Desk Research | What It Is and How You Can Use It

Sorry to disappoint some of you, but this post is not about finding the best deal on office furniture at IKEA. Desk research actually means something completely different in the world of market research.

But, because our market research company hates turning people away with no advice or lessons learned, here is a great article on IKEA desk hacks.

Okay, now back to using desk research when conducting a market research study.

This method is about using data and information that already exists for your own intents and purposes. You may better know this method as Secondary Research.

In this post, I will cover what desk research entails and several of its valuable uses. At Drive Research, we use multiple tools that provide us access to secondary data to help us make decisions about our business.

Desk Research | What It Is and How You Can Use It

You've probably done desk research before without even realizing it. Get the full explanation and some good examples of it below.

What is Desk Research?

As I mentioned above, the term desk research is synonymous with secondary research. This style of research is an application of research originally conducted for another purpose. 

Think back to your high school or college days. When you were assigned to write a paper, you most likely turned to many articles on Google or textbooks as helpful resources. That action was a type of desk research.

Heck, you are technically conducting desk research by reading this article right now.

New research designed to answer your own specific questions is referred to as primary research. Common primary research methodologies include online surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews.

Common forms of desk research

Desk research may come in the form of web searches, online platforms, industry reports, or even physical books.

These sources aren't usually relevant in their entirety but may offer valuable snippets of information to help answer your questions.

Desk research can also help with qualitative recruiting. While this is often a last-ditch effort (our market research company would first recommend utilizing online panels or paid social media advertisements), depending on the target audience desk research can help find qualified participants to participate in a market research study.

For example, if your company is hosting a focus group with financial advisors, perhaps LinkedIn could be a valuable tool in researching who would make a great fit as a potential participant. 

The purpose of using desk or secondary research.

So, why bother with secondary research for your business? For starters, you can reap the benefits of another researcher's time and effort spent on conducting a primary study.

If the source is reliable, you can immediately use the information to support decision-making about potential markets, industry trends, etc.

Financially, desk research is a great place to start because it is frequently a less expensive option, or even free! I'll cover some great tools that Drive Research uses below.

Read this blog post to learn more about conducting secondary research.


Free Secondary Research Sources

1. Google Advanced Search

Given that there are over 70,000 Google searches per second, there is a good chance you have turned to an online search recently.

This is really the easiest place to begin desk research, especially if you do not know exactly what you are looking for. Through search, you can find countless articles, blogs, reports, and white papers on just about any topic.

Online search is more powerful than you may know, too. Google search features advanced filters and settings to target keywords, specific date ranges, domains, and more.

See some of the useful options below.

Google search features advanced filters

2. Google Analytics

Another valuable free source of secondary data is Google Analytics. While there is some work to initially set up the tracking code on each page of your website, this tool is very user-friendly.

The data can tell you almost anything you want to know about the traffic to and from your website.

For example, with Google Analytics you can get a glimpse into:

  • How users arrive at your website
  • What content they engage with while there
  • How long they stay on the website
  • What page they leave on

Below is an example of the Google Analytics platform with the Google Merchandise Store demo account.

GA View For Desk Research

Paid Secondary Sources

1. DemographicsNow by eSite Analytics

Desk research is very important for feasibility studies, in which syndicated research and demographic data are used to identify market supply for a new product or service.

Drive Research uses a secondary data tool called Demographics Now by eSite Analytics to help with these studies.

Market Analysis in Demographics Now provides access to detailed statistics about virtually any US market. The tool offers data on demographics, consumer expenditures, household statistics, psychographics, etc. by target areas.

See an example of the data for the Syracuse DMA below.

eSite Analytics for Desk Research

2. Industry Trend Reports

Other common paid options for desk research sources are industry or trend reports.

These are usually all-encompassing studies for a particular vertical that may highlight its current state and/or forecast changes over the next several years.

While sometimes costly, these reports can give your business a serious leg up on the competition if relevant.

Need Help with Desk Research? Contact Drive Research

Interested in desk research for yourself? Our team at Drive Research has plenty of experience digging through secondary sources to get answers for clients.

Contact our full-service market research company to see how we may help.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here.

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