Most of us visit Google each day when we're looking for something on the Internet. But Google can be a lot more. Google can be an ideal business tool when you're looking for new opportunities.
Use Google Insights to see what the market is looking for.
Use Google Analytics to understand how customers use your website.
Offer products in response to what the market wants.
Be smart about social media and use it to engage with customers.
Be smart about expansion. Use the data to make smart decisions about where, when, how and what to expand.
Dean Ramler is the co-founder and CEO of Milan Direct - an online designer furniture store. Recently shortlisted for 2012 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Ramler took the time to share some of his secrets with BIT.
"We pride ourselves on making objective decisions based on fact. So when we launch products we don't have a warm, fuzzy feeling. We use the data Google provides which tells which products are in demand".
How Google Analytics can help
Milan Direct's approach is to use freely available data from Google Insights and Google Analytics. "Last year, we saw a growing trend on Insights for outdoor furniture. Google Insights can show you within outdoor furniture which products are the breakout terms. So we could see that black wicker outdoor furniture was in demand".
In the past, this level of market research required purchasing data from third parties and then carrying out analysis. For Milan Direct, all it needed was the time - the data was there.
As well as the trend towards black wicker outdoor furniture, Milan Direct found that timber furniture was another opportunity to put products in the market that fulfilled what people were looking for.
For Milan Direct, the proof of the pudding was in the eating with Ramler describing both of those products as a "big hit". This told Ramler that the data in Google was reliable and could be used to make sound business decisions.
Milan Direct used the tools from Google to plan their global expansion strategy. "We can see that for our most popular products which countries search for those products the most. We use Google Analytics to track the metrics of your website".
That data told Milan Direct which parts of their website were being frequented the most, how long people were staying on those pages and where they were coming from. The data can even tell you what pages they are leaving from, enabling you to either remove or change pages that seem to cause customers to leave your site.
Like many businesses, a relatively small proportion of the product catalog is responsible for most of the sales. As Ramler put it, the 80-20 is a factor that helped Milan Direct target their activities on the products most likely to deliver sales.
Finding the top 20 products
Their approach was to look at their top 20 products using Google Analytics and to then use Google Insights to see what countries are searching for those products. In turn, this helped define what countries they'd go to next in their global expansion and what products they'd offer in each area.
"In America, there's massive demand for office chairs. So we might end up launching Milan Direct in the States just as an office chair business. Milan Direct might end up with different variations in different countries depending on the data" says Ramler.
The data has also assisted Milan Direct in optimising their website to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for. This is a relatively simple technique at one level. Once you establish what potential customers are searching for - the specific keywords they are interested in - you can use those words on your store in product names and descriptions so they appear higher up in search results.
"If you don't [optimise your site] people's decision span is very short and if they don't find it on your site quickly they'll go" Ramler adds.
Ramler told us that Milan Direct is about to deploy a new website that is heavily optimised to make it easy for customers to find what they want in just one click and to complete a purchase in just a couple of clicks. All of this is possible as they've been looking at the data since the business launched about five years ago.
Taking out the guesswork
Although this sounds logical at one level, it really is quite different to how business has been traditionally done. In the past, an entrepreneur came up with an idea for a product or service and then put their effort into marketing the product and convincing people to buy.
Milan Direct's approach is almost the exact opposite. It starts by looking at what customers want by using the data available through Google Insights and Google Analytics. That data is then used to work out what products the customers are looking for, making it easy to find and then delivering what they want. In Ramler's words "Google takes the guesswork out".
Milan Direct complements their heavy use of Google's free tools with social media - in particular, Facebook.
The data about what products are popular that's gained from online data allows Milan Direct to interact with potential and new customers in interesting ways. For example, when a new furniture style is increasing in popularity, Milan Direct uses Facebook to put pictures of potential products and asks for feedback on styles, colours, materials - whatever they need to ensure that they only bring products to market that the market wants.
Similarly, they recently ran a Facebook promotion asking followers to name a new office chair. The winner received a new chair and Milan Direct brought customers into the company, making them a part of the decision-making process.