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Making the most of the internet

The internet probably the first place you turn to when you’re looking for something. But with so much information available, how can you be sure that what you find is trustworthy?

The briefing covers:

  1. How the internet helps you find good people.

  2. Where to go for information on markets and trends.

  3. How to research potential customers and suppliers.

  4. Sources of information about legislation.
  5. How to get more from the main search engines.

1 Recruitment and finding people

The internet can help you find new employees and make other useful connections. 

1.1 There are many ways to recruit new staff online.

  • Major recruitment sites like Monster, Jobsite, and Totaljobs allow you to post job advertisements.

  • The professional networking site LinkedIn can also be a good place to advertise for jobs, particularly if you can get people who already work in your company to spread the word there.

  • Most recruitment sites allow you to automatically filter applicants based on qualifications and experience, so you can streamline the selection process.
  • There are many industry-specific recruitment sites that help you target jobseekers with relevant experience. Search online or ask an industry association to find yours.
  • You can also advertise vacancies on your company website.
  • Many companies encourage staff to share vacancies via social networks. You might consider offering a bonus payment for successful referrals.

1.2 Social media is a good way to stay in touch with anyone who has a connection with your business.

  • Your network can include current and former colleagues, friends and clients.

  • These people might be able to help you reach jobseekers, recommend new customers, help you generate positive PR and more.

  • The main social network for business is LinkedIn.
  • However, Facebook and Twitter are widely used by small businesses too.

  • Try not to advertise too directly or aggressively on your company social networking accounts. It’s generally better to use them to spread news, ideas and insights.

1.3 You can use the internet to learn a lot about people.

  • Searching for someone’s name online and on the main social networks can provide valuable background before you meet them.

  • For instance, if you’re going to pitch with a potential client, you might want to check the client’s website to learn about the people you’ll be meeting.

  • Business owners sometimes check social media profiles of prospective employees. However, this can put you in a questionable position when it comes to defending the legality of your recruitment process.

2 Customers, suppliers and competitors

The internet can give you access to a wealth of information about existing and potential customers and suppliers. It can also help you learn about your competitors. 

2.1 You can get information about other businesses, like new clients or prospective partners.

  • Online credit checking services like Experian and Equifax allow you to assess the creditworthiness of potential customers. 

  • The Companies House database is online and fully searchable with details of company directors and accounts.
  • You can also access information about company financials and creditworthiness via DueDil.

2.2 Seaching online can give you a sense of what kind of company you’re dealing with.

  • Use Google News to find out whether a particular business has been mentioned in the news recently.

  • Twitter is a good place to find out what people think of a company. Search ( for mentions of the company’s name.

  • You can also view the company’s Facebook page to see what comments people are leaving.
  • Online review websites such as Reevoo and Trustpilot can provide further background on a business’ products or services.
  • However, don’t judge a business solely by what you read online. Review websites can sometimes by ‘gamed’ by competitors. And people may tend to comment on the negative more than the positive.

2.3 The web is the best place to start any competitive research.

  • Check your main competitors’ websites regularly. It’s a good idea to sign up to any newsletter they offer.
  • Search blogs, forums and social media to see if they are mentioned.

  • Careful searching may allow you to identify some of your competitor’s clients. You could then get your sales team to target them with special deals.

  • Sites like Alexa will give you indicative traffic levels for a competitor’s website. For example, you can see if their site gets more visitors than yours.
  • For more in-depth information about visitors to a competing site, you could consider purchasing data from a company like Hitwise.

  • If you want to see how a competitior’s website has changed over time, The Internet Archive may have old versions saved.

3 Market research and trends

The internet can provide you with an enormous amount of helpful information when you are performing market research. 

3.1 Online services can help you understand and identify your target customers.

3.2 You can use the internet to analyse your own market and identify opportunities within it.

3.3 If you’re looking for ideas to help you grow your business in new ways, you can keep an eye on wider trends in society and technology. 

  • Technology websites such as TheNextWeb and Trend Hunter provide good ways to find out about new tech trends and businesses.

  • Google Trends lets you dig into what people are searching for and how those terms are changing.

  • Trending topics on Twitter can be a good indication of short-term trends - what people are currently talking about.

4 Laws and regulations

Keep up to date with new laws and rules that may affect your business.

4.1 There is a wealth of legal and regulatory information available online.

  • Industry trade bodies and associations often publish information on regulations and how they will affect businesses like yours.
  • You can get assistance in areas such as employment law from business organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors.

  • You can also check reputable sites like Law Donut and Out-Law for legal information.

  • Keep in mind that it’s important you interpret legal information correctly. Always consult your lawyer if in any doubt at all.

4.2 Government websites will give you the official line on new initiatives, rules and regulations.

  • GOV.UK is the main government information resource. You can access a wide range of news and services. 

  • Many of the main government department websites have been integrated into the GOV.UK website including the HMRC site. You can view tax information and file returns online via the GOV.UK site.
  • UK Trade & Industry is the government department responsible for support UK importers and exporters

Can you trust the internet?

Anyone can publish practically anything online, so it can be hard to verify the information that you find.

When relying on data you’ve found on the internet, you must be confident that it can be trusted.

Get a second opinion.

  • Ask colleagues or contacts what they think of the information you’ve found. Are they familiar with the source? Have they ever seen conflicting data?

Find the original source.

  • Statistics often get repeated online without reference to the original source or piece of research. Use search engines to try and identify where a piece of information originated.

Identify who's behind it

  • The internet is full of ‘sponsored content’ creating companies or individuals that have an agenda. This information is often reliable, but it’s important you understand what motivations were behind its creation.

5 Using search engines

Search engines are the main way people find information online.

5.1 There are some basic search operators that can produce a more specific set of results.

  • Search operators tell the search engine to narrow or broaden the search.

  • If you enter a search term in quotes (‘’), most search engines will only return pages containing that exact term.

  • Putting a plus sign (+) in front of a word usually tells the search engine that all results must contain that word.

    Similarly, a minus sign (-) means pages containing that term will be excluded.

  • Often, putting a tilde (~) in front of a search term means you'll search for related terms. For instance, ‘~school’ might also search for pages including words like ‘university’ or ‘college’.

  • Each search engine will list its search operators in the help section.

5.2 Use the advanced search.

  • Most search engines offer an ‘advanced search’ page. These will allow you to narrow your results further. For instance, you can search only a specific websites, or websites located in a particular country.