Search seems to be at the top of mind for companies and entrepreneurs that develop sites and expect the world to come, much like the proverbial mousetrap. Unfortunately, the best designed and optimized website will not see the light of a monitor unless there is something that draws users and provides a good experience.

While search gets the headlines, there is a lack of the ‘nuts and bolts’ activities that make businesses successful, both online and offline. Most site owners believe that simply building a site, optimizing it for “gold terms” and building a PPC campaign will be enough. Yet, there is a great divide between the goals of the site owner and their market. The market can have very different needs. A site that is built to meet the owners’ needs is not a site that will meet the visitor’s needs.

Gord Hotchkiss published a two-part article, Top 10 Rules for making B2B Search more successful.” The article challenges this type of thinking and provides an outline to the very activities that are most often overlooked in a search marketing campaign. Often overlooked, these activities can also be the most rewarding in developing a campaign.

Just by looking at his first two of his Top 10 Rules, you can get a sense of where it is going and how far from the mark one can be when market (user) research is left out of the site development and marketing process.

1. Know Who is the Buyer and Who’s the Influencer
2. Realize What the Intent of the Researcher Is

If you are developing a campaign to a specific market, and you have not done research on that market – such as actually talking to that audience, you could be missing a large part of the marketing process. Regardless if you are marketing to a B2B or a B2C audience, simply talking to a group of your target audience about the information they desire, the needs they have, and the answers they seek, can provide you with directed content and multiple strategies. You will learn that a typical market is a group of people with varied interests that cannot be sold the same way.

Here’s my visualization of this concept:

The more a business listens to its customers and market, the better decisions it will make when creating a webiste to suit their needs. Through usability testing, interviews, and most of all – listening, a site will have clear direction for growth. Additionally, there wil also be a clear pursuit in the analysis of those goals. By finding what is important to the users, the analytics will either support or disprove that goal. Either way, it provides an analytical framework to judge the activity on the site.

I find in my travels and consulting that many companies do market research. However, the concept of actually interacting or even (gasp) talking to individuals in their target markets is very undervalued. This is the one to many concept of thinking followed by corporations prior to the web (The ClueTrain Manifesto – a must-read if you haven’t read it yet). With the advent of one to one communications; blogs, forums, and citizen marketers, companies have to talk to their markets of they want to succeed.

One of my favorite books about market research is Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. Although it details the retail shopping experience, it provides significant insight into the mind of a buyer and the information they seek. If businesses online used even a fraction of the research that is used in building an offline retail experience, the quality of thousands of websites would dramatically improve.