How to Do Online Research Like a Pro

Alayna Okerlund
Written by: Alayna Okerlund | Best Company Editorial Team

Last Updated:

How to Do Online Research Like a Pro

This article is co-authored with Madison Smith, Kalicia Bateman, and James Scott Belyeu

After conducting a recent survey about online consumer research, we discovered that most people spend two hours researching an important product or service like a credit card before they make a purchase.

Two hours.

You could have used that time to embark on a mini road trip, take a power nap, tackle your to-do list, or whatever you might do with an extra two hours.

We understand that your time and energy are precious — especially when it comes to product research. Finding the right brand for the right price among hundreds, sometimes even thousands of options, can make the online research process long and confusing. That’s where we come in. 

As a company fueled by online research, customer reviews, and company comparisons, we’ve identified the best strategies for improving your product or service research. We’ve broken down these strategies into three easy steps, so you can find products that better meet your needs while cutting down your research time: 

  1. Identify your needs
  2. Explore and compare your options
  3. Make a decision

Each of the following steps will refer to the online research involved in signing up for a credit card as an example.

Let’s get started!

Consumer Research Funnel Infographic

 

Step One: Identify your needs

Before you jump into researching brands and products, it’s essential to understand the industry you’ll be searching in and then identify and narrow down your own needs.

Understand the industry

Knowing where to start when choosing a credit card, for example, can be difficult, as there are a lot of factors that come into play: interest rates, fees, rewards, credit limits, credit scores, payment schedules, types of card issuers (bank, credit union, or online lender), and so on.

That’s a lot of things to consider.

If you don’t understand what these factors are and how they work, you risk taking too much time figuring out which card to get; or choosing a card on a whim that may not be the best fit. Therefore, it’s essential to take some time and do a little bit of homework to understand the industry: lookup types of credit card rewards, find definitions for industry jargon, determine what the pros and cons of online credit card lenders are, and the list can go on.

More than anything, understanding the industry will not only make you more informed, but it will help you more easily determine what you want in a credit card because you will understand all the different factors and options available.

Narrow down your needs

Once you have a better idea of how the industry works, it is essential to consider your needs. Consider asking yourself the following questions (which can apply to a variety of products or services, not just credit cards):

  • Why do I need a credit card?
  • How will I be using my credit card?
  • How much am I willing to spend on this credit card?

Asking yourself these questions, in addition to applying your new-found industry knowledge, will help you save time later on in the research process.

Consider prices

Part of your needs is determining how much you are willing to spend on a product or service, or in this case, a credit card. Maybe you’re like us, and you just look for the lowest price available. While this may seem like the best way to save money, it really might not be the best approach. National News platform, Today, reminds consumers that, “...the goal is the best value for your money, not necessarily the lowest price. A smart consumer looks for a good, reliable product that’s reasonably priced.”

Your needs will inform you how much you will need to spend. Your industry knowledge will help you know the best value product or brand, providing an opportunity to make a budget for yourself, saving you from wasting time considering options outside of your price range.

While considering various prices, you can also take this as an opportunity to consult your budget and see if any changes should be made. Perhaps you may need to add a little bit more to your budget or, if you’re really lucky, you may have overestimated costs and can even lower your budget.

Identify your needs checklist

 

For future reference, download this checklist.

Step Two: Explore and compare your options

Now that you have identified your needs, it’s time to start exploring and comparing your company options. 

Research companies 

More often than not, you’ll find a wide range of companies that offer the service or product that you are searching for. Although it’s great to have some options, having too many company options can make it difficult to choose just one. 

Here are a few steps that can help you narrow down your list of companies: 

Compare and Explore Checklist

For future reference, download this checklist.

If you still have several companies on your list, the next step is to look at reviews.

Utilize reviews

A 2019 Brightlocal consumer review survey found that “the average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business.” The same survey also uncovered that “only 53 percent of people would even consider using a business with less than four stars.” 

Additionally, in our recent survey, approximately 50 percent of respondents said that reviews sway their opinions most of the time about important products or services that they were considering for purchase.

Clearly, more people are turning to reviews before using a company’s services or products than ever before, and the overall importance of reviews is only increasing.

Reviews, especially ones from a trustworthy review website, can provide valuable insight that you simply can’t get from a company’s main website, social media, or sales team. And, when it comes to company comparisons, reviews can help you determine which company will best align with your needs.

It’s no surprise that reviews are powerful. Many people who do online service/product research want some level of third party assurance that the company they plan to choose has a trustworthy reputation. Thus, people use reviews to learn from other consumers they relate to and to ensure that they don’t make the mistake of choosing the wrong company. 

If you haven’t yet included reviews in your usual company-research process, now is the time to start. You may be surprised by how much reviews will influence your final decision.

Here are a few ways you can make sure you get the most of the reviews you read:

Find at least one or two review websites you can trust. 

Many companies only feature positive reviews that they bought from customers on their website, so looking at those reviews alone won't be very helpful. Instead, try searching for a trusted third-party review website. Third-party review websites can help you see more honest, organic reviews. Some review websites operate under unethical terms in which companies can pay for better reviews and a better ranking. So, it’s important that you do the research to find a website you can trust. 

When looking for a trustworthy review website, make sure to check if the website has well-known companies listed. If you don’t see any companies you recognize, chances are the website won’t provide you with enough helpful reviews or information. 

Next, look for a disclaimer on how the website ranks companies and how they obtain reviews for each company. This type of clarity shows that the website isn’t trying to hide anything. Once you see a disclaimer, check to see if the website shows negative reviews for companies, especially those featured at the top of the industry lists. 

Lastly, see if the website shows reviewers’ names, locations, and dates of each review, indicating that they are from real people.

BestCompany.com is a trusted review website that helps consumers connect with companies that deserve their business. 

Visit our website to see the comprehensive overviews of each company along with verified customer reviews.

Learn More

Read several reviews for each company you are interested in.

Once you find a review website you can trust, it’s time to start reading reviews. Make sure to read both positive and negative reviews for each company that you’re interested in. More likely than not, each company will have at least one negative review, especially if you’re looking at the right review websites. 

Read the most recent reviews first to get the most updated view of the company and how it operates. Good companies learn from past reviews and make changes to their operations based on customer feedback. Because of this, older reviews might reflect an outdated version of the company. It can be good to read some older reviews, but try to start off reading the most recent ones you can find. 

Some review websites allow you to see how companies respond to the reviews their customers leave. You’re in luck if the review website you are using has this feature. These responses can help you see how companies react and deal with negative feedback and how they treat their customers.

Last but not least, take care of the weight you are giving the reviews you read. Be wary of the short and sweet reviews that give five stars but no other information. For example, a customer may leave a review about their credit card, outlining that they had a happy and satisfactory experience, and that’s it. Instead, look for reviews that offer more information about a customer’s experience, as this will give you more insight into the company, product, or service.

Check out the examples below to learn about which types of reviews you should read and which types you should ignore: 

Helpful review example graphic

Note: This 2020 Capital One credit card review is featured on BestCompany.com 

Review example not helpful graphic

Note: This 2017 Captial One credit card review is featured on BestCompany.com

Find and write down common themes among the reviews you read.

As you read through multiple reviews for each company, create a list of common themes you find. For instance, you might find that the majority of reviews you read highlight the company’s customer service values and initiatives. Finding common themes like this can help you learn specific pros and cons that you might not have seen from your earlier research. 

Other themes you should keep an eye out for include the company’s product/service affordability and its reputation and level of trustworthiness within the industry. Additionally, you’ll want to check to see if there are any common themes regarding product/service quality. Overall, each of these themes can help you narrow down the number of companies you’ll want to do business with.

If you’re still back and forth between a few companies after reading customer reviews for each one, the next step you can take is to see what those in your close network have to say. 

Obtain recommendations

Reviews can help you see what customers really think about a company or service, but they may not have your complete trust since people you don’t know write them. 

If you don’t want to base your decision entirely on online reviews, that’s okay. But you may want to take some time to talk to trusted friends or family members. 

Let’s go back to the credit card example. Most of the adults in your close circle likely have at least one credit card. If you are in the market for a credit card, whether it be your first card or an additional card, chances are, someone in your family or friend group will have a recommendation for you based on their own experiences. 

Recommendations from those you trust can help you narrow your list of companies even further, which is great, but keep in mind that not all recommendations may work for you. In regard to credit cards, a certain type of credit card might be perfect for the person in your friend group who has an excellent credit score and is only looking for a card with the best travel rewards, but it might not be a good fit for you and your financial situation. After all, each credit card has different rewards and requirements, as well as being tailored to certain credit scores and consumers. 

That being said, recommendations can still be useful. They can give you a good idea of what being a customer for a specific company is like and what you can expect from their product or service. But remember that just because a certain credit card or another service/product works for one person doesn’t mean that it will best suit your needs.

Step Three: Make a decision

Make a decision that will last

The first thing to keep in mind when making a purchasing decision is determining if the service or product is a short-term or long-term solution. For example, credit cards are the most useful and profitable the longer you have them, as you can build your credit history and benefit more from certain rewards. Thus, a credit card is generally a long-term purchase versus a short-term purchase.

When making your purchasing decision, think back to when you identified your needs and budget, and make sure that they align with the product, service, and/or company you have chosen. Then, evaluate if your decision is the best value, not just the lowest price. Carefully considering these two factors again before making your final decision can help you find greater lasting success.

Carefully considering your needs and the value of the purchase you are making can bring the most important elements of your research to the surface, allowing you to decide what will be the best for you. 

Analyze the pros and cons

Now that all the hard research is done, it’s time to make a mental list of all the reasons that would ultimately lead you to make a purchase. 

Using the credit card example again, let’s say that getting cash back is your priority. Card one has a 24 percent APR and no cashback advantages, versus card two, which has a 29.9 percent APR with a 3 percent cashback incentive. 

When you break down the information, each option’s advantages and disadvantages are reasonably apparent. You now know what will work for you and what won’t. Outlining the pros and cons doesn’t have to take long, but it can help you quickly assess whether your decision is the best for you.

Save time with brand loyalty

Once you have found the ideal product that will check off most of your boxes, staying loyal to a brand or service/product could be in your best interest.

Finding a brand or service/product that worked for you took a decent amount of time and energy, so don’t let that all go to waste. If you are pleased with a purchase you have made, you can use that initial trust and satisfaction when making future purchasing decisions, saving you more time and energy.

Our survey data indicates that consumers spend an average of one hour on product research when they return to a company they have used before — this is half of the average time that consumers dedicate to doing initial service/product research. Plus, you won’t have to worry about whether or not you’re going to like the service/product or if it will work for you because you already know that it does. It’s a win-win!

On the flip side, what happens if you don’t love your final purchasing decision? It happens, and it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. First, check out the return policy or customer satisfaction guarantees to see if you can get your money back. Then, refer back to the product research funnel again with your new-found insights. Yes, jumping back into doing some research may not be ideal, but at least you have a much better idea of what doesn’t work for you, making the process easier. 

Initially, the process may take some trial and error, but rest assured that going into your product research with a game plan will save you time and make you a smarter consumer.

Make a decision checklist

For future reference, download this checklist.

The bottom line

To ensure you don’t forget all the wisdom that you’ve gained, here is a quick recap of our strategies that will ensure better, faster online service/product research:

  1. Identify your needs — Understand what exact pain points you are trying to solve through a specific product or service.
  2. Compare your options — Narrow down your list of reputable options through online resources such as company websites, product comparison overviews, and customer reviews.
  3. Make the final decision — Make a purchase if it aligns with your needs, and utilize the brand in the future to streamline your product research process.

We wish you the best in your journey to find whatever is on your wishlist.

Remember to use BestCompany.com, where we have over 290,000 customer reviews to help you make the best purchasing decision.

To help get you started, check out some of our most popular categories here.

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