By John Eberhard

It’s important to know what your target public needs and wants before launching expensive promotion to that public.

But it’s often hard for small businesses to be able to hire a market research company to do surveys for them. So I’m going to tell you two ways to get survey data inexpensively online: email surveys and keyword research.

Email Survey

The first inexpensive way to get survey data is to send out a bulk email asking people to fill out your survey.

The first thing that makes it possible to do this is that you have to have access to an email list of your target public. For instance, if you are a home improvement company, your target public is homeowners in your geographical area. So you have to get an email list of them. If your business does consulting to dentists, you have to get an email list of dentists. Bear in mind that only a small percentage will fill out your survey, so you have to plan on a list of thousands of names.

Next, you have to offer the person something of value in order to do the survey. It would be nice if you didn’t have to do this, but I can tell you that in this day and age you have to offer the person something. What kinds of things?

  1. Starbucks Card: I have had success doing this type of survey, on professionals, by offering them a $5 Starbucks card. Depending on who you are surveying, a $5 or $10 gift card from Starbucks or some other place will probably work great. Of course if you offer some tangible item like that you have to make sure you get the person’s street address.
  2. Fancy Pens: When I worked at an insurance claims company several years ago, we had fancy metal pens made with the company name on them. Then we sent out an email to claims examiners asking them to fill out the survey and including a picture of the cool pen we were offering in the email. That worked great. And friends who still work at that company tell me that they now use glow pens, i.e. pens that light up, and that that works great.

You can get creative and think of other things to offer. But if you think about it, if you can get a survey done for $5 to $10, that’s a pretty cheap survey, much cheaper than if you hired a professional surveyor to call people. And in the last 20 years, it has gotten harder and harder to get people on the phone in general, and professionals or high level executives in particular.

There is one other cost to think about and that is the email list. Unless you have been in business a long time and already have a large email list of clients and/or prospects, you will have to spend some money to get an email list. Some companies will sell you the email list outright, but that is rare. Most email companies will rent you the list, and you send your email to them and they will send it out for you. One company I found recently that sells email lists inexpensively is www.emaillistus.com.

You have to have a link in your email to the page where people will land and fill out your survey form. There are several companies that let you set up an account and then run online surveys on their system. Survey Monkey is one. One limitation with these services is basically your survey has to be mostly multiple choice questions. The plus is that for the multiple choice questions, the service automatically tabulates them for you.

I like to just put my questions into a form page on my web site and send people them there. Then the results get emailed to me and I tabulate them.

Email surveys are a great way to get survey information inexpensively. In a future article I’ll talk about other ways to get market research information online.

Keyword Research

Another inexpensive way to find out what people want and specifically what they are searching for is to do keyword research. In this way you can see how many people are typing in specific keywords on search engines each day.

I use a program called Market Samurai for this purpose. You can type in a list of keywords and it connects with Google’s keyword tool so as to give you more variations and related keywords. Then the program will tell you how many people are searching for all those keywords per day, as well as how many web sites are competing for those keywords, which is really important for search engine optimization.

Market Samurai is a software program that you buy once for $150. There are several online services where you pay a monthly fee for keyword research. One is Wordtracker, which costs $70 per month. Another is Keyword Discovery which is also $70 per month but easier to use than Wordtracker. I like paying once.


Email surveys can get you more specific information, if email lists are available for your target public. Keyword research can get you more general information on what people are searching for and how they are wording it.