Internet Market Research: Using Paid vs. Free Information

internet market research.jpgThe internet remains a great source of free information for people to use on a daily basis. You can find the answers you need on a wide variety of topics, and you don’t even need to leave your desk or make a phone call to get it.

In the current environment where fake news sites are popping up all over, it is more important than ever to decide what business information you can reliably obtain from the web and what you are better off purchasing from a professional publisher of market research.

A helpful way to determine what you can use from the web and what you should pay for is to break the information you are looking for into different categories. In this case, we will look at the following categories: how-to, pricing, general perceptions, market sizing, market projections, market trends, and customer feedback.

When It’s Okay to Use Free Information on the Web

In general, what you can find for free on the web is public, opinion-based, or customer-facing information. Here are the categories that are generally safe to get on the internet and why.

How-to: When trying to figure out how a combustion engine works or the steps needed to take a proper blood sample, you can look the information up on the web and see clear cut and detailed information on how things work. In this category, you can protect yourself a bit from misinformation by selecting several examples from sources that make sense to trust like the World Health Organization for blood sample instructions.

Pricing: Most providers of products and services are interested in making sure that their clients are aware of how much things cost, and many browsers (such as Bing) are designed to make shopping online easier. As a result, if the prices are listed on the web, you can usually trust that they are accurate. This is especially true of price comparison sites or large selling sites like Amazon. If you can find the prices you are looking for online, all you need to do is make sure the pricing is from a current listing and that it is from the manufacturer or a trusted vendor. 

General perceptions: This category has to do with how a certain product or service is perceived by the world community. It has less to do with factual issues and more to do with what people are saying. Internet market research is your best solution, as the web is where positive and negative trending is often measured. The one caveat is that information like this is not an end unto itself; more digging is required.

When you see perceptions trending a certain way, you have to research more carefully why this is happening before you react.

When You Need Professional Market Research

Any issue that requires investigation of non-public information, data points that are hard to determine or gather, or the perspective of an experienced market participant to answer properly is better obtained through professional market research reports.

Market sizing: Estimating the size of the market for a product or service is typically done by either analyzing data from the manufacturer or data from distributors/sellers. Both methods require a disciplined methodology and information that is often not publically available. As a result, knowing both how the information is gathered and how it is evaluated is necessary in order to verify its credibility. While it is possible to find information like this on the web, it is often difficult to get the background information needed to contextualize or use that information.

Market projections: Like market sizing, market projections require a clear methodology, and they also rely on private information. In addition, these projections should be guided by the opinions of experts in the industry being studied as well as the raw numbers. Since it is very rare to find market projections online with the needed background for credibility, this too is an area better suited for purchased research.

Market trends: Unlike the general perceptions category, market trends are opinions about what is going to happen in a market and why. This type of analysis can be very subjective, so these opinions must come from multiple credible sources in order to get an accurate overall picture of what is happening.

If you have too few viewpoints or they come from sources that are not well informed,
then your whole outlook on the market will be skewed. 

So, even though you can sometimes find opinion pieces from credible sources online, it is still very challenging to get enough reliable and verifiable commentary from free sources on the web.

Customer feedback: True customer feedback or “voice of the consumer” information is not just a collection of opinions gathered together. It requires careful investigation with consistent and clearly defined parameters that includes an understanding of exactly who is responding and how they are related to the product or service being evaluated. We see surveys and polls online all the time, but without knowing how the information was compiled and or the approach being taken, it is very dangerous to rely on these statistics. Nothing proves this more than the presidential election polling process that did not include enough data on traditional non-voters.

When all is said and done, the biggest reason these days to go with purchased market research is accountability.

Because web sources get a great deal of revenue from advertising and other factors that have nothing to do with the information they provide, there is very little accountability for the information they are providing.

For professional publishers of market research and for paid producers of custom research, their revenue comes almost exclusively from the content they produce. As a result, if the data provided by the publisher is considered inaccurate or unreliable, they will go out of business. This accountability pushes these professionals to produce accurate, timely data with minimal bias because if they do not, they will not exist for long.

Interested to learn more? Download our free e-book for helpful information on how to do market research effectively from start to finish.

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About the Author: Robert Kaminsky is a Research Specialist at, where he helps companies get the information solutions they need to keep moving forward with their long-term goals.

Topics: Market Research Strategy How To's