Understand Your Customer For Free

Columnist Scott Rayden shares several data sources that can help you build that holistic view of your customer -- without spending any extra money.

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The customer journey. The customer experience. The right user at the right time on the right device.

Marketing technology vendors everywhere are trying to deliver this message to digital marketers — why they’re better than the next option at helping brands understand their customers and engage them in optimally compelling ways.

But let’s unpack that a little: What does “understanding the customer” mean, and where do you look for the data?

I’ll answer the second question first. One option is to pay a lot for centralized data through a data management platform (DMP); this collects data from a bunch of separate sources, aggregates it and then lets marketers utilize that data wherever they want (for example, in a Facebook advertising campaign). It’s robust and flexibly deployed, and if you know how to use it, it’s well worth the cost.

Another option — and what we’ll focus on here — is free data. For the sake of this post, “free” means data from platforms you may already be advertising on (Google, Facebook, The Trade Desk, Quantcast) or data from free tools (UserReport).

For each resource we describe, we’ll break down exactly what you can learn from it.

Let’s get started by diving into…

Google (Google Analytics, AdWords, DoubleClick)

Here’s a quick list of the data you can collect from the users you’re reaching through Google:

  • Demographics (age and gender).
  • Interests (Google categories).
  • In-Market Segments (segments that can be targeted).
  • User Engagement (what users are looking at and how they are navigating the site).
  • User Flows (view of most popular “start pages” with most the common paths taken from the start page).
  • Content Consumption (top content/product viewership with key metrics associated — visits, page views, time spent, bounce rate and so on).
  • Conversion/Sales.
  • Devices/Technology (devices and operating systems).

Basically, you can paint this kind of picture: A 22-year-old woman using her iPhone as a tool to research dog supplies has entered your dog beds site through a DoubleClick ad on Pets.com. She entered on an ad featuring “Flossie,” a poodle mix, and browsed a variety of bed sizes, bouncing on the last page of listings.


The Google suite of products, it should be noted, doesn’t require you to spend money to get to know more about your customers. Even if you don’t spend a dime on AdWords, the Google Display Network, or DoubleClick, coding your site to get data from Google Analytics will show you a ton of data on engagement, flow and content consumption. Though this may tell you more about your site than it does about your consumer.


Facebook data isn’t exactly free; you get it by paying to advertise on the platform. And unlike Google, Facebook doesn’t give you insights into how the users behave once they get to your site.

But as for the users themselves, Facebook is rich with data, including the following:

  • Facebook attributes (For any user, you can get data on pages liked, brands liked, home ownership, life events, relationship status, schools attended and so on).
  • Interests (defined by Facebook from a user’s history of posts, likes, interactions).
  • Behaviors (e.g., console gamer, made FB payments, small business owner, tech early/late adopter).

Facebook can also produce data from customers you already have in your CRM. If you dump your existing lists into the Facebook platform, it can spit out Lookalike audiences relevant to the top one percent — in other words, people who exhibit the same demographics, interests, behaviors, income/spending levels, education and family status as your customers.

If you didn’t already know your service was a huge hit with Volvo-driving soccer moms in the Phoenix area who love sipping Bacardi poolside on Friday nights, Facebook can tell you as much (and let you reach out to just those folks).


Certainly not as well-known as Google or Facebook, Quantcast can layer on demographic information to the user-behavior information provided by Google Analytics. Their platform is a predictive one that identifies (and targets) customers whose online behavior has marked them as very likely to convert.

Quantcast’s data includes:

  • Demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, education, household income, children in home).
  • Cross-platform behavior — leveraging their cookie pool, they’re able to identify users who visit a site across both desktop and mobile devices.
  • Shopping interests (automotive, packaged goods, apparel).
  • Media interests (sports, drama, news).
  • Occupation (industries and role, e.g. research, marketing).
  • Political affiliation and engagement.

Think that kind of data could be useful to, say, a presidential hopeful looking to raise donations?


TheTradeDesk (TTD) is a buy-side platform for real-time bidding (RTB). Advertisers buying through TTD get access to a bunch of user information used in targeting, including:

  • Demographics (age, gender, income and so on).
  • Interests (defined by TTD based on user browsing history).
  • Information from third-party data partnerships.

Much like Facebook (but not as widely embraced), TTD can use this information to create lookalike audiences to expand your reach to qualified users outside of your audience pool.


You don’t need to buy any ads to take advantage of UserReport; it’s a free (yup, really) service that lets you place surveys on your site to collect information about your users and their behavior. What information? Glad you asked:

  • Demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, education, household income).
  • User satisfaction.
  • Site click maps: tracks where users are moving their mouse and what they’re clicking on, on any given tracked page.

Pretty impressive, right? Now, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t note that there are layers (and layers) of deeper data available to you if you want to pay explicitly for that data (and not just the ads made more effective by it).

But if you’re working with a limited budget and still figuring out how to make the best use of the data you have, it’s a good idea to wring every drop of value out of the customer-defining data that’s already available to you.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Scott Rayden
Scott Rayden is the Chief Revenue Officer for 3Q Digital, and is responsible for leading marketing, sales, and the overall revenue growth of 3Q Digital nationwide. Scott spent the past 7.5 years as the Founder and President of iSearch Media, a leading digital marketing agency focused on consumer behavior, search marketing, analytics, and data visualization. iSearch Media was acquired by 3Q Digital in 2014.

Scott brings 14 years of experience in digital marketing, management, M&A, and business development to 3Q Digital. Prior to founding iSearch Media in 2006, Scott worked at Quinstreet and LeadClick Media (acquired by First Advantage for $150MM), two of the largest digital marketing agencies in the country

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