If you do nothing else, do this. It will take just 2 minutes.
Go to http://www.google.com/alerts and sign up for alerts related to your business (market). You can create multiple alerts if you want. Think of this as a personal assistant that reads the web for you and lets you know if something new and related to your business comes up.
What is "market research"? What are you really looking for (that you actually give a %&^# about)?
- Who are your customers and where are they?
- How many potential customers do you have?
- Where are customers looking for and buying my product or service?
- What do my customers like and dislike?
- What are my customers looking for and asking for?
- What are my customers praising and complaining about?
- How much will my customers pay for my product or service?
- Who is competing with me?
- What does my competition offer and sell?
- What are my competition's best sellers?
- How much does my competition cost or charge?
- Where does my competition advertise and sell?
- Who buys from my competition?
- What do customers say about about competition?
Are You a Local Business? (versus a continental or global business)
Local business serve a local city or a group of nearby cities. A common example of a Local Business is a handyman that serves Salem, Eugene and the cities in-between. Knowing if you are a Local Business or not will help you know if and how to focus your research and your marketing.
If you are a local business, be sure to focus your online market research on your target city or cities whenever possible.
Google tends to think of locations in terms of cities rather than counties or states. This is particularly true of "location based" Google searches such as "electricians", "catering" or "auto repair".
Pro Tip for Saving Time and Effort
Save the URLs for useful searches on a easy to reach and edit document so you don't have to start from scratch each time you are doing research. All you need to do is click on your links every so often to stay up to date with the latest online information relevant to your business.
Free tools to store your links:
1. Google the $%^& Out of the Topic and Market
This is especially valuable for local businesses. Ideally you become THE most knowledgeable local expert. Make sure nobody in the local area is more informed than you are regarding your business space.
Did you know Google has an advanced search?
2. Spy on Your Competitor Websites
3. OH NO! ONLINE REVIEWS!
Use Yelp, Google and Other Online Reviews to Learn About Competitors
These are (often) actual customers providing real feedback (good and bad) on your competitors.
4. OH NO! SOCIAL MEDIA!
Use Facebook and Twitter to find customers, competitors or influencers (best for niches)
You don't need to actually use to social media in order to use social media to This is most valuable for products and services that are unique, niche and/or specialized.
Valuable Search Operators for Twitter Search
- Search for an exact phrase: "dog clothing"
- Exclude something: dog clothing -shoes
- Search your local area: graphic design near:"Albany, Oregon" within:25mi
5. Use LinkedIn to find customers (best for Business-to-Business)
You can search for people, companies and groups by:
- job title
- location (including city)
6. Use Facebook Ads to find customers (best for Business-to-Consumer)
7. Use Google AdWords to learn about customers
Google will ask you to set up a billing account before you can use the tool, but you DO NOT have to actually run an ad campaign and spend any money.