Marketing is about communications that leads to sales. To communicate effectively, you have to know your audience; and to sell to them, you have to understand their wants and needs.Effective marketing therefore requires that you first perform market research to learn about your target audience. The switch to online marketing and SEO does not change that age-old fact. It does, however, impact how you go about performing the market research.
What You Need to Understand
Search engine optimization does require you to know how the search engines work, so you can design your site to rank highly in search results. But you are still marketing to people, not computers. A high search ranking is useless if it is for a keyword that your target market would never use, or if your site does not appeal to prospects once they do find it.
That means your first step in online marketing and SEO is to identify who you are trying to reach, and what they would typically be looking for. You need to define who your customers are, and get inside their heads to describe their personas. Understanding their personalities and their problems will drive not only how you communicate with them, but what products or solutions your company will provide to meet their needs.
Market Research in an Online World
Traditional forms of market research, such as focus groups or random-sample surveys, are still just as useful when it comes to planning your online marketing. But the online realm provides many new opportunities to learn about your customers, and often at a minimum of cost.
- Read the research. One benefit of the information age is that the data you need may already be out there. The results of many academic and government studies—and occasionally, even the marketing research of other companies—can be found online. That costly survey on buying habits or local demographic information might be available right now, for free.
- Listen carefully. Market research does not necessarily have to be formal or scientific. You can gain a lot of valuable insights by simply observing what people are saying online. Visit industry blogs and discussion forums to read comments and conversations. Use keyword research or question-and-answer sites to see what people are looking for. And, of course, pay close attention to comments or suggestions on your own site.
- Ask for opinions. If you really want to know what your customers think, ask them. Social media and online forums provide easy ways to do so, and there are various survey services that allow you to collect and analyze answers statistically.
- Examine results. The Internet is particularly useful for collecting data on actual results, rather than just the opinions or intents listed in surveys. You can see what really does or does not appeal to customers, and use A/B testing to figure out the best approach.
By using market research to guide your strategy—both online and offline—you can produce the website, marketing campaigns and products or services that people are really looking for.
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