You mentioned: "many times clients have already done this work. Ask them for copies of their market research reports when you start a project. It will save you a ton of time and effort!" We do this with most of our clients, like you said we have found that around 75% of the have some kind of Market research done, that saves you a lot of time and helps setting up the right SEO Strategy.
Creating a Facebook fan page takes about an entire 45 seconds and is a almost a necessity at this point for every business owner. Considering that 1 in 13 people on EARTH have a Facebook account there’s really no need to explain why you should be there. Pro tip: make sure you create a fan page and not a group. Groups messages don’t show up in news feeds making it hard to get in touch with members. Making a fan page will give you a lot more exposure to not only the current members but members friends as well.
I consulted a few years ago before Yahoo and CNET and my clients were all small businesses, even friends' sites. No matter the size of the project, you can still try to get some insight into your target audiences and what they need or want. I mentioned in a previous comment I used Search once to determine sentiment on a site vs. it's competitors by searching for a feature the site and its competitors all had, along with "like", "love", "hate", "wish", etc. I also took note of who the people were who said those things and where they were talking (forums, twitter, etc). It's a hacked manual approach and although not nearly as quality as a good market research report, at least I have a llittle bit of insight before going out to make site recommendations based solely on tags & links. If you're recommending the site build things that people want (and fix or remove things that they dont), you're more likely to gain links and traffic naturally.
This post and the Skycraper technique changed my mind about how I approach SEO, I’m not a marketing expert and I haven’t ranked sites that monetize really well, I’m just a guy trying to get some projects moving on and I’m not even in the marketing business so I just wanted to say that the way you write makes the information accesible, even if you’re not a native english speaker as myself.