How To Conduct Effective Desk Research in 3 Easy Steps

15 min read
How To Conduct Effective Desk Research in 3 Easy Steps Cieden

Before you launch a product you should get answers to several questions. The first and, I believe, most important one is to define the overall market situation and take a closer look at the potential customer. In this article, I am going to highlight some essential tools in conducting desk research and defining user groups. 


Desk research will help you gather general information and prepare yourself for qualitative user research.

If you want to become aware of the market size and potential revenue, look at existing solutions and define user groups and potential customers desk research will be a helpful tool for this.

We know how hard it is when you are alone with your product idea and the tonne of useless information throughout the Internet. Don’t worry, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Step by step, we will break down this process and give you practical how-to advice. 

What is desk research?

Desk research (also called secondary research) is a research method that involves using existing data. This technique will allow you to get the first idea of your market and users “from your desk.”

Secondary research includes already published materials in reports, articles, or similar documents. I also recommend using software tools that can help you become more familiar with your users (some of them I have mentioned below).

This method is much more cost-efficient than primary research and requests less time for conducting it. Still, a lot of analysis work should be done, and the result is really helpful. I believe the best way is to mix qualitative user research and desk research. It’ll help you fit into your timelines and budgets. 

Illustration that shows what is desk research

Three steps to conduct a desk research

As I already mentioned, the reason to conduct research is to become more familiar with your users and potential customers. Your focus should be on collecting notable data and analyzing it. Pay attention to these three data sources:

Literature sources

Most likely, you should start with the existing text available in the public domain. What to look for? Everything! You can go through government or private companies’ reports, the original material on which these reports are based, conference proceedings,  primary periodicals, official publications, articles in newspapers and journals. 

This method of data collection is called secondary and is the most inexpensive and nontime-consuming way.

Document analysis

Document analysis is an important part of business analysis. This process includes the examination of existing documents and recordings. In some way, you are using the research that has already been completed. 

The objective of this process is to track changes over the whole period. You can analyze logs, email logs, databases, web analytics, minutes of meetings, staff reports, information logs. These are only a few examples of the sources for this type of research. 

For instance, before redesigning the existing product, you have to understand the reason for the low level of purchases or numerous complaints into support. Document and records help track the interaction between employees and customers or between your current website and customers. This is the way to make correct conclusions.

Competitor analysis

Knowing your competitors helps analyze the existing solutions and define the current problems they cover. Obviously, to share the entire experience and provide an ultimate guide for conducting competitive research, I have to write a whole new article 🙂 Here are some points to pay attention to:

  • Determine the products your competitors offer. 
  • Pay attention to their sales tactics and results.
  • Analyze how they market their products. 
  • Take note of their content strategies. 
  • Look at competitors’ social media presence, strategies, and go-to platforms. 
  • Make a SWOT analysis to learn their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Handy tools to conducting a competitive analysis

There are a lot of tools that may help. I’d like to share some of them I use while conducting desk research:

  • Crunchbase is a live company database, which updates constantly. This tool helps you identify upcoming marketing tendencies. For example, you can find how many companies in a specific industry are raising.
  • Capterra is an intermediary between buyers and technology vendors within the software industry. Here, you can find the most comprehensive lists of products per industry, reviews, ratings, infographics, and easily compare needed competitors.
  • Serpstat is one of the top-rated SEO tools and definitely will help you outline competitor analysis just by entering your domain.
  • Semrush analyzes the data for you and gives you instant recommendations on SEO, content marketing, and advertising that help you improve your online visibility in days.

Useful resources for defining your user groups

As soon as you finalize your desk research, you will most likely be able to group your users. So now it’s time to take a deeper look at them. Here are some free tools you can use to identify your user personas.

Google Analytics

If you already have launched your website, don’t forget to insert the Google Analytics tracking code. It will help you to get more information about your clients. Now I’ll share which reports we suggest using:

  1. 1. Demographics: Age/Gender

This report shows the key age group and gender of your website visitors. To kick off the demographic report follow the flow: Audience tab at the left menu > Demographics > Overview.

Demographics: Age/Gender
  1. 2. Demographics: Affinity categories

Learn more about the preferred interests of your users. As you have already opened an Age or Gender report, you can add a secondary dimension. Select ‘Affinity Category’ at the dropdown. You will see all the segments your visitors are interested in. It is helpful to identify your ideal online customers at scale.

  1. 3. Demographics: In a market segment

One more good analytics to identify the users who are actively researching and comparing items across the Google Display Network (YouTube, paid search results via AdWords, display ads via AdSense, etc.)

  1. 4. Geo

This report will provide you an overview of all the languages that your users have set in their browsers and the location they may live. It will be useful in understanding cultural differences and will decrease effort for your marketing campaigns.

  1. 5. Devices

If you’re going to create a mobile app, think about which devices your guests are most likely to use to access your website. Go to Audience > Benchmarking > Devices. After that, dive deeper into Mobile Devices' info. You will see exactly which brand of mobile devices they are using. Go to Audience > Mobile >  Devices.

So we’ve just outlined some useful data to understand your users better. Now let’s move forward to other sources.

Facebook Insights

As almost everyone over the Internet is a social media user, it is good to use the data it represents. It will help you create more target posts and campaigns that cover your customer needs.

  1. 1. Take a look at the existing customer list

If you already have a customer list or just a list of users with phones or email addresses, you can use it to gain extra information about these people.

You need a list in the .csv file. In the Facebook Ads Manager, you can create a custom audience. Then the Facebook Audience Insights finish uploading the list and you will receive a ‘Ready’ notification. At this point, you can analyse your audience.

  1. 2. Analyse Required Audience

Initially, you need to open an Audience Insights tool. You can choose an Audience you want to analyse. This tool can give you access to such data:

  • Age, gender, and relationship status
  • Lifestyle preferences, demographics, and interests
  • Education level and job title
  • Facebook Pages that are likely relevant to your audience
  • Top cities, countries, and languages
  • Frequency of certain activities
  • Device usage
  • Household size and estimated household income
  • Homeownership status and house market value
  • Spending methods, purchase behavior, and estimated retail and online retail spending habits
Analysis of Required Audience
  1. 3. Find your potential customers

Even if you don’t have a customer list yet, you can use generic insights connected to your Business Page. You can also use software tools that provide you with potential customer emails. Take a look at these tools:

  • helps find more convertible leads, verify contacts, track your lead’s progress, and automate cold outreach.
  • Hunter is a cloud-based email search solution that helps businesses find emails on company websites, verify domains, compose follow-ups, and more.

Try to pull out the most useful insights about your potential users, finalize all the gathered information and be sure your team is aware of user groups you are trying to reach.  


LinkedIn is one more powerful resource for collecting data. A good LinkedIn profile is a pretty ready proto persona. You can discover the user’s location, career path and goals, achievements, and daily work responsibilities. It is especially useful for B2B marketing. By the way, if you are in this segment, you can also use tools like Leadfeeder to understand which companies are visiting your website.

Now we will break out four components that could be revealed from Linkedin: business attributes, pain points, hangouts, values.

  1. 1. Business attributes

They give you a deeper view of the demographics of your business page followers and visitors. What can you gather here? You can see location, job function, seniority, industry, company size. There are also data about similar companies and the comparison in analytics. It’s a great specific tool to reinforce Google Analytics.

Business attributes example from Linkedin
  1. 2. Personal profiles

Pay attention to sections “Summary”, “Skills & Endorsements”, “Activity” and “Interests”. 

In “Summary” we can get an overview of the person’s work trajectory, education, and main skills. From the “Skills & Endorsements” section, we can receive data about a person’s strengths and people who endorsed their skills (who can also be useful in the research). The “Activity” section is a great way to observe what the person is talking about, what they like, and comment. “Interests” shows a list of the following companies and people, so it is possible to examine what engages the person.

Personal profile example from Linkedin
  1. 3. Company pages and job postings.

Company Page includes information about the history, size, and career opportunities. Such pages also may have stories about employees and their quotes. The company’s job descriptions show the professional attributes required of a candidate.

Company pages and job posting example from Linkedin

After gathering all this data, you can create a direct message to increase the chances that relevant people will view it. How to do it? Open your Company Page >  Click on ‘Create Post’  > Manage post Audience: from Anyone to Targeted audience. Add some specific details about your audience.

  1. 4. Advanced Search

Use LinkedIn Advanced Search to earn data about market size, amount of required companies or people. By working on the filters you can find more insights about locations, education, seniority levels, etc.  

Advanced Search feature from Linkedin

Last thoughts

Taking market temperature and understanding your audience are the key ingredients in a way to creating a successful product. Pay attention to detail, document the whole process, share it with your team and all the stakeholders. Help them to keep an empathic approach to your product and audience.

Have a great time conducting research. If you will need professional help with it, feel free to contact us.

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How To Conduct Effective Desk Research in 3 Easy Steps Cieden
How To Conduct Effective Desk Research in 3 Easy Steps Cieden

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