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Understanding consumers on the internet - free of cost!

There are some readily available tools that SMEs can use to understand more about the market, gain relevant insights, and accordingly fine tune their offerings.

Updated: Oct 22, 2018, 12.55 PM IST
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While most of these tools are easy to operate and log in from, a little help from friends working on these tools will always help SMEs extract more.
Branding and Marketing
By Toshal Shenai

Digital marketing is often thought of while planning marketing activities moored on reach, frequency, engagement and transactions. Big brands invest a lot in research and deploy sophisticated tools, big data and the works to extract insights about the market and potential and existing consumers.
The ways in which these insights get generated have also become automated as well in some ways. There are millions of syndicated reports available in the market with sample sizes ranging from as low as 30 to millions.

In this scenario, SMEs often either get carried away and invest more than what they should in such research, or under-utilize the medium. But there are some readily available tools that small businesses can use to understand more about the market, gain relevant insights, have better RoI on research data, and accordingly fine tune their offerings.

These tools, most of which are powerful enough even with their free versions, help businesses understand customers better and acquire customers who are relevant and possibly have a high customer lifetime value.

In principal, SMEs or other enterprises cannot acquire customers free of cost. Instead, this is a process where the company invests time and effort in understanding the customers, their requirements or expectations, the gaps in their needs and accordingly invest in reaching out to potential customers via the best possible ways using their limited resources.

Here are some of the tools that can change the way SMEs can ensure proper usage of insights and do their research on the market:
Google Search Trends
A simple way to look at changing trends, monitor how competitors in the news and some of the latest events changing the market landscape of the industry they operate in.

SEM & SEO Tools
There are a lot of free SEO tools that help in fine tuning the contents of a website and help in making it more discoverable. Mixing this with keyword tools from Google Adwords to see the volume of searches of certain keywords about a business and competitors and planning content accordingly for social media, blog, website or even product or service launches, will be helpful.

Facebook Audience Insights
This is probably the most important tool to gain insights nowadays. For businesses, right from those who depend on social media to those who just want to understand consumption patterns, this is an insightful destination. What is more, a user can save the most relevant mix and run an ad by saving that audience.

Google Analytics
A website cannot be complete unless there is an analytical tool monitoring the progress of the site. Google Analytics (or GA), can give thousands of datapoints for a website for FREE. All one has to do is set it up, activate some of the features and use it. Right from demographics, behaviour, benchmarks, user flow, consumption patterns, e-commerce behaviour and more, website managers or business owners can have multitude of data and insights from this brilliant tool.

A tool or a browser extension that can give a lot of competitive insights
  • Benchmark against your competitors and industry,
  • Reveal your competition's analytics & online strategy,
  • Discover new opportunities - partners, leads or affiliates,
  • Identify emerging trends and new players, and
  • Understand consumer intent and journey

Listening Tools (Social media, Online reputation management)
Social media is where a lot of conversations happen privately as well as publicly. Not just Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat, we also need to look at forums, blogs, Q&A platforms like Quora, review sites, and so much more. But individually browsing through keywords is very difficult, and hence listening tools help in finding the mentions, top keywords and locate the exact web pages for businesses. It can be used by SMEs to reply to local queries and to offer their services to those in search.

Example, if someone is looking for a particular component of a bicycle which is not available on any online store, a local vendor can look out for such conversations, reply to the user's query that can be fulfilled, make a deal and ask him to either visit the store or deliver it directly.

Consumer Barometer
The Consumer Barometer is a tool to help you understand how people use the internet across the world. What google has done here is tried to make it easy for people to understand internet usage better by regularly running questionnaires across geographies and compiling the data in a way that we can access it.. This tool is for a slightly evolved user who knows what he/she is looking for. It may take some time getting used to it, but it is a very powerful tool for insights.

The data has been curated by TNS via telephonic interviews or face to face, and hence, the data can be assumed to be of good quality.

Think with Google
This is meant for those looking to explore more on digital marketing and get insights about various platforms. It is a very good start to improve marketing efforts and perhaps get better RoI by taking inspiration from hundreds of case studies and reports showcased on this site.

Build With
As the name suggests, this tool helps us find out what websites are Built With. For SMEs looking at great websites, competitor websites, or have looked at some interesting feature and want to understand what tech has been used, this is the place to be and explore. It can also be used to maybe benchmark against competitors and how they have structured their site as against ours and what plugins are they using. It also provides free trends - web technology being used - for people to update their knowledge.

It is a free tool helping brands succeed on Facebook. It gives details about Facebook pages of competitors as well as provide a lot of insights on what is working and what is not in own pages. SMEs sometimes rely on platforms like Facebook to drive their business and this can be a good start to understand and be better on that platform. It also helps how the content is getting received by our followers and hence helps businesses understand customers better.

These are some of the best, free ways to gather useful insights about the market, trends, developments, and consumption patterns of potential customers. While most of these tools are easy to operate and log in from, a little help from friends working on these tools will always help SMEs extract more.

( The author is co-founder of digital marketing audit & monitoring firm What Clicks)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of
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