Forget about your SEO investment. Disregard your PPC budget. B2B marketers should be asking themselves, “Am I getting all I can from search engines... for free?” Consider this: searching is the second most popular online activity today — second only to email. In fact, comScore (August 2009) estimates that Google alone handles 304 million searches a day. Given this large volume of activity, search engines can tell you a lot about your customers.

Today, I’ll discuss several easy-to-use tools that provide meaningful insights into your customers’ needs, emerging market trends, and competitive market threats.

Market research at a price you can afford!

Web analytics tools provide insight into the people who have already found your website. Alternatively, search engines can tell you about the entire online population. In fact, this collective set of data can be viewed as a gigantic, publicly available research study; your very own focus group. And all at no charge!

Every year, marketers spend millions of dollars on research in order to determine how customers think; what they are looking for; and how people view a company relative to the competition. I propose that many of these insights can be gleaned from (free) search data.

Customer needs and terminology

One of the most interesting things you can learn from search engines is how people actually think about (and search for) your products and services. A very simple but effective tool is Google Trends. Marketers are able to analyze relative search volume, for multiple queries, in various locations, over time.

So, for example, a B2B network provider might want to determine the specific language used most often when prospects search. Perhaps the marketing department is focused on messages related to “high speed internet” but the sales force suspects that more people think in terms of “broadband services”.

A simple query in Google Trends will quickly indicate exactly what people are looking for. This chart shows relative US search volume for these two queries over the past 12 months. It also indicates major news events (the letters in the boxes) that might influence general interest and search volume.

b2b-trends-1

We can quickly see that significantly more people are looking for information related to “broadband” than high speed internet. This knowledge can help marketers craft meaningful messages and run campaigns that are better aligned with customer needs and terminology.

The analysis can be further expanded upon by using numerous, free, keyword research tools. For example, the Google Search-based Keyword Toolallows a marketer to enter a relevant website URL or a target keyword and receive many more related search phrases.

Entering “business broadband” returns these additional search queries (and more) with relative estimated monthly search volume:

biz-broadband

This data reflects how customers think and specifically what they are looking for. Marketers can utilize this information to better align marketing messages (both online and off) with customer terminology.

New market trends

Search tools can also be used to identify market trends and competitive threats. For instance, let’s analyze search queries related to the business networking service, Linked In. Take a look at search volume for “linked in” in the US from 2004 to 2009:

linked-in

Virtually unheard of in 2004, and with only minimal interest in ‘05 and ‘06, the popularity of Linked In has skyrocketed since 2007. Any company even remotely associated with the business-networking industry should (at a minimum) be aware of, and hopefully capitalizing on, this phenomenon.

This example shows how search engines can provide early clues to changing behavior. Marketers must ask themselves how to best capitalize on this knowledge. What does the enormous popularity of Linked In mean to your business? How could you be using this service with respect to your marketing efforts, sales contacts, suppliers, partners and current customers?

Competitive threats

Lastly, search data provides insights into current and emerging competitive threats. Let’s compare the relative interest in various small business accounting packages. We’ll look at US search volume over several years for queries such as: Peachtree, QuickBooks, and Microsoft Dynamics.

accting-b2b

At a glance, we can see that the QuickBooks and Peachtree brands have a similar level of search activity (with QuickBooks being slightly more popular). Microsoft Dynamics is significantly less popular and really didn’t become a competitive factor until mid-2005.

I recommend that B2B marketers use monitoring tools (a very simple option is Google Alerts) to keep track of news events related to current and potential competitors and periodically compare search volume to determine growing or waning market interest.

This type of analysis can be conducted on competitive company names as well as competing product and service brands. Search data can be analyzed for a specific city, metro area, state, country, or globally. Trends can be viewed across many years or behavior can be analyzed on an annual basis.

Mine the gold

Search tools provide insights into actual, real-time online behavior. B2B marketers who capitalize on this gold mine of knowledge can better align marketing messages with specific customer needs — thus, increasing response rate and improving overall marketing results.

What you can learn from the hundreds of millions of searches that take place each day?

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

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: Search Marketing

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About The Author: is president and founder of SmartSearch Marketing, a Boulder, Colorado-based search engine marketing agency. You can reach Patricia at patricia@smartsearchmarketing.com. The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

Connect with the author via: Email | LinkedIn



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