Shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone but SEO tools are great for market research and completely free


SEO isn’t anything new, there are very few people involved in marketing who don’t have some appreciation of how you might need to make an active effort to appeal to the search engines.

Despite that awareness, a lot of marketers will have no idea of the great tools that search marketers have on their hands that are great for market research and completely free (or at least freemium).

As David Ogilvy said:

“If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.

We try to write in the vernacular.”

It’s easy to take for granted, but when someone goes to a search engine and starts typing they are literally telling you what they want to know. It might be what they want to buy, it might be what they want to research. They’re using their own words and they are telling you exactly what they want. That’s pretty profound, however you look at it.

google search

Google have come up with an acronym to describe this phenomena. They call it the Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT for short.

What do they mean by ZMOT? It is that moment when you grab your laptop, mobile phone or some other wired device and start learning about a product or service you’re thinking about trying or buying.

A busy Mum, looking up head lice treatments on her mobile phone as she waits to pick up her son at school. An office manager at their desk, comparing laser printer prices and ink cartridge costs before heading to the office supply store.
A student in a cafe, scanning user ratings and reviews while looking for a cheap hotel in Barcelona. A winter sports fan, pulling out a mobile phone to look at video reviews of the latest snowboards.

There’s loads of research that’s been carried out into the ZMOT, it should be required reading for anyone working in marketing.

If you can understand these moments, you as a business are in a really strong position. And there are some great free tools we can use to research and understand these moments.

Keyword Planner Tool

The original and the best keyword research tool, with data taken straight from Google, we can quickly see how many people are searching for a phrase on the search engine and how that compares to other terms.

keyword planner

Okay the volume estimates aren’t that accurate but within seconds I can see four times as many people searched for Donald Trump last month compared to Hillary Clinton. A couple of seconds more I can see 7.5 million searches for One Direction and reassuringly 20.5m for Wikipedia.

But the tool doesn’t just work for big high traffic keywords, it also works for the more detailed and less common search terms. I would never have guessed there are more than twice the number of searches for “beach wedding dresses” compared to “designer wedding dresses”.

Every sector will have dozens of gems hidden like this, where you can learn more about your customers using a tool that just requires a Google login.

Google Insights

While Google’s Keyword Planner tool is great at showing us that more people are searching for this or that, it’s not so great at helping us understand the “when”.

There’s often seasonal, cyclical and sometimes terminal patterns in search behavior. We can take that search behavior as a proxy for demand, the more people searching for Holidays in Tuscany is usually a pretty good indicator that more people want to buy them.

If I were to ask you which month of the year is the most popular to search for Gym Membership? Every single person would reply saying January, and they’d be right. That kind of seasonal variation is no surprise.

You might assume the rest of the year is pretty even. You may bung most of your budget and marketing efforts into January and spread the rest evenly throughout the rest of the year, that would be a mistake. You’d miss a second, albeit smaller, peak around August and September.

Google Trends doesn’t just help you identify when to time your campaigns, it can also benchmark your whole company’s performance.

google trends

I can see significantly fewer people searched for snowboarding in Feb 2016 compared to 2015. If I’m reporting flat growth on sales for that month compared to the previous year, I’m actually doing a good job, not a bad one, as it might have initially seemed.

Answer the Public

Typically SEO’s talk about keywords or keyphrases when we describe what people type into the search box, if we were being more accurate we should probably call them search queries.

I try to encourage myself to call them queries more often. That’s because the person looking at the screen is ultimately asking a question. It might not always be phrased as a question but sometimes it is. And that’s why I’m a huge fan of Answer the Public, it’s a tool with one simple purpose, understanding the questions people have about a topic.

answer the public

When you start typing into Google it tries to guess what you were typing before you’ve even finished typing. These suggestions are triggered by two things, search volume and mention volume. Are people searching using those words and are websites using them as well?

These suggestions are the datapoints which feed Answer the Public. You type in a seed concept and it spits out visualisations on questions people have around that topic.

Proper genuine customer insight from a free tool. Here are just two screenshots from the tool – there’s a business plan, content strategy and social media programme right here in these screen shots:

answer the public screenshot

answer the public wheel graph

Buzz Sumo

How people search is really interesting but knowing how they respond to content and how widely it gets distributed on social is of huge interest to search marketers. But the interest shouldn’t just stop with search marketers.

Buzz Sumo is a great tool at understanding your marketers needs and content preferences. Buzz Sumo isn’t completely free. It’s a freemium tool with a great free option, it allows you to search for a term and see what topic is popular on social or, my preference, search for a competitor and a see what their greatest social hits are.

None of these tools will be unknown to search marketers but I don’t think they’ve done a great job sharing the value of these tools with the wider marketing and business world. I think they are really helpful and best of all, they’re free.

Related reading

Multimedia Search Engines: Image, Audio & Video Searching
lego 404 page
A graphic showing the old Google logo superimposed over a faint search results page.


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