Neil Patel

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The Complete Guide to Online Customer Research

A graphic saying: The Complete Guide To Online Customer Research

Are you looking for a new way to understand your customers? Do you know where they spend their time online, their average annual income or revenue, and their most significant problems relevant to your solution? How about how they like their coffee?

(OK, that last one may be excessive.)

Considering all the data you hold, you probably think you know your customers pretty well. You may also feel that you understand them and deliver what they need. Does that sound like you? Then you might want to think again.

Market research shows that 44 percent of brands feel recommending products on past preferences is imperative, while just 11 percent of customers agree.

However, it’s essential to recognize that marketing isn’t a guessing game. Simply putting yourself in your customer’s shoes for a few minutes and imagining how they think and feel isn’t enough.

Deep, ongoing market research is one of the best ways to truly understand your customers. Whether over the phone, on Skype, or over coffee, one-on-one conversations are often the most effective ways to get inside your target market’s head. If you’re starting market research, I recommend this as your first step.

Unfortunately, this method is time-consuming, and it’s not for collecting vast volumes of data. However, that’s where online market research comes in; it can help you round out the information you’ve amassed during your one-on-ones, and it’s a great way to flesh out your customer personas.

Additionally, market research can help product managers get the feedback they need during the product cycle, enabling them to create better products and keep current products fresh for longer.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But where can you go online to learn about your customers?

Well, it depends mainly on where your customers spend their time. In this article, I detail the websites, tools, and techniques that have proven most effective for me when conducting online market research about a target niche.

Let’s get started.


Quora is a great place for market research because it revolves around people holding in-depth conversations about a broad range of topics, from social media to startups to ethnic junk food. Type a keyword or phrase related to your product in the search box, and Quora delivers a long list of conversations, at least some of which reveal how your target market is thinking about things related to your business.

For example, there’s a huge increase in remote workers. Let’s say I’m thinking of developing a tool that makes it easier to recruit contractors, and I want to learn more about what’s on community managers’ minds. You can search ‘social media’ and immediately see a list of questions about your product or business idea.

Here’s an example from late 2022, shortly after Elon Musk’s acquisition and changes to Twitter:

A Quora question and answer about the safety of using Twitter.

Well, with 305 upvotes and 22 replies, and counting, that certainly engaged people! Of course, that was at a time when Twitter was in great flux and people were uncertain about its direction, exactly the time that people would be asking questions.

However, that kind of concern can happen at any time in any industry.

When you’ve found an important topic to your potential audience, this could be a great potential blog topic to write about.

Look at one of the responses:

An answer to a Quora question about 2 factor authentication.

Huw sounds pretty knowledgeable, doesn’t he? Of course, I want to do my due diligence and make sure that he is a true authority in the world of tech.

The next step here would be checking Huw’s profile and reading some more of his answers and hearing about his credentials. In this case, it’s pretty clear that he knows his stuff..

If I think he is an authoritative source with writing skill, I could then decide to invite him to write a guest post on your blog. You can apply this process to all different types of guest blogging candidates.

The Quora profile of Huw Pritchard.

Keyword Research

As Copyblogger points out in its free guide, keyword research isn’t just about SEO. “At its essence, it’s market research. It tells you what people are interested in and in what relative numbers,” and “it reveals the actual language people are using when they think about those topics, which provides you with insight on how to converse with them via your blog.”

If you’d like a specific example, turn to page 14 of their guide. It breaks down exactly how to:

  • Interpret keyword research to understand your niche
  • Identify which kind of business/product/service/blog would generate traffic or money
  • Determine what types of content would get the attention of your audience

In the meantime, here are some tips to help with your keyword analysis:

  • First, look at the big picture. Don’t get bogged down in the details of individual keywords. Instead, take a step back. What trends do you see? What are people searching for? What matters to them?
  • Assess keyword profitability. In a nutshell, keyword profitability measures how much money you can make from ranking for a particular keyword. Several factors go into calculating keyword profitability, including search volume, competition, and CPC (cost per click).
  • Pay attention to search intent. Searchers use keywords for different purposes, so paying attention to what people search for when using a particular keyword is essential. For example, do they want to buy something? Go somewhere? Or learn something? You can tell by the questions they ask:
A graph to help better understand search intent.
  • Look for high search volume: If a keyword has a high monthly search volume, that means there is a lot of interest in that topic. This is a good indicator that it would be a good content topic.
  • Consider keyword difficulty. The higher the percentage, the harder it is to rank for a keyword. You can use my Ubersuggest tool to assess this.

Whenever I interview people representing a specific target market, I ask them what terms they would put in Google to find information related to the industry, product, or service. This also gives me a few keywords and phrases (that I might not have thought of before) to start playing with in my keyword research.

Blog Comments

There are a couple of ways to use blog comments for research. If you have a successful blog with multiple comments per post, reading through them can give you insights into your target market’s key pain points.

Entrepreneur and super-successful blogger Darren Rowse often gets hundreds of comments on his blog posts. He encourages people to make these comments valuable and meaningful by ending his articles with a prompt for the readers to respond.

For example, the prompt under an article about blog commenting garnered 199 responses in the comments section. Here’s the prompt Darren used:

A response under a blog post from Pro Blogger.

Comments like those below offer a wealth of information about what Darren’s readers are thinking:

The comments under a blog post from Pro Blogger.

You can also browse comments on popular industry blogs, articles relevant to your field, or your competitors’ blogs and look for common threads. For example, let’s say I’m building a course on running a profitable blog, and Darren is one of my main competitors. His blog comments are a gold mine of insights into my target customer’s psychology.


Surveys are one of the most valuable market research tools for efficiently gaining customer feedback. You’re not short of options. Below are just a few of them.


Tools like SurveyMonkey are an excellent option for online market research. You can create regular surveys, quizzes, or polls. You can then send the link to your mailing list subscribers, post it on your blog, use it in mobile chat, and share it on social media.

SurveyMonkey is free to sign up with, and subscriptions start at $25 per month. For more extensive surveys, the company offers a market research solution that conducts the studies for you. Estimated costs are available on request.


Formerly SurveyGizmo, Alchemer positions itself to clients that ‘have outgrown SurveyMonkey.’ It provides industry-leading survey software and enterprise feedback. A free account gives you up to three surveys, and individual ‘Collaborator’ accounts start at $49 monthly.


Another increasingly-popular survey tactic is to place a short pop-up survey at the bottom of your website with an app like Qualaroo. This is great for testing product improvement ideas or confirming your hypothesis about your target market. Again, remember to keep it short. These pop-up surveys are most successful when you stick to one question.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of customer surveys and market research:

  • Keep it short and sweet. Customers are more likely to take a short survey than a long one.
  • Make it easy to respond. Include multiple choice answers whenever possible, and check the survey is mobile-friendly so customers can take it on the go.
  • Offer an incentive. This encourages customers to participate if they know they’ll receive something in return, such as a discount or free shipping.
  • Make them engaging. Use engaging language and visuals in your surveys to keep customers interested.

With creating customer surveys covered, let’s look at another tactic: progressive profile through forms.

Progressive Profiling On Your Forms

You could use progressive profiling if you have a solid content marketing strategy and people repeatedly visit your site to download content. Uh, what’s that?

Let me explain:

Progressive profiling is a market research method that allows businesses to gather more information about their customers over time. For instance, you may ask them about their interests in one form, then later ask them about their job.

By gradually asking for more information, businesses can create a complete picture of their customers and interests. You can then use this data to create more targeted and effective marketing campaigns.

The image below highlights some of the advantages of progressive profiling.

An infographic about the benefits of progressive profiling.

Other benefits of progressive profiling:

  • Allows you to gather more information about your leads over time.
  • Helps you build a complete picture of who your prospects are and what interests them.
  • Enables you to personalize your communications with leads, making them more likely to convert into customers.
  • Gives you the ability to segment your leads so you can target them more effectively with relevant content and offers.
  • Increases the chances that leads will engage with your brand and remember who you are when they’re ready to buy.
  • Lets you weed out unqualified or uninterested leads, saving you time and resources in the long run.

Over time, you gain enough data to paint a detailed picture of your subscriber or customer, focusing on information that helps you connect with them more meaningfully.

However, to gain the most from your market research, remember to ask questions that help you develop a better product or one that is tailored more precisely to the customer’s pain points. For instance, let’s say you were launching a social media marketing tool or rolling out new features.

In this case, you can ask questions like, ‘What’s your biggest social media challenge?’ or ‘What’s the one thing you most want to get out of your social media efforts?’ and give a few possible answers in multiple-choice format.

Your Competition’s Website

Studying your competition’s web copy and blog content is another excellent way to identify what matters to your target market. Granted, there’s no guarantee that your competition’s messaging is based on thorough research. Still, common threads found in the copy and blog content across your competitors’ websites can point you in the right direction.

To analyze your competition’s messaging, you can draw up a hierarchy.

It would look something like this:

Analyzing a companies messaging strategy using a hierarchical pyramid.

The hierarchy consists of the following:

  • Brand promise (heart of a company’s marketing message)
  • Positioning statement (a sentence or short paragraph that describes what a company does)
  • Value proposition (the unique selling point that distinguishes your company from others in the market.)
  • Value description (a written statement that defines the worth or importance of something)
  • Key messaging (the central idea or theme a company wants to communicate about its product or brand).
  • Proof points (a proof point is a persuasive element that supports a claim made about a product or service)

If none of the above options work for you, then maybe consider paying for market research.

Pay For Research & Data

There are many ways to conduct online market research without paying a cent, but sometimes you’ll want to fork over a little cash to save time and get a more robust data set. I’ve listed some options below.


Market research company Toluna recently acquired GutCheck. The company helps businesses understand their customers, create and develop products that their audience demands, and designs the creatives most likely to resonate with their target niche.

Additionally, you can assess your brand’s performance and find ways to enhance your product or service, validate new product ideas, discover customer segments, and test advertising concepts.

As the name suggests, pays testers to give their feedback on products and services. offers various services, including user experience research and usability testing, and works with many industries, including e-commerce and healthcare.

Five-Second Test (Usability Hub)

It’s no secret that consumers make snap judgments, and that’s the inspiration behind this market research company.

An example would be a web page. Consumers answer common questions such as:

  • What purpose does the page have?
  • Does the brand look trustworthy?
  • Which elements stick in your mind?

A limited, free package is available, with paid subscriptions starting at $89 a month.


Another way that people get surveys is by collecting data from a mobile kiosk when Internet functionality is limited. QuestionPro provides this functionality, and it also supports many other ways to collect results from respondents, such as SMS.

QuestionPro allows users to create surveys with ease, and G2 rates it as a leading survey software.

You can sign up for a free ‘Essentials’ account to get started exploring the software without having to give out your credit card details. Advanced accounts provide a complete survey solution for businesses. This starts at $99 a month, or $1,188 annually, and offers a free 10-day trial.

A team account is also available; request pricing to find out more.

Free Market Research Tools

Last but not least, there are several free market research tools that you can use to conduct research. Below are three of them.

Google Trends

Want a free tool that delivers keywords, topics, and the particular phrases consumers are looking for? Then you can’t do much better than Google Trends.

This market research tool shows recent trends and insights into Google’s data, along with the peaks and troughs in interest. For example, if I search for ‘social media’ tool, I get an idea of the interest:

A google trends chart of interest over time.

If I look at the related queries and topics, I get a more detailed insight into what searchers want:

Google trends related topics and queries for the term "social media tool".


The Answer The Public Website

Of course, I had to mention my offering in this space.

Answer The Public is a great option to see what people are asking and thinking about a given topic with a single click. The way it works is that you enter in a certain topic or subject, and get all the related terms and queries on that topic that search engine users are looking for.

This is great because you can get hints towards your audience’s major questions and pain points on a certain topic before you start building your content strategy.

Combine this with other NP tools like Ubersuggest, and you have a winning strategy for building SEO.

Think with Google

Google’s Think with Google offers data on how consumers research items before purchasing. At the same time, U.S. Data and Statistics publishes government statistics, such as demographic data for individual cities, states, and countries.

You can also access census data on the Census Bureau’s website, and the Census Bureau’s Quick Facts microsite gives you key demographic statistics about all fifty states.

Make My Persona

Wondering what your ideal customer looks like? Every market should know that one of the best ways to target your niche is to understand who you’re marketing. Creating a persona or avatar is essential to your market research; it’s made easier with Hubspot’s free Make My Persona tool, which allows you to create avatars in seven steps.

Making a persona with hubspot.


What is Online Market Research?

This is where a company does market research on the internet. Focus groups and surveys are good examples.
Market research involves collecting data about consumers and using that information to improve business decisions.
It falls into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary market research is data you obtain from surveys, interviews, or focus groups. Secondary market research is data someone else collects, like government statistics or industry reports.

Is Market Research the Same as Customer Research?

No, market research is gathering and analyzing data about a target market, while customer research is collecting and analyzing data about a company’s current or potential customers.

How Do I Conduct Market Research?

Through surveys, market research companies, focus groups, over-the-phone, and online market research groups. Social media is also great for polling and finding out what people think.

When Should I Conduct Market Research?

The best times for market research are before a product launch, when you’re testing an idea, when you’re thinking of revamping a product/service, or launching a business. 

Can You do Market Research in Person?

Sure. Sometimes the personal approach is better, too. Meetups, or focus groups, are just two ways to conduct face-face market research.


If you want to find out more about your customer, it’s simple: ask them.

You could conduct your market research in multiple formats, including surveys and focus groups. Alternatively, you can analyze your competition via their comments sections or use free tools to identify hot topics like Google Trends.

However, market research shouldn’t be a one-time thing you do when creating your marketing plan; ideally, it will be an integral part of your marketing strategy and product development process. The websites, communities, and resources above are just a few places to learn more about your target market.

Where do you go online to research your customers, and how often do you do it?

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