Let’s face it – we’re all on a quest to learn more about our customers’ needs. Consumer surveys, mailers, in-face talks, online customer stalking (what?) – you’ve done it all. And with good reason. The more you know about your customers, the more you’re able to create better user personas, more targeted marketing copy, and to, ultimately, deliver a better product or service. Our businesses are built on good market research  – so who wouldn’t be looking for new ways to uncover more about your audience? Especially if they’re all free (or mostly free) from Google.
Below are four ways to conduct market research using the world’s largest search engine:
1. Keyword Searches
Your customers perform searches related to your business every day – after all, that’s how they find you on the Web. But are you conducting the same searches on your hunt for customer intel? If you’re not, you should be!
Simply performing real-time keyword searches related to your brand can help you uncover new terms or phrases to target, content pages to develop, features or new services to create, or additional insight into how a customer wants to interact with a company like you. For example, if you sell dishwashers, maybe noticing the search results for this term may encourage you to highlight your add-on dishwasher repair service or to create a page dedicated to ratings and reviews of certain brands.
If you want to one-up these simple keyword searches, use a tool like Google’s Keyword Research Tool  to get a more competitive view at what the search traffic looks like for particular terms and how competitive the market is. This may help you find new advertising opportunities or generate ideas for content marketing.
2. Google Crowdsourcing (aka Google+)
Regardless of the social platform, I’m a huge fan of using my follower base as a living focus group. If you’ve shied away from Google+ because you weren’t sure how to use it, why not get your feet wet by posting some questions and encouraging consumer feedback?
- What kind of muffins should you bake for tomorrow’s morning rush at your café?
- What feature is missing from your software?
- How are users hacking your products without realizing it?
Post some interesting (or functional) questions and see what your community responds with? Or optimize your Google+ circles by creating specific user buckets and then target questions specific to certain customer segments. While I’m not an avid Google+ user (yet), I do enjoy using the site for this type of crowdsourcing. I seem to get more responses on Google+ than I do on Facebook or even Twitter.
3. Online Surveys
One of the most tried and true ways of gathering customer insight comes from creating online surveys and offering customers a small incentive for filling them out. SMBs can use surveys to update demographic information, collect opinions on new and existing products, get answers to open-ended questions, or to probe overall customer satisfaction. While business owners have been conducting customer surveys via telephone and mail for years, now we can add online surveys to the mix.
To create free and simple online survey using Google, simply chose the option to build a new form in Google Docs . From there, small business owners can easily create an online market research form that they can use to poll their customers on various aspects related to their business. Google allows for text, paragraph text, multiple choice, checkboxes, scale, list or grid answering to make the form as useful as possible. Once the form is created, you can embed it directly on your blog/Web site or send users the link to fill it out online. When they do, Google will record the answers and graph the responses for you. You’ll also, of course, have access to the raw data.
4. Google Consumer Surveys
Google Consumer Surveys  are a relatively new offering from Google and take the free online surveys one step further by giving you access to not just your audience, but Google’s complete publisher network! With Google Consumer Surveys, site owners create online surveys to be shared with Google’s publisher network and pay as little as $.10 per response. While the online surveys mentioned earlier are perfect for polling your audience, these types of consumer surveys are better suited for identifying interest in service areas, questions about a new logo/site design, or evaluating your overall brand, as you’ll have the option to target the entire US, a certain age group, interest or type of buyer.
In addition to just getting back the raw data, Google will also provide charts summarizing responses and insights highlight interesting differences, which can be segmented age, gender, location and more.
Above are four ways to use Google to learn about your customer. Which tools are you currently using for your market research needs?
Google  Photo via Shutterstock