Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How brands can use search data for market insights

By Matt Colebourne, CEO, Searchmetrics

According to the IPA, market research budgets are experiencing their strongest boost in nine years (up 7% in Q4 2021) as marketers look to better understand changing customer needs and behaviours. Given the fast-moving nature of many markets and the continuing impact of the pandemic, being agile and focusing on what customers want is clearly vital for success.

However, many brands are not exploiting one of the best sources of research insight -search data. Essentially, the queries that people enter into search engines are an unbiased expression of their demands and desires. And these queries are getting more detailed as searchers move away from entering single keywords to typing longer sentences that provide a clearer picture of their specific needs. Analysing search data can therefore provide a treasure trove of insights that help brands better understand their market and inform decision making.

Google processes around 3.5 billion searches a day, providing a huge, scalable, constantly updated research dataset that is relatively easy to access and less expensive than other market research methods such as surveys and focus groups. Plus, search data is always up to date – 15% of search terms that appear on Google every month are new. You don’t have to wait for market researchers to publish their reports, meaning you are able to effectively identify and target emerging, short-term opportunities.

And search isn’t just about Google – individuals enter queries in many locations such as Amazon, Facebook and YouTube. By corralling all of this data and analysing it in relation to your own market, you can extract a wealth of insights.

For example, during the height of the pandemic, search behaviour revealed a spike in Google queries for jigsaw puzzles, suggesting a growing demand from families looking to while away the hours under lockdown. Drilling deeper into the data revealed that search interest around puzzles for adults was actually higher than puzzles for kids – and queries for 2,000-word puzzles were even higher than 1,000-word puzzles. For toy and games brands insights such as these deliver important clues that can be harnessed to fine-tune their production, inventory and marketing strategies.

Understanding your market often starts with identifying your customers. In search SEO teams do that through the keywords and searches people make. By aggregating the metrics around this and the resulting search results, you can extract a variety of insights and learnings to underpin business decisions:

  1. Estimating market demand

In many industry sectors more than 60% of purchases happen after an online search, making it an important precursor to purchasing activity. By analysing the search volumes for all the different keyword queries that people use for products or services in your industry, you can get a good indication of total market size.

How is this helpful? If you’re launching a new product or expanding into a new region or country, search data can be a reliable proxy for potential demand. Is it growing or falling and how steeply?

  • Long and short-term purchasing trends

Search data can unearth shifts in purchase behaviour, sometimes revealing untapped opportunities. For example, sports brands have typically prioritised marketing for ski clothing in Q4 to reflect traditional seasonal purchasing patterns. But data reveals that searches for these products now often continue strongly into Q1, highlighting opportunities for marketing (and for driving sales) over a longer period.

  • Better understanding the competition

Analysing search results can help you get a measure of your competitors. After all, rankings reflect what consumers are looking for. If I Google “trainers” and see a brand I really like – I’ll click on it. If lots of other people do the same, that brand is likely to climb up the rankings. So, rankings are a good indicator of who your main competitors are and which customers are most drawn to.

Normally market share data is the hardest to get hold of, because few companies will share their sales numbers openly. Search expertise can add value here because it’s possible to combine data on rankings and search volumes to calculate your competitors’ share of search traffic – a good proxy for their market share.

  • Honing media strategy

Search results don’t just help you analyse your direct competitors, but also other sites that rank highly for the same topics. For example, by revealing which publications, bloggers and influencers rank in top positions for issues related to your brand and its products, search can provide valuable insights for PR, advertising and influencer marketing strategies.  

The obvious next step? Ask your search team to flag any changes in customer behaviour showing up in search data they look at. You can also look externally for specialist providers of search data that cover your market. Search provides an enormous, continuously updated pool of data, based directly on consumer behaviour.

Can you afford to ignore it?