The following techniques can be used to gather market information with the help of a few mouse clicks and keystrokes:
Keyword Search. You know how to do a simple Web search using search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Take that a step farther by searching for "keywords" that people would use to find your type of products or services on the Internet. See how much interest there is in these keywords -- and how many competitors you have in this market. Keyword searches can also help remind you of product niches that you might not have considered. There are other reasons to conduct keyword searches. 'First, you're going to be reminded of product niches that you might not of thought of.' says Jennifer Laycock, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Guide, an online guide to search engines, portals and directories. 'Second, these services will also give you a guesstimate of how many existing sites already use that phrase,' Laycock continues. 'How many existing sites already offer that product.' WordTracker and Trellian's Keyword Discovery are popular keyword search engines.
Competitor Links. A traditional search engine can also help you check out your competitors, their prices, and their offerings. Try typing 'link:www.[competitor's name].com' into Google to find out how many other sites link to your competitor's website. 'It is a great way to see a competitor's link development and PR campaigns,' says Shari Thurow, Web expert and author of the upcoming book Search Engine Visibility. 'Is the competitor promoting a product or service similar to your own? Maybe you can get publicity because you have a new or better product.'
Read Blogs. Blogs are updated much more regularly than traditional websites and, therefore, they can be another gauge of public opinion. Search blogs by using blog-specific search engines, such as Technorati or Nielsen BuzzMetrics' Blogpulse. 'Blogs tend to move at a faster pace and be more informal in tone, so you're more likely to pick up conversation about a new product type or need on a blog than on a standard web site,' Laycock says.
Conduct Online Surveys. Another way to gauge public opinion is through online surveys. While not as scientific as in-person or phone surveys that use a random sampling of the population, online surveys are a low-cost way to do market research about whether an idea or a product will be appealing to consumers. Now many companies offer to conduct online research for you or give your company the tools to carry out your own surveying. Some online survey companies include EZquestionnaire, KeySurvey, and WebSurveyor.