The key to developing content that will engage your audience is first to find out what content that they are actively seeking engagement with. Searchers are in fact telling us exactly how to market to them. With access to search and social data, we can predict what content our audience wants from us and therefore deliver it to them each day exactly how they want to receive it. Some great free ways to conduct market research online includes; checking trending topics, reading answer sites, checking social sites and discovery engines and monitoring whats working for your competition.
Keyword Research as Market Research
Keywords play a powerful role in a content marketing strategy. They are the basic means of communication between searcher and the search engine, representing the searchers voice and interest. By looking at search data, you can determine just how people are getting to the products and services in your industry, influencing the content that you optimize around that term.
Google Trends is a great site to see quickly what people are searching for related to a particular keyword. For example, enter flight delays. You will likely see that this search spiked around the holidays. You will also see recent news related to the search term and can select from which date range you would like the news. This is a great tool for checking trending data for a query and comparing trends between terms at a glance.
Google Insights gives you a detailed look at search volume patterns over time, by geographic region, by category (finance, sports, news, etc.), and by product. This is a fabulous tool because it brings together a lot of marketing information that can give insight into why keywords trend and can help you predict the near future of the search volume.
Theyre Talking to Each Other
Since were talking about whats happening online, we cant ignore social media. The internet has become, not surprisingly, a zone of social interaction. People are likely talking about your brand and you have every opportunity to tap into that conversation.
Twitter is a key communication tool for any business looking to connect with its customers. Twitter tracks trending topics in the twittersphere, taking stock of popular terms and phrases being used on the site. You can click on a topic and view the tweets that make up the trend. Taking it even further, use the Twitter search function.
Facebook is a great place to gauge how people think about topics, and how they perceive your product, and learn the questions they ask. Status updates are announcements about what the person is doing or how the person is feeling but, updates can also be used to share content with friends " such as blog posts, images, articles, video, etc. To gain insight into your market area, you can search by keywords that relate more specifically to your market niche. Peruse the comments in the public fan and business pages, not just the highly popular ones, before you refine your search. The less popular object pages tend to be less bogged with spam, but the more popular pages can be hubs for communities that share a common interest.
Theyre Asking Questions
Answer sites might just be the perfect marriage of social media and search. The basic concept behind an answer site is that every person has a question to ask, and everyone knows a little something about a lot of things. Since every user has to contextualize their question by topic when submitting their question, its easier for you to search questions that pertain to your market niche. Notice an opportunity for some content that will offer solutions to this problem?
LinkedIn is, primarily, a social networking site aimed at business professionals. Recently, LinkedIn introduced LinkedIn Answers. Business can easily take advantage of this by monitoring what questions people are asking and display their expertise by either answering questions within the discussion forum or by creating a piece of content on their site in which they answer the question, then direct that user to that piece of content.
Yahoo! Answers is one of the biggest answer sites, getting hundreds of millions of questions and answers. The site gets a huge variety of questions from ranging from dating to homework questions to home and garden. From a market research perspective, this means that people have been asking questions relating to your industry and your niche market.
Social News and Bookmarking Sites
Social news sites, like Digg, Reddit, and Mixx, and bookmarking sites, like StumbleUpon and Delicious, give insight to what kind of news, blog posts, and other content is popular outside of the mainstream. Theyre also great ways to see what content is going viral, giving you a clue into what content you can produce that will be more likely to get voted up in these arenas.
Digg is a social news site. A user can share and vote up news by Digging it or vote it down by Burying it. When users contribute a link, they categorize it by topic for relevance. Look at Top News in All Topics to see whats trending, then look at the topics that fit your market for a narrower view. In the Top News and Upcoming areas, you can always search for keywords related to your industry to see whats trending there.
Yahoo! Buzz is a social news site, where users can Buzz Up the news, increasing its popularity. The top trends in news can give the same type of insight that you get from entertainment news, showing what kinds of information and stories the population finds interesting. The most popular news articles scroll up the Buzz Log and can be sorted by category, such as science/technology or sports.
Stumbleupon is a content discovery engine, emulating and greatly enhancing the way that people find content to bookmark. To get marketing data from Stumbleupons massive bank of activity, you can view a number of different trending data including Recently Hot tags and Most Popular All Time tags. You can also check stumbles by topic and Top Related websites.
Monitoring the Competition
Some of the best market research comes by checking what your competitors are doing. By analyzing how your competition contributes to social media and content, think about ways that you can do the same and find success. How can you do it better? You might find places that your competitors are missing opportunities, giving you the advantage as you fill those gaps.
Market research is about identifying what the population is interested in: what needs they have, what desires they have, and especially what they are willing to buy to fulfill their interests. Before the explosion of the Internet, marketers would conduct this kind of research with surveys and focus groups. The Internet has changed the game. If you know where to look you can see that consumers are actually making it quite clear what they need and are willing to buy.
These are just a few tools to conduct free market research. To find out more about keyword and market research, stay tuned for Arnie Kuenns upcoming book, Accelerate! due for release in April 2011.
Arnie Kuenn is the author of Accelerate! Content Development & Marketing to Grow Your Business Online (April release) and has held executive positions in the world of new technologies and marketing for more than 20 years. Kuenn is the founder and president of Vertical Measures, a strategic Internet marketing company located in Phoenix, AZ. The company specializes in web content marketing and development, search and social marketing.