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Conducting market research can be a long and difficult process in certain cases, especially for complex items and services or items that you may have never purchased. Many government contracting professionals don’t know where to begin, or how to research effectively, so they waste time and energy without good results to show for it.

We wanted to put a stop to that, so we built a whole resource page dedicated to how to conduct market research for government contracts. From webinars to our market intelligence library, you’ll find everything you need to unlock your information superpower. But in this blog, we want to focus on a more tactical approach to performing market research: finding the best keywords to yield excellent results.

Why Keywords Matter

Today, we start most if not all of our research online. Search engines like Google and Bing are incredibly adept at cataloging all the information on the web, but it’s up to you to give instructions in the form of search terms. That’s why the old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” holds true when you’re doing market research.

In other words, if your search terms are bad or inaccurate, the results aren’t going to be any better. That’s why it’s important to identify the best search terms, which means identifying the right keywords that best describe your products or services. As we discussed in our blog, Six Tips for Your Best Market Research, taking the time to find your best keywords will save you time and increase the value of your supplier and market research.

So how do we do it better? This blog will expand on several techniques for finding the best keywords:

  1. Using Google to refine your search terms
  2. Digging into category codes like PSC, NAICS, and NIGP
  3. Reviewing contract vehicles & relevant contract documents

1) Using Google to Refine Your Search Terms

Let’s face it, when it comes to search engines Google is the cream of the crop. Millions and millions of people use Google to conduct internet research, and with every search conducted Google’s algorithm grows stronger. That’s why paying attention to what Google recommends is our first technique for finding the best keywords.

You have probably noticed that when you first start typing in a search term in Google, it will recommend or attempt to auto-complete your search. These suggestions are based on the millions of searches that have been done by people like you, in days gone by. Not only does Google make suggestions in the search bar, but it also provides two other sections on the first page of the search results that you will want to note. Those are “People also ask,” which will appear above the fold, and “Searches related to…” which will appear at the bottom of the search page. Mine these resources for keywords that seem relevant to your search!

Use Google’s recommendations to collect high-quality keywords for your market research.

The bottom line is that everything you’ll search has already been searched before, and millions of times. So you can take advantage of Google’s “crowdsourced” search recommendations to get a jumpstart on your own keyword curation. But what are you supposed to do with all these keywords? You need a tool that can help you keep track, which is why we developed the GovShop Search Assistance Tool. As you find new keywords, you can enter them into the relevant sections of this tool for future reference, like when the time comes to start researching suppliers that match your requirements and capabilities.

Pro tip: if you are totally stuck on finding new keywords, try a tool like ubersuggest to get recommendations based on any term you input!

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2) Digging into category codes

After this initial discovery period, you’ll have collected at least a few quality keywords that describe the product or service that you are ultimately trying to acquire. But what good are those keywords for market research if they don’t match the way your target suppliers are describing their products or services?

Let’s pretend you have a customer in the Facilities Management office who needs to replace the security system of a building under management, and you’ve been tasked with doing market research on the latest and greatest security cameras. Plug the keyword “security cameras” into a google search and sure, you’ll get results all over the map, from home security solutions to body cameras to tactical surveillance for military and law enforcement. As you review the results, you’ll discover similar, relevant search terms like “CCTV systems” and “video surveillance.” Record these terms in our keyword research tool, you’ll need them later.

Before you go down any rabbit holes, take time to refine your keywords to more specifically describe what your customer is seeking. Because Google and Bing are primarily consumer-facing search engines, the results will focus more on personal solutions. This is one of the reasons why we created GovShop, to provide a search platform dedicated to the needs of public sector buyers. Not only do we have hundreds of thousands of government contractors in our database, but we have also created the easiest way to search category code structures like Product Service Codes (PSC), North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), and the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) Commodity/Services Codes.

You can try it right now, because it is free to use and browser-based, just like Google! Enter “security cameras” in the search bar and you’ll see results from supplier profiles to contract vehicles. We’ll get to this later, but right now we want to focus on how to use category codes to refine our search. Category codes are important because they do represent the ways that industry has formally described their products and service. There’s arguably no better source for relevant keywords than category codes, but they don’t always use common terms that we all know off hand.

For instance, how many of you knew that a CCTV system was a form of a security camera? Or that industry professionals use the term “video surveillance” to describe their functionality? Now enter “CCTV” into the GovShop search bar and you’ll see a section called “Offerings” in the drop-down with an entry for NAICS 517311: Wired Telecommunications Carriers. Clicking through to this category code provides a valuable description of what and how this industry works, as described by those in the industry.

And what better way to find the products and services than by using the terms that they use to describe themselves?

GovShop category codes are great sources of keywords for government market research
GovShop category codes are great sources of keywords for government market research.

3) Reviewing contract vehicles

As we go deeper into the market research process, we are getting more specific with the keywords that best describe the items you are looking to acquire. While search engines help us gain a broad understanding and category codes help us define the industry terms, we still want to hear from the government contractors themselves. How do they describe the items and services they offer to government agencies?

We can discover this by researching existing contract vehicles, from past contracts awarded for similar services to multiple award schedules offering items from many qualified contractors. You can certainly go digging through your file room for past contracts, but consider using GovShop’s contract vehicle search as well. When we enter “security cameras” into the search bar, we can see quite a few contract vehicles that are returned:

GovShop database contract vehicles
GovShop has a database of contract vehicles and GSA schedules to support market research.

Now not every one of those contract vehicles will apply, but take some time to explore them, and pay special attention to the descriptions of each vehicle offered on the GovShop vehicle page for another terrific source of highly relevant and targeted keywords.

Let’s go back to the example of the prior contract for just a minute as we wrap this blog up. If you have or can obtain an electronic copy of the statement of work, or really any description of the product or service you are seeking to acquire, you can use text analytic tools to identify the most frequently used terms as another source for keywords. Start with FedBizOpps to find solicitations; state and local contractors should refer to the opportunities platform used by their target clients.

Download a selection of these solicitations and then copy and paste all the descriptive information you can find into a text analytic tool that will show you the most common words in a block of text. There are plenty of free and fun tools that exist, and many will create easy to interpret visualizations like the word cloud shown below, which we created from a selection of cybersecurity solicitations:

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Keywords for your Government Market Research
Text analytic tools like word clouds are an easy way to visualize common keywords in large blocks of text.

Here are some great word cloud tools you can check out for this exact purpose:


Word Cloud Generator – Jason Davies

Now you have the keywords, so go GovShop it!

The best method to amp up your market research is to use the best keywords. Once you have them identified, you can use GovShop to perform more targeted market research on our database of government contractors. GovShop is free and easy to use, so what are you waiting for? Go GovShop it!

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