When you’re launching a new neighborhood business, the first step is to conduct local consumer research (LCR) to better understand your customer base. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on research consultants to get this information. You just need to be smart about harnessing the wealth of information already available online. Important steps include:
- Estimating your market size to determine the viability of your business
- Researching your customers’ frequently asked questions
- Learning from your competitors’ reviews
- Using data to drive your decisions
- Improving your business based on customer behavior and input
When you know what to look for, you’ll find it’s not difficult.
Determine Your Market Size
Knowing the size of your local market can help you anticipate the demand for your products or services and determine if your venture is worthwhile. Sites like City-Data make it easy to find this information.
For example, if you’re considering offering high-end home renovation services in Austin, Texas, you can estimate the size of your potential customer pool by using consumer reports and Austin’s demographics data.
The former tells us that most purchasers of high-end renovations (those exceeding $10,000) are homeowners with annual household incomes north of $100,000. The latter shows the number of Austin-area households that earn 100k and above (119,752 households). That’s a strong market for a high-end renovation business.
Research Your Customers’ Pain Points
To understand your customers’ needs, you need to get into their mindset. When you understand the issues and frustrations that lead consumers to businesses like yours, you can improve your site content, advertising, and general brand messaging. You’re also in a better position to meet their needs and encourage long-term customer loyalty.
Start by making a list of the common problems that your product or service addresses. For example, if your business specializes in mobile phone repair, what problems do your services solve?
- Fixing cracked screens
- Replacing weak batteries
- Replacing cracked or faulty camera lenses
- Repairing iPhone boot issues
- Unlocking smartphones
Once you have your full list of issues, start Googling them along with your local geographic modifiers—e.g. “cracked iphone screen Minneapolis.” Look for forum posts and blog posts written by consumers. The important thing is to note the questions that searchers are asking as well as the specific issues they’re facing.
If your search results return mostly business listings, add some Google search operators to your search, such as “inurl:forum”. This will help you to hone in on discussion-specific results.
You also want to review Google’s “People Also Ask” suggestions. The query “cracked iphone screen Minneapolis” returns the following “People Also Ask” entries:
- How much does it cost to replace an iPhone screen?
- How can I fix my cracked iPhone 6 screen?
Use these suggestions to optimize your landing pages and modify your messaging to answer searchers’ related questions.
Use Data to Understand Demand
There’s a wealth of free data online that can help you understand what your potential customers need and how often they need it. This information can give you an idea of where to focus your marketing and advertising budget and also help you with messaging.
Google Trends allows you to analyze the popularity of a topic over time. Enter your key terms into the search box and filter for your city or region. Use the data to see if there is any seasonality to your service, and examine the related queries at the bottom of the screen to see what your customers may also be searching.
For example, if you search “dog bakery” and set your subregion to “California,” you’ll see that the topic is most popular in Los Angeles and San Diego, with San Francisco and Sacramento trailing behind. You’ll also see “dog cake bakery” and “dog cake” listed under Related Queries, indicating that customers are looking for dog-friendly cakes.
Keyword Research Tools
You don’t have to spend a dime to find useful keywords and topics for your website and marketing materials. All you need is Google’s Keyword Planner. Use the tool to compare different terms and understand the phrasing that consumers use. For instance, see if more people are searching “San Francisco bike repair,” “Bay Area bike repair,” or “Bay Area bicycle repair,” and optimize your site accordingly.
If your business has multiple service lines, analyze the monthly search traffic for each one to see where the greatest demand lies. You may even see suggestions for related service lines that your community lacks. Knowing this information enables you to perfect your SEO strategy and also understand how to best reach your customer base. You’ll be better able to optimize your site’s service pages, target the most lucrative service lines in your ad campaigns, and invest your time and money where they’re most needed.
Once you have identified your most profitable services and keywords, you can use free SEO tools to determine where and how to focus your online message. For instance, AnswerThePublic can pinpoint the most frequently asked questions related to your business. Screaming Frog will identify on-page optimization improvements on your site. The Hemingway Editor can help you fine-tune your copy and ensure it’s concise and easy to understand.
Learn From Your Competitors
Competitor analysis is a valuable form of local consumer research because it enables you to benefit from what your competition’s mistakes with their customers. You have access to free insights that can be applied to your own business.
Armed with this information, you’re able to perfect your own product or service offerings to avoid the pitfalls your competitors face. You can also improve your messaging. For instance, if local reviewers commonly complain that the mobile pet groomers are always late, you might entice consumers by promoting an on-time guarantee for your own mobile grooming business.
Start by putting together a list of competitors in your area and then searching for their brand name on Google. You want to start with their consumer reviews on platforms like:
- Angie’s List
- Ripoff Report
Determine what customers love about the competition, and also note where these businesses fall short.
If you’re not sure who your top local competitors are, search your primary service offering and geographic modifier (e.g. Beverly Hills realtor). You’ll immediately see a list of the major players in your local industry.
Use Your Own Customers for Research
Once your site is live, it’s easy to monitor your customers’ behavior; that’s the most effective type of research at your disposal. By noting how users interact with your website and even soliciting their feedback directly, you can further improve your messaging and service offerings. There are a number of ways to do this:
- Use Google Analytics and Search Console to learn more about your customers’ behavior. Note what keywords they use to find your website, what types of devices they use (desktop, tablet, or mobile), how long they stay on your site, and which pages get the most engagement.
- Use multivariate testing to vet creative ideas, product lines, and consumer demand (A/B testing software like Optimizely and Omniconvert make this easy). For instance, if you have a new service line but you aren’t sure how to advertise it in the most effective way, try testing two different URLs, each highlighting different selling points. Determine which URL performs best, and tailor your message accordingly.
- Create customer surveys to use on your website, on social media, and in person. Ask questions that can improve your business, like “Are there ways in which we can serve you better?” and “How would you rate our service and why?”
Your Local Consumer Research Is Never Complete
These tips are intended to get you started. Once your business gets off the ground, you’ll consistently find ways to make it better. Remember that the internet is your ultimate ally as you analyze the marketplace. Use it to discover:
- The size of your market
- The needs of your customers
- The trends influencing customer behavior
- The strengths and weaknesses of your competition
- The keywords and services that will net you the maximum income
- The existing customer behaviors that influence your bottom line
As long as you consistently focus on these factors and course-correct accordingly, your business will be unstoppable.