A guide to online market research with Google

Creating a business plan for a new online enterprise (like a blog, professional site, or eCommerce store) requires decent analysis into the market size, niche, and target audience.

Unlike traditional startups, online businesses have some great market research tools available free of charge (useful for traditional companies too), in the form of the Google AdWords keyword tool, and Google Trends.

Google's keyword tool can tell you a lot about the size of a market globally, within a country, and how much traffic given search phrases may generate.

Google Trends can provide powerful insights into how a market has evolved and changed over the last few months or years.

By combining SEO keyword data, with insights from Google Trends, it is possible to capture some really useful insight (even if you're out of the startup phase).

This article shows how to make use of both Google AdWords and Google Trends to identify key component of a niche audience, including some powerful, practical examples.

Find the size of the industry using keywords

The keywords tool allows us to determine the amount of searches generated by certain SEO keywords and phrases.

This information is intended primarily for advertisers, but companies can learn a lot from aggregating search data for target keywords (including long tail phrases).

How to use Google AdWords keyword tool for research

Here's how I use Google's keyword tool to research potential new audiences for my site:

  1. Enter one or more keywords I think are most likely to generate traffic in that niche (one per line)
  2. Use the Advanced Options and Filters section to narrow the results by country (because localized SEO is of critical importance)
  3. Set the Match Type option (left hand column) to Exact
  4. Select the Keyword Ideas results tab

These options provide an excellent source of information not only on the keywords I searched for, but also a host of related keywords.

I then repeat this process a few times, incorporating new phrases that are both highly relevant and generate reasonable amounts of traffic from the list of ideas Google provides.

In this way it is possible to build up a list of SEO keywords and phrases that are most relevant to your industry, and get a very good idea of the amount of Web traffic (and therefore the size of the market) in that particular niche.

In other words, it kills two birds with one stone.

Identify key trends

Google keywords presents a snapshot of the niche in its current form, according to Google's most recent set of search data. But it tells you nothing about how the industry is evolving.

So, while your primary keywords might be generating 20 000 search hits a month, that may not be the whole story. What if it's down to 20 000 from 100 000? What if it's decreasing by 10% each month?

In order to understand things fully (which is the purpose of doing research and creating a business plan), it is important to know the history of that market, and identify and understand the underlying causes of any strong trends.

How to combine Google Trends with keyword research

I tend to use Google Trends only once I have identified the major keywords in a given industry. It's easy to do things this way because Trends is integrated into the Google keywords tools.

Simply click the small arrow that appears to the right of any keyword in the AdWords tool, and select the Google Insights for Search option.

This will bring up a graph that displays the search volume history of this particular keyword or phrase.

It is possible to filter the search results by timeline, region/country, or industry - and add or remove additional keywords to compare how they have changed with time.

Ultimately, any new online startup, regardless of whether it is a home business, blog or online store aiming to corner the market, needs to get their research just right.

The online world is so competitive that every bit of insight and understanding counts - and could mean the difference between winning and being an "also ran".

Keyword research and trends are relatively quick and powerful ways of gleaning insight, and should form part of your overall research every time.

What other online sources of data are freely available and easy to use? How accurate do you think Google's search data is, and how well can it be applied to the "real world"?

Share your tips and advice in the comments.

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