Secondary Data: Advantages, Disadvantages, Sources, Types

If you know the advantages and disadvantages of secondary data, you can make informed decisions and create future-oriented strategies.

Wherever you work – in business, marketing, research, or statistics, secondary data sources can help you optimize your current and future results.

Let’s see how

On this page:

  • What is secondary data? Definition, meaning, importance
  • Secondary data advantages and disadvantages (comparison chart)
  • Examples, types, and sources of secondary data.
  • Infographics in PDF

What is secondary data? Definition and meaning.

Secondary data is the data that have been already collected for another purpose but has some relevance to your current research needs.

In other words, it has already been collected in the past by someone else, not you. And now, you can use the data.

Secondary data is second-hand information. It is not used for the first time. That is why it is called secondary.

Typically, secondary data is found in resources like the Internet, libraries, or reports.

Web information, business reports, mass media products, encyclopedias, and government statistics are among the most popular examples of secondary data.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Secondary Data

Secondary data advantages and disadvantages - infographic

Download the above infographic in PDF for free.

Let’s break down the infographic.

Advantages of Secondary Data:

  • Ease of access
    The secondary data sources are very easy to access. The Internet has changed the way secondary research works. Nowadays, you have so much information available just by clicking with the mouse.
  • Low cost or free
    The majority of secondary sources are absolutely free for use or at very low costs. It saves not only your money but your efforts. In comparison with primary research where you have to design and conduct a whole primary study process from the beginning, secondary research allows you to gather data without having to put any money on the table. (see more on our post: primary vs secondary data)
  • Time-saving 
    As the above advantage suggests, you can perform secondary research in no time. Sometimes it is a matter of a few Google searches to find a source of data.
  • Allow you to generate new insights from previous analysis
    Reanalyzing old data can bring unexpected new understandings and points of view or even new relevant conclusions.
  • Longitudinal analysis
    Secondary data allows you to perform a longitudinal analysis which means the studies are performed spanning over a large period of time. This can help you to determine different trends. In addition, you can find secondary data from many years back up to a couple of hours ago. It allows you to compare data over time.
  • Anyone can collect the data
    Secondary data research can be performed by people that aren’t familiar with the different data collection methods. Practically, anyone can collect it.
  • A huge amount of secondary data with a wide variety of sources
    It is the richest type of data available to you in a wide variety of sources and topics.

Disadvantages:

  • Might be not specific to your needs
    Secondary data is not specific to the researcher’s needs due to the fact that it was collected in the past for another reason. That is why the secondary data might be unreliable for your current needs. Secondary data sources can give you a huge amount of information, but quantity does not always mean appropriateness.
  • You have no control over data quality
    The secondary data might lack quality. The source of the information may be questionable, especially when you gather the data via the Internet. As you relying on secondary data for your data-driven decision-making, you must evaluate the reliability of the information by finding out how the information was collected and analyzed.
  • Biasness
    As the secondary data is collected by someone else than you, typically the data is biased in favor of the person who gathered it. This might not cover your requirements as a researcher or marketer.
  • Not timely
    Secondary data is collected in the past which means it might be out-of-date. This issue can be crucial in many different situations.
  • You are not the owner of the information
    Generally, secondary data is not collected specifically for your company. Instead, it is available to many companies and people either for free or for a little fee. So, this is not exactly a “competitive advantage” for you. Your current and potential competitors also have access to the data.

Types Of Secondary Data

Types Of Secondary Data - infographic

There are two types of secondary data, based on the data source:

  • Internal sources of data: information gathered within the researcher’s company or organization (examples – a database with customer details, sales reports, marketing analysis, your emails, your social media profiles, etc).
  • External sources of data: the data collected outside the organization (i.e. government statistics, mass media channels, newspapers, etc.)

Also, secondary data can be 2 types depending on the research strands:

  • Quantitative data – data that can be expressed as a number or can be quantified. Examples – the weight and height of a person, the number of working hours, the volume of sales per month, etc. Quantitative data are easily amenable to statistical manipulation.
  • Qualitative data – the information that can’t be expressed as a number and can’t be measured. Qualitative data consist of words, pictures, observations, and symbols, not numbers. It is about qualities. Examples – colors of the eyes (brown, blue, green), your socioeconomic status, customer satisfaction, and etc.

Dive deeper into the topic with our posts:

Examples And Sources Of Secondary Data

Internal Sources Of Secondary Data

Examples of internal secondary data sources - infographic

You might have loads of data in your company or organization that you aren’t using.

All types of organizations, whatever they are business or non-profit, collect information during their everyday processes. Orders are performed, costs and sales are recorded, customer inquiries about products are submitted, reports are presented, and so on.

Much of this information is of great use in your research. They can have hidden and unexpected value for you.

Here is a list of some common and hidden sources of internal information:

1. Sales data

Sales are essential to a company’s profitability.

Examples of sales data are revenue, profitability, price, distribution channels, buyer personas, etc. This information can show you areas of strength and weakness, which will drive your future decisions.

2. Finance data

Collecting and analyzing your financial data is a way to maximize profits. Examples of financial data are overheads and production costs, cash flow reports, amounts spent to manufacture products, etc.

3. General marketing data

Marketing departments are a gold mine when it comes to secondary data sources.

Examples of marketing data are reports on customer profiles, market segmentation, level of customer satisfaction, level of brand awareness, customer engagement through content marketing, customer retention and loyalty, etc.

4. Human resource data

Human resource departments have information about the costs to recruit and train an employee, staff retention rate and churn, the productivity of an individual employee, etc.

Human resource data can help you uncover the areas where a company needs to improve its HR processes to empower staff skills, talent, and achievements.

5. Customer relationship management system (CRM software)

Businesses can also collect and analyze data within their own CRM system.

This system is a great source of secondary data such as clients’ company affiliations, regional or geographical details for customers, and etc.

6. Emails

The average office employee sends dozens of business emails per day and receives even more.

Emails as sources of secondary data, provide important information such as product reviews, opinions, feedback and so on.

7. Your social media profiles

Social Media profiles on networks like Facebook, Tweeter, Linkedin are a great source of information that you can analyze to learn more about, for example, how people are talking about your business and how users share and engage with your content.

Some examples of secondary data that you can collect from social profiles include: likes, shares, mentions, impressions, new followers, comments, URL clicks.

8. Your website analytics

There’s a huge amount of valuable secondary data accessible to you through your website analytics platform.

The most popular platform for insights into your website statistics is Google Analytics and Google Search Console.

Examples of data that you can gather from your website include: visitor’s location, patterns of visitor behavior, keywords used by visitors to find your site and business, visitor’s activities in the site, most popular content, etc.

External Sources Of Secondary Data

Examples of external secondary data sources - a short infographic

External data are any data generated outside the boundaries of the company or organization.

There are many advantages of using external sources of secondary data, especially online ones. They offer endless information which you can acquire efficiently and quickly.

Today, external secondary data is a foundation for creating executive decisions wherever it is in business, in medicine, science, or in statistics.

Here are some key examples of external secondary data.

1. Data.gov

Data.gov provides over free 150,000 datasets available through federal, state, and local governments.  They are free, and accessible online.

Here, companies or students can find a ton of data, including information related to consumers, education, manufacturing, public safety, and much more.

2. World Bank Open Data

World Bank Open Data offer free and open access to global development data. Datasets provide population demographics and a vast number of economic indicators from across the world.

3. IMF Economic Data

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an organization of 189 countries.

It provides data such as international financial statistics, regional economic reports, foreign exchange rates, debt rates, commodity prices, and investments.

4. Crayon Intel Free 

Crayon Intel Free is one of the best free competitor analysis tools that can help you track, analyze, and act on many things that happen outside of your business.

5. Talkwalker’s Free Social Search

Talkwalker’s Free Social Search is a real-time free social media search engine that can provide you with unlimited searches across all major social networks.

It allows you to find out what the internet is saying about you or your competitors in seconds. You can know who’s talking about you with live audience insights.

6. Feedly

Feedly is a free news aggregator site that allows you to keep up with all the topics that matter to you. All in one place.

With Feedly, you are able to monitor easily news about your products, your competitors, important posts, content, Tweets or even YouTube videos.

7. Mailcharts 

Mailcharts is a quite powerful tool for email marketers as well as for those who want to spy on the competition.

It collects emails from competing campaigns to help you develop your own. Mailhcharts has an enormous library of emails from countless brands.

8. Glassdoor

Glassdoor is one of the world’s largest and most popular job and recruiting sites. It provides a free database with millions of company reviews, CEO approval ratings, interview reviews and questions, salary reports, benefits reviews, office photos, and more.

9. Google Alerts

Google Alerts is one of the most popular free alert services that allows you to follow mentions on the internet about practically anything you want – company, brand, customers, purchasing patterns, and so on.

10. HubSpot Marketing Statistics

HubSpot offers a large and very valuable free repository of marketing data.

You could find the latest marketing statistics and trends in areas such as Organic Search, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), Ecomerce, Local SEO, Mobile Search, and others.

11. Crunchbase 

Crunchbase is one of the best and most innovative platforms for finding business information about private and public companies.

Crunchbase data include investments and funding information, news, and industry trends, individuals in leadership positions, mergers, and etc.

Conclusion

For many businesses, the sources of secondary data are a key way to gather information about their customers in order to better understand and serve them.

We are living in the big data age. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of secondary data can ensure better decision making for all management levels and types.

It is a good basis for creating new opportunities, running data-driven marketing, and improving your results and performance.

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