What is Secondary Research?

Secondary research, also known as desk research, differs from primary research in that it relies solely and completely on information and data available online or through other published sources.

Essentially secondary research means it’s data and research collected by someone else. This includes analyzing data prepared by other industry experts or syndicated databases.

Secondary research is usually a component of a larger market research project that involves primary research.

In addition to asking customized questions, secondary research can provide basic demographics and behaviors of a market area.

what is secondary research


How to Find Secondary Research

Conducting secondary research may seem easier than primary research, but sometimes it can feel like you are trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Also, the time it takes to compile all of the information needed can take just as long as collecting data through primary research, but there are some important sources that can be used to start your search off strong!

Sources to consider using for secondary research include:

  • Census.gov/data
  • Demographics Now/eSite analytics
  • Nielsen
  • Business journals
  • News articles 
  • Company websites
  • Published research reports
  • Online conversations

There are several secondary research vendors and data available for a market research firm.

Some of the more popular 3rd party data sources include Census data or Nielsen data.


Conducting Secondary Research with Nielsen

With Nielsen data, users are provided with a mass amount of data for the designated market areas (DMAs) to buy into. These databases work off of yearly contracts in which users buy the ability to access the data.

The Nielsen survey uses 2,000 completes per DMA and collects information on everything from basic household demographics to the number of homes that have solar panels.

Nielsen uses a 15 phone survey with a follow-up 45-minute mail survey to collect this data.

It is widely known as one of the most popular secondary data sources in the country.

In addition to being comprehensive, buying into Nielsen can also be an expensive venture.

It’s important to keep in mind not all secondary research sources are free and usually, the paid sources are the most helpful and organized.

For more insight on conducting your own secondary research, read out blog post: How to Conduct Secondary Research.


Benefits of Secondary Research

Primary research such as online surveys and focus groups are great because it’s the data is timely/the most up to date and it can be customized to the unique needs of a research project.

However, the fatal flaw of primary research is the inability to accurately measure previous habits to add context to the primary data collected. 

Secondary research means spending time collecting and analyzing previously collected data/information.

Again, while it can take some time to collect, the information can be extremely valuable to help make decisions or even use as a benchmark to help add context to primary data being collected.

Benefits of secondary data collection include:

  • Vast amounts of data from a variety of sources
  • Ability to create insights from previous research
  • Typically less expensive than primary research
  • Collecting secondary data through a third party ensures an unbiased interpretation of the data
  • Adds context to primary research

If you're looking to conduct market research on a budget, I recommend reading What is the Most Cost-Effective Market Research Methodology? 


Examples of Secondary Research

An example of secondary research could be analyzing 15 different designated market areas (DMAs) or metro areas.

The 15 markets would be pre-determined by the client. Various paid syndicated data sources and publicly available information would be used to source data. 

Topics for the secondary research include: 

  • Employment capacity: Using data from the U.S. Census and state resources
  • Occupational supply & demand: Leveraging Bureau of Labor statistics
  • Political factors: Articles and information posted by state and local sources
  • Competitive data: Competitor websites, marketing, media kits, and pricing information
  • Other(s): Up to 3 other factors to be reviewed in the scope

Each indicator will be weighted in terms of importance. The matrix will use those weights and create a high-level scoring or rating for each factor and market.

The final deliverable for this research is the creation of a comprehensive Excel database of data and information for each of the indicators. 


Contact Our Full-Service Market Research Firm

Drive Research is a national market research company specializing in both primary and secondary research methods. Our team of certified professionals can recommend the best approach for meeting your unique project objectives, goals, timeline, and budget.

To learn more about our services, contact Drive Research today.

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

emily taylor about the author

Emily Taylor

As a Senior Research Analyst, Emily is approaching a decade of experience in the market research industry and loves to challenge the status quo. She is a certified VoC professional with a passion for storytelling.

Learn more about Emily, here.


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This article was originally posted in June 2016 but has since been updated in November 2021.

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