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Today’s economy is driven by the internet, and a company’s ability to target customers online can make or break their digital business. In a study by the Aquity Group, 94% of B2B buyers said they do some form of online research about a company before making a buying decision.1 B2C consumers spend at least five hours a day online.2 Whichever side you’re on, you need to know who is using your website, and how they are spending their time elsewhere online. Online shoppers have been shown in studies to consult 10 sources or more before making a purchase. Knowing both where they search and what sort of language they use to express their needs is key to getting their attention.3

Fortunately, the Internet is full of tools you can wield to help facilitate this understanding and make the connections that convert prospects to customers. Here’s a list of some of the most effective web tools for understanding your customers available today.

Tools for Keyword Optimization

One of the best ways to understand the needs of your customers is by learning the search phrases they type into Google when searching for goods or services like yours. Google is the starting point for 77% of online customers looking for a product or solution.4 You might think there is one perfect keyword phrase that relates to your business and the needs your customers have, but truly there are dozensas many as there are ways to ask a question. There are free tools that can help you start with basic phrases and understand the many different variations of phrasing and related terms your customers might be using.

Stay in sync with the ebb and flow of your audiences’ interests.

Some of those phrases might be more difficult or easier for you to compete in Google search ranking. This difficulty often depends on if they are “short-tail” or “long-tail” keywords. Short-tail keywords are the ones that drive the traffic (like “dentist”) while long-tail keywords are phrases or questions that might lead off a shopper’s search (like “holistic dentist near me”).5 That broader context can help you determine which keywords to use in your website copy, site URLs, and other key areas of optimization. Google Keyword Planner allows you to search multiple keywords to see related terms you can bid on or work in to your content. You can also use the Keyword Planner to analyze a website’s overall keyword strength.

Another valuable tool for keyword insights is Keyword.io, which generates a list of keyword phrases associated with single words. Marketing experts place less value on short keywords today and instead recommend using longer phrases and questions.6 After all, in today’s organic search landscape, many users conduct a search by typing a full question into Google. This means small businesses have a significant opportunity to rank in search, if they can maximize popular long-tail keywords in their content. Large competitors may have the resources to put out more web content containing short-tail keywords (and put dollars behind bidding on them, too) but when it comes to the nuances of long-tail search language, small businesses can capture the edge of the market.

Tools for Timing and Strategy

Discovering those longer phrases and questions requires getting into the head of your customers and building a target audience profile. But depending on the season, current events, or other factors, that audience profile might change. Free online tools for market research like Think with Google’s Marketer's Almanac explains buyer habits and concerns during different holidays, seasons, and events. This tool can help you stay in sync with the ebb and flow of your audience's interests.

94% of B2B buyers do online research about a company before making a buying decision.

The U.S. Census Bureau maintains the Business Dynamics Statistics Tool, which generates custom reports about consumer purchasing patterns in certain areas, or for certain lengths of time. This can be useful not only if you’re trying to pinpoint the target audience profile for your small business, but also if you’re considering expanding or trying to market to new regions.

Tools for Social Listening

Social listening is the process of monitoring social media channels to understand the habits and sentiment people have toward your brand. This means mentions of your name, the names of competitors, products, and any other themes or events relevant to your business. Some tools even analyze the other language in the post, tweet, or Pulse article to determine the “social media sentiment” or mood of the share.7 That way you know if people are singing your praises or feeling more frustrated at a glance.

Hootsuite is a very dynamic tool for social media management and listening. It allows you to keep all your social in one centralized location and it ascribes sentiments to inbound messages and social mentions. You’ll see not only your post in real time, but how your audience is reacting to it. For instance, if dozens of your followers on Twitter have used the word “cool” in their reply to your tweet, the social media sentiment might register as positive. When the mood changes, the tool will let you know if it’s “neutral” or “negative,” though the free version of the software is somewhat limited in those analytics.8 Once your small business digital marketing takes off, you may need features from the Pro version, like adding multiple users and having more than five social media channels under watch.9

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Using Your Data

Less than 30% of companies actually use web analytics to understand their internet traffic.10 Knowing how your website works doesn’t mean you have to start learning lines of code. Tools like Google Analytics plug into the back end of your website and use charts and numbers to explain which parts of your website draw traffic in, and where visitors go once they’re on your website. There are features of Google Analytics like Behavior Flow, which visually maps the path your visitors take through your site, making the habits of your customers clear and simple to understand. From there, it’s a matter of fine-tuning your site to be as attractive as possible to leads.

The insight data provides about your target market’s behavior must inform your marketing and content strategy. Numbers don’t lie, and your top-performing ads, posts, deals, or promotions will be easy to spot once you start paying attention. From there, you can adapt future approaches to be even more effective. After all, tools are for building.