a specific keyword or competitor is mentioned on social media.
- InfiniGraph: Identifies and keeps track of social media trends pertaining to your market specifically.
- Marketing Grader: Provides a combination score based on important factors like social media activity, blogging, and SEO campaigns.
Competitive analysis is the the activity of identifying who your competitors are, what type of marketing strategies they have, and how effective they are when compared to yours. These can be both direct and indirect competitors, with groups created based on how much competition they represent.
The easiest way for an online business to take advantage of this valuable type of research is by making a competition grid for each group or individual competitor. This is basically just chart you can create in software like Word or Excel, and will list various pieces of information pertaining to their offerings and operation. It is best to start out with your top 10 competitors, and move on if you need even more competitive analysis.
Important pieces of information to include in a competition grid are:
- Who your competitors are
- Their products and services
- Market share size
- Present and past marketing strategies
- Strengths and weaknesses
- How big of a threat they are in terms of competitiveness
It is also essential to take a look at the exact content offered by a competitor on their website, and compare it to what you have on your own. Important content to search for includes:
- How basic site information is worded
- Blog posts
- Buyer Guides
- Press releases.
The SEO structure and strategy of your competitors is another category of information that can be useful in finding out how you can improve your own approach to digital marketing. Check out things like the title of a page, how the content’s URL scheme is laid out, which keywords are used, and how and when they are used in the content.
Digital Competitive Analysis
While figuring out all of these different aspects of your competitors may seem like a daunting task, there are a wide range of tools that can make it a lot easier, even if you are relatively new to the digital arena in general. These tools can be very general in nature, or geared towards a specific area, and are usually accompanied by nominal fee for their usage.
- Kompyte: An excellent general tool, Kompyte gives you valuable comparisons in things like site traffic, keyword usage, referrals, and social media metrics. These can be had on competitors you specify, or Kompyte can suggest them for you, if you are not sure who you are competing with.
- SpyFu: Focuses primarily on the keywords used by your competition, such as which are most effective in both paid and organic categories. Also identifies and keeps track of backlinks found for competitors.
- SimilarWeb: Tracks the actual traffic level to your competitors, and which visitors are unique. Also identifies the primary sources of the traffic.
Without market research or competitive analysis, an online vendor or business will usually flail about looking for the best marketing practices without much success. These two tools, and the accompanying resources found online to accomplish them, are the best ways to fine tune your marketing practices and campaigns for the peak in effectiveness and cost efficiency.