Conducting Internet Market Research: Using the Web to Get Consumer and Economic Data for a Small Business
Learn how to harness the power of the web to conduct online market research. Business owners can find economic data, industry trends, consumer attitudes & behaviours.

Running a successful small business hinges on effective market research, and these days with the proliferation of the Internet and Web 2.0, the process of collecting and generating quality market data has never been simpler or cheaper.

What is Online Market Research
Market research is a continuous process that focuses on understanding the relationship between consumers and a particular product or business. Internet marketing research just means that the whole process is carried out online. It involves the systematic gathering and interpretation of consumer and economic data, from economic reports and industry trends analysis available on the web, as well as consumer attitudes and behaviours via online surveys and focus groups.
Armed with vital market and economic data; businesses can adjust their policies, strategies, and goals, so that they reflect current market realities. Here are a few ways that small business owners can harness the power of the Internet to conduct market research:

Use the Internet to Acquire ‘Secondary’ Market Research Data
Secondary data refers to any information about the market or the economy that has been collected by another party. It often includes data from governmental sites, non-profit organizations, trade journals, and even the research from other companies. It is referred to as secondary because the business is not directly interacting with their current or potential market.

Using Keyword Research
Anyone familiar with the web has most likely at some point used a search engine to conduct an Internet search. This is a rudimentary form of keyword research. Today, business owners can easily see how different keywords are performing and get an idea of what their customers are looking for. Some of the best tools for this process are free: Small business owners should be sure to check out Google Analytics, and for those who are familiar with Twitter, there is a range of helpful Internet research tools, such as Tweetbeep; that allows users to set up email alerts anytime someone mentions a brand, or any other specified keywords on Twitter.

Keeping In Touch with the Competition
By using the Internet, business owners can usually glean a lot of information regarding what their competitors are doing. For example, doing an Internet search of a company’s name, will provide a snapshot of who is linking to their site and what consumers are saying about the company. Business owners can also take a look a their competitors’ websites, to see what the customer experience is like and get information on the kinds of products and/or services their competitors are offering

Using Website Analytics
Any small business owners who maintain a web presence should be measuring and qualifying how people are using their site. As mentioned previously, Google Analytics is the way to go for this kind of information.

Conducting Online Surveys and Virtual Focus Groups
There are several sites that offer software to help business owners create effective online customer surveys, and many of these options are even free. Those looking for a survey creator should check out Survey Monkey and Question Form.
For online focus groups, a business can invite several individuals to participate in a structured, moderated discussion, that generally lasts about an hour. There are numerous applications available, specifically created for online focus group moderation, that pack some neat features like video streaming, drawing tools, and remote website navigation.

In short, small business owners should not avoid conducting Internet marketing research, as not only is it a vital part of running a successful company, but the web significantly simplifies and loweres the cost of online data collection.