When it comes to researching a market or industry sector the major national and international players are generally well covered by the established market research publishers. If you are looking at a highly specialised sector, are interested in smaller companies or just want to know who is doing what in a town or county then direct marketing lists can be the cheaper and better option. The source I often use is a UK based service called MarketingFile.com (http://www.marketingfile.com/). They have been around for a while but continue to update their services and ensure that the databases they offer are regularly checked and cleaned.
MarketingFile’s lists are divided into business and consumer marketing and further segmented by communication channel: postal, email, fax or telemarketing lists. You can drill down further and specify key job roles, industry sectors, geographic areas and company size. For consumer lists you can segment by criteria such as geographic areas, household finances, interests, investments, cars driven and charities supported.
For each list there is information on coverage, pricing and selection criteria.
You have to register to search the lists but registration is free of charge. The search screen makes it easy to select and combine multiple criteria and the number of results (counts), which is sometimes all one needs to know, is free.
The full data is charged on a per record basis and you can also opt to have only those records that include named contacts. If you are on a limited budget or want to test a sample of the data you can request a specific number of records for example 50, 100, 200, 1000.
MarketingFile have extended their services and now offer complementary services such as printing and posting of letters, postcards and inserts. They have a 100% Delivery Guaranteed offer on email and postal lists which offers 50p per item towards your postage for mail “goneaways” and 5p – 10p per item towards broadcast costs for email hard bounces.
It is not always easy to identify the most appropriate list for your research. Rather than waste time trying different lists I’d recommend that you contact their helpline, which is based in the UK. They will be able to give advice on the best strategy for your research or project.
Factiva is discontinuing its pay as you go option for occasional users as part of a “strategic refocus”. Instead of an annual fee of $69 plus a per document charge of $2.95, there will now be a fixed monthly fee of $249/month. This allows you to download up to 100 documents a month with additional articles above this limit being charged at $2.95 each. The new pricing will take effect on 30th April 2013 and, for existing customers, will be payable from their next renewal date.
I have not used Factiva for over a year and, to be honest, I haven’t missed it at all. Much of my research is highly specialised and I find that I am using industry specific sources and scientific papers more and more. Nevertheless, it is a great shame that Factiva has taken this step. Many of the people I work with appreciate the quality of the service but few use it often enough to warrant the $249 monthly fee.
Thanks to everyone who sent me details of the changes.
Towards the end of the afternoon the participants were asked to come up with a list of top 10 tips and tricks. Two more were submitted to me by email soon after, so we have a dozen in total.
Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms and sometimes drops terms from your search without telling or asking you. Neither of these are very helpful if you are looking for a company or a person. Quote marks around phrases or individual words do not always force an exact match or inclusion in the search. If you want Google to run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results, then click on the arrow next to ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.
2. Reading Level
Try ‘Reading level’ if Google is failing to return any research or business related documents for a query. Run your search and from the menu above the results select ‘Search tools’, ‘All results’ and from the drop menu ‘Reading level’. Options for switching between basic, intermediate and advanced reading levels should then appear just above the results. Google does not give much away as to how it calculates the reading level and it has nothing to do with the reading age that publishers assign to publications. It seems to involve an analysis of sentence structure, the length of sentences, the length of the document and whether scientific or industry specific terminology appears in the page.
3. Guardian Data Storehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/data
This section of the Guardian posts articles, charts, graphs and maps on stories in the news using official government data, datasets collected and published relevant organisations and sometimes data obtained via Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. Links to the original datasets are provided so that you can download the raw data.
Use the filetype: command to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that in Google filetype:ppt and filetype:xls will notpick up the newer .pptx and xlsx formats so you will need to incorporate both into your strategy, for example filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx, or run separate searches for each one. In Bing.com, though, filetype:pptx will pick up both .ppt and .pptx files.
Include the site: command in your search to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:gov.uk. You can also use -site: to exclude a site or group of sites from your search, for example:
to run the search on UK government web sites but excluding the new www.gov.uk site.
6. Duedil chart
Duedil (http://www.duedil.com/) is one of several companies that repackage Companies House data and makes some of available free of charge. The workshop participants particularly liked the company Group visualisations.
7.Company Checkhttp://www.companycheck.co.uk/ and Company Director Checkhttp://company-director-check.co.uk/
Like Duedil, both of these services repackage Companies House data. Company Check provides 5 years of figures and graphs for Cash at Bank, Net Worth, Total Liabilities and Total Current Liabilities free of charge and lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you are taken to the Company Directory Check where you can view other current and past directorships for that person.
10. Domain Toolshttp://www.domaintools.com/
A useful tool for identifying who owns the domain name of a web site. Alarm bells should start ringing in your head if the owner is hiding behind an agent or a privacy protection service.
A single point of access to the official company registries of 22 European countries. As well as searching for companies your can search company appointments and personnel for some countries, and verify VAT numbers. The amount of information that is disclosed varies depending on the country and details of what is available is included in the price list at http://gbrdirect.eu/priceList.aspx. The information that it finds will be in the original language.
12. Numeric range
This command is unique to Google. Use it for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Simply type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. For example: world oil demand forecasts 2015..2030
This workshop is being held again on Thursday, 19th September 2013 in London. The content will have changed by then – in fact, some things have already changed! – and participants are encouraged to let us know the areas and topics in which they are particularly interested and areas of research that cause them problems. This enables me to tailor the event to the needs of those attending. Hands-on practical sessions are included so that everyone has a chance to try out the sites and techniques for themselves. Further details of the day are on the TFPL website.
A reminder that I am running two business information workshops in London in April.
The first is “Introduction to Business Research” on Thursday, 18th April. This workshop provides an introduction to many areas of business research including statistics, official company information, market information, news sources and how to build search strategies. It will cover explanations of the jargon and terminology, regulatory issues, assessing the quality of information, primary and secondary sources. Further information is available on the TFPL website.
The second is “Business information: key web resources”, which is being held the day after on Friday 19th April. This workshop looks in more detail at the resources that are available for different types of information, alerting services and free vs. fee. It also covers search strategies for tracking down industry, market and corporate reports. Details are on the TFPL website.
Both workshops include practical sessions during which you can follow the exercises provided, try out some of the enquiries you’ve recently had to tackle, or just generally explore. I am on hand during the practicals to help out with searches or advise on how to approach a particularly difficult piece of research. Be warned, though, you will be asked at the end of day to nominate, as a group, your top 10 search tips and tips. That’s when the arguments get serious!
I don’t usually review organisations that provide company formation services but Firmica.si is worth a mention. As well as help with setting up or selling a business in Slovenia they provide some very useful information on procedures and doing business. The information and related content is under Frequently Asked Questions. The whole site is in Slovene so you will need to dust off Google translate, or a similar tool, if your knowledge of the language is limited.
I am running three workshops in April on business information and search. All three have a practical element so that you can try out resources and techniques for yourself.
Introduction to Business Research
This is being organised by TFPL and will be held in London on Thursday, 18th April. This course provides an introduction to many areas of business research including statistics, official company information, market information, biographical information and news sources. It will cover explanations of the jargon and terminology, regulatory issues, assessing the quality of information, primary and secondary sources. Further information is available on the TFPL web site at http://www.tfpl.com/services/coursedesc.cfm?id=TR1116&pageid=-9&cs1=&cs2=f
Business information: key web resources
This is also being organised by TFPL in London and is being held on Friday, 19th April. This workshop looks in more detail at the resources that are available for different types of information, alerting services and free vs. fee. It also covers search strategies for tracking down industry, market and corporate reports. Further information is available at http://www.tfpl.com/services/coursedesc.cfm?id=TR945&pageid=-9&cs1=&cs2=f
Make Google behave: techniques for better results
This is a very popular workshop and is being organised by UKeiG. It is being held in Manchester on Tuesday, 30th April.
How Google works
Recent developments and their impact on search results
How Google personalises your results and can you stop it?
How to use existing and new features to focus your search and control Google
How and when to use Google’s specialist tools and databases
What Google is good at and when you should consider alternatives
I regularly mention Zanran (http://www.zanran.com/) in my workshops on search and business information, and it often finds its way into the Top Tips compiled by the delegates at the end of the day.
Zanran is not a Google alternative. Rather than search the text of web pages it extracts and indexes numerical data presented as tables, charts and images in PDF reports, spreadsheets and ordinary web pages. You can simply type in your search terms but there are additional options for narrowing down the search by location of the web server, specifying an individual site, selecting a time period and limiting by file type.
The results page lists the files it has found with an extract highlighting the content containing your terms. In this example I am looking for data on agricultural methane emissions in the UK.
To the left of each entry is a thumbnail. Moving the cursor over the thumbnail brings up a preview of the page containing the relevant chart, table or image. This enables you to immediately assess the relevance of the data without having to download and go through a lengthy document.
If you click on the thumbnail or the title to view the whole document you have to register (free of charge) as copies of the indexed documents are stored by Zanran. If you prefer to go to the original document click on the URL button attached to the summary of the page and click on the link that is then revealed. Unfortunately, you may see “page not found” especially if it is on a UK government department web site. Many of these have now been closed and their content archived making it difficult to track them down. Registering with Zanran is by far the easier option. Also, rather than deluge you with documents from a single site, as Google all too often does, Zanran gives you a link telling you if and how many other results are available on a site.
How does it compare with Google? Well, Google did come up with relevant results for my search but I had to spend a lot of time ploughing through them to identify the best documents. And Google did not pull up in the first 100 results the very useful archived UK government documents that Zanran gave me.
If you are looking for data or statistics Google still does a very good job but I recommend you also run a search in Zanran. It may well come up with a real gem, as it often has for me.
The search interface and the results are in Hebrew but if you are using Google Chrome the built-in translator does a reasonable job of translating the text into English.
Free information on a company includes type of company, address, legal status and purpose of the company.
Additional information such as details of directors, total authorized capital, division of share capital, shareholders, charges and liabilities is priced. It is at this point that the Google translation starts to fail, so if you need more than just confirmation that the company exists it is best to use a commercial service that can run your search and translate the documents. One such company is IsraelBizReg (http://www.israelbizreg.com/).
IsraelBizReg is a division of KYC Israel, an Israeli due diligence firm. They offer English translated company reports in three formats: basic, detailed, and a full company file. You can search the database free of charge to see if your company is in the register. If you cannot find it IsraelBizReg will perform a company search free of charge. The basic report costs $50, detailed is $100 and the full company file is $150.
Another company that provides similar services is UK based 7Side (http://www.7side.co.uk/). Like IsraelBizReg it is pay as you go and they offer a translation service.
There are many excellent business resources on the web but finding them is not always easy, and Google does not always come up with the best and most relevant. This is where gateways such as the ones compiled by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) come into their own. Their Library and Information Service have pulled together a number of guides on topics such as international company registration, SMEs, startups, country resources and industry guides.
The guides cover official and unofficial information sources from the print collection of the ICAEW Library & Information Service and recommended websites on the internet. Some resources are for members only but many sections are open to all. It is worth spending some time working your way through the menus to get an idea of the range of information that is available.
Zanranhttp://zanran.com/ A search tool for identifying charts, graphs and tables of data within formatted documents such as PDFs, Excel spreadsheets and images. Enter your search terms and optionally limit your search by date and/or format type. Zanran comes up with a list of documents that match your criteria with thumbnails to the left of each entry. Hover over the thumbnail to see a preview of the page containing your data and further information on the document. Very useful if you are looking for industry statistics.
University library subjects guides. If you are looking for some good starting points on a subject seek out some university library subject guides. These list resources that are only available to their own students and staff but may also include links to relevant publicly accessible resources that have been assessed for quality.
Socialmentionhttp://socialmention.com/ Several social media search tools were covered in the workshop but this one received a special mention as a good general all round social media tool. It covers images, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, audi0 and bookmarks. If you are monitoring a topic you can set up email and RSS alerts.
Companies Househttp://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/ The official registry for UK companies. Other services such as Company Check (http://companycheck.co.uk/) and DUEDIL (http://www.duedil.com/), which repackage Companies House data, may provide more information free of charge but it is always worth double checking with Companies House to see if there is more up to date information and to get a full of list of the documents that are available on a company. The history and list of documents that can be ordered for a company is informative in itself. On the Companies House web site use the Find Company Information to locate the company in the register and then click on “Order information for this company”. You will then see a list of available documents. Titles such as “Struck off and dissolved” and “Application for administrative restoration” would suggest that perhaps you ought to investigate further before doing business with the company.
LinkedIn groups A couple of the workshop participants regularly use LinkedIn groups for research questions. Look for groups set up by professional and official bodies relevant to your subject.
Twitter If you are looking for a professional, research or trade association that may be able to help with your research you only need to find just one organisation on Twitter covering your topic. Then, to find others that might be useful, see who that organisation is following.
Millionshorthttp://millionshort.com/. If you are fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again give Million Short a try. Million Short runs your search and then removes the most popular web sites from the results. Originally, as its name suggests, it removed the top 1 million but the default has changed to the top 10,000. The principle remains the same, though. Exclude the more popular sites and you could uncover a real gem. The page that best answers your question might not be well optimised for search engines or might cover a topic that is so “niche” that it never makes it into the top results.
Biznarhttp://www.biznar.com/ Biznar is a federated search engine that runs your search in real-time in about 70 resources. There is a list on the Advanced Search screen where you can deselect individual or groups of resources. The results are combined into a single list and organised on the left hand side of the screen into folders such as Topics, Authors, Publications, Publishers and Dates. These are computer generated but can help you narrow down your search. A bit erratic at times and sometimes comes up with odd results but people still thought it was worth including in the Top Tips list.
DUEDILhttp://www.duedil.com/. This service repackages Companies House data and provides some of it free of charge. The feature that won DUEDIL a place in the Top Tops is the “Group” visualisation that illustrates the connections between the company you are researching, its parent companies and subsidiaries. You have to create an account (free at the moment) to access all of the information.
SCoRehttp://www.score.ac.uk A catalogue of current and historical printed company reports held in UK libraries. The catalogue does not provide links to digitised documents but is a very quick and easy way of identifying libraries that hold hard copy reports. The participating libraries include London Business School, the British Library, Manchester Business School, City Business Library, Guildhall Library, Strathclyde University and the University of Warwick. A full list is available at http://www.score.ac.uk/collections.asp.
News and comments on search tools and electronic resources for research