Having just returned from SMX West, I found my brain teeming with topic snippets related to online search marketing. SEO, trademark usage, display and search ad combo campaigns, the Microsoft-Yahoo! deal, mobile ads, and so many more. While the range of topics was vast, all of them fell within the spectrum of online marketing. And in this vast array of online marketing topics, one aspect kept popping up regardless of the theme of the session I was attending: research.

Research: what is it good for?

On its face, research sounds a bit intimidating. And it can be. Taken to ultimate levels, research can be all-consuming. Data can bury you! However, even a minimal amount of research can provide insights to small businesses that illuminate its customer base and provide direction regarding the best actions to secure those customers. When developing a business plan, all business owners have to consider who their customers are and how to find them. Just where are they? And how do customers find a business that provides what they are looking for? Research can answer many of those questions. Cool, huh?

It’s already been determined that people looking for a product or service use online sources to find those things. According to BIA/Kelsey, 97% of consumers use online media to find local products and services. So it’s clear that being online is a great advantage to local businesses. And just how ought a small, local business be online? A website? A local business listing? Display and search ad campaign? Mobile ads? Some of these? All of these? How do you know which is most useful? Research helps.

What do your customers want?

There are many methods which may be employed to determine what your customers want and how they find you. While a business owner may have a good idea of customers’ needs and how to reach them, there is nothing like data to support anecdotal evidence. Data talks! But how can you get to that info? Surveys, polls, interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires can be used to gather data.

Businesses that have some web presence can provide links to surveys to gain insights to what a user is looking for; they can ask customers who come to their brick and mortar store how they found the store (bet it was online!); they can send out questionnaires via snail mail; they can use a focus group. Businesses with websites can use an online analytics tool to gain info as well.

How much can you know?

While a larger data pool provides deeper insight, even small samplings may offer useful information about customer behavior. Most small business owners don’t have limitless time to devote to this research, but even small efforts can prove valuable. If you offer emergency services for cars might a mobile ad or listing be critical to your success? Do you own a small bistro that only serves afterhours diners? Should your ads serve from late afternoon to late night? When do customers find you?

Who are you talking to?

Research can be conducted for how you message – keyword lists, website content, geo-targeting, ad format – and who you message – sex/gender, ethnicity, age, income, location.  The more you know about your prospective customers, the better your marketing effort will be. That can translate into more paying customers, not just prospective customers.

Once you determine who your customers are, think about how to message to them. Perhaps the single male age 18-24 responds differently than single male age 52 and up. How can a message/ad be crafted to each of these segments? The product may be desired by both groups, but success in gaining these different customers may rest in how the message is presented.

What do you gain?

Research, research, research: Don’t assume you know how people search for your services. Do your research; conduct polls, surveys, interview customers, use focus groups. Learn all you can about your prospective customers. The more data you gather the more you learn about those customers. Determine how to message to different segments. The more of this work done, the better your returns will be. And research won’t be nearly as scary as you may have thought!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Small Is Beautiful

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About The Author: is Director of Operations at MerchEngines. Dr. Northart’s experience spans nearly a decade of key management and implementation for large scale local online marketing initiatives.

Connect with the author via: Email



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