The prolific growth of the Internet and Web2.0 has been a boon for market researchers in that it has simplified the process of collecting and generating quality market data.

To run a successful small business these days, conducting effective market research is a must. Market research is a dynamic process focused on understanding the relationship between consumers and a particular product or company. It involves the systematic collection and analysis of consumer and economic data including economic reports and industry trends as well as consumer attitudes and behaviors.

Armed with this information, businesses can adjust their policies and strategies so that they are in line with current market realities. Here are a few ways, small business owners can use the Internet to conduct market research:

Researching “Secondary” Data
Secondary data refers to any information about the market or the economy that has already been collected. It is called secondary because you are not directly interacting with your current or potential base market. Examples of places to go to get secondary data include: government sites (check out my previous post on free government resources), trade journals, and surveys conducted by other businesses.

Keyword Research

Keyword research goes beyond a simple Google or Yahoo search. See how different keywords are performing and get an idea of what your customers are looking for. Use Google’s free keyword analytics tools, such as the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, to measure keyword usage.

Keyword research also includes monitoring social networking sites, such as Twitter and blogs for any mentions of your company.

Keeping Tabs on the Competition
The Internet makes it easier for business owners to find out what their competitors are doing. A simple Google search of a company’s name, for example, will provide a snapshot of who is linking to their siteĀ  and what people are saying. Check out your competitor’s website to get a feel for the customer’s experience and get information on the kinds of products and/or services they are offering.

Webtraffic Analytics

Small business owners with a strong web presence can measure and qualify how current and potential customers are using their site. As mentioned above, Google provides a fully featured web analytics package, Google Anaytics, which is free.

Conducting Online Surveys/Focus Groups
The best way to know what your customers are feeling or doing is to ask them directly, and by far the cheapest way to do this is online. Enter online customer surveys and focus groups.

For those who want to conduct an online survey, there are several sites that offer software to help you create an effective customer questionnaire- some of them for free. Those interested in a survey creator should check out Survey Monkey and Question Form to start out with.

With online focus groups, a company can invite several individuals to participate in a structured discussion with a moderator for about an hour. Conducting focus groups online generally requires atĀ  least some conferencing software. There are also several programs available specifically created for online focus group moderation with some nifty features, such as video, drawing tools, and remote website navigation.

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