Kyle Nel

I recently read a story in the Washington Times that the US government is spending millions and millions of dollars to have third parties collect data they could easily get for free online. The US government’s auditing agency recently did an analysis that suggests that buying free data could be costing the US taxpayers billions!

So what? Another story of government waste … yes and no. Basically the US government is not unlike any other large organisation. It is well meaning but is hampered with a large bureaucracy and layered with legacy systems that have been become inefficient and wasteful, systems that no one seems willing or able to get rid of or sufficiently fix. This is not any different from what I have seen in my corporate life. If you have ever talked to someone in IT and the topic of old legacy systems, developed decades ago, you generally get a severe eye roll followed by a laundry list of the fantastic workarounds they have to do keep things running at the most basic levels.

We in research are no different. How many studies have you seen that are beyond tired and long out-lived their usefulness but continue to suck time and resources away? How many surveys have you seen conducted that you have thought to yourself… “I think I could have figured that out by spending 20 minutes looking around on Google”? Well according to the audit done by the US government’s auditing department … you are right. You can probably find much of what you are looking for online for free or by subscribing to relatively inexpensive data aggregation tool.

Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Google Trends: If you aren’t already using this, it will quickly become part of your toolbox.
  • Google’s Contextual Targeting Tool (see below for how to find it): Google’s successor to the much loved, but short-lived, Wonder Wheel. Find visually related search keywords from the world’s largest search engine.

Here’s how to use the Contextual Targeting Tool:

  1. Sign in to your AdWords account. 
  2. Click Tools and Analysis, and select Contextual Targeting Tool.
  3. Enter words or phrases that describe your product (for example, “chocolate brownies”). The tool shows a list of keywords grouped into thematically relevant ad groups.


  • LexisNexis: an oldie but a goodie.
  • Global Web Index (http://www.globalwebindex.net/): World’s largest digital media survey
  • BetterWorldFlux: Visualise and share stories that are hidden in the World Bank Open Data.
  • Wolfram Alpha: “an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine might.”

This by new means a compendium of all of the free tools out there. What do you use?   

kyleKyle Nel is Head of International and Multicultural Research for Lowe’s Home Improvement in USA

Share: