Guide to Online Surveys


Online surveys are a great way to get in touch with a wide range of people and have revolutionised the market research industry. As mobile device usage increases there are even more ways in which to engage people with your survey. Whether you are waiting for a bus, in an airport or waiting for a doctor’s appointment chances are that many of those around you will be using a mobile device. Some say they have killed the art of conversation and disconnected people. Others feel they allow us to keep in touch with each other and the world in general. Whatever your opinion, mobile devices are here to stay. Imagining a world without them is like imagining a world without a TV remote control.

When it comes to surveys there are a few key rules to follow to maximise your response rate and return on the budget you spend.

Keep your language simple and consumer friendly. Those in-house words, phrases and acronyms you use day in and day out might make sense to you and your colleagues but they are a foreign language to anyone not lucky enough to work with you. A good way to make sure your language is consumer friendly is to run a couple of groups or individual interviews with consumers on the survey topic. This means you learn how consumers talk about the subject and it allows you to phrase questions in consumer speak.

Make sure the issues you cover are consumer related issues. Some surveys tend to contain a lot of questions that are related to internal matters that have little relevance to consumers. This leads to confusion and / or frustration resulting in respondents abandoning ship and turning their attention to what for them are more interesting and important matters.

You find your brand fascinating and could talk about it hours but bear in mind that for others, even loyal customers, it is probably something that occupies very little head space. Don’t overstay your welcome. Fifteen minutes is a long online survey unless respondents have a keen interest in the subject matter. It is better to get a high level of completes on a short survey than a high dropout rate on a long one. If you have to go a bit long, make sure your key need to know questions are early in the questionnaire.

Be aware that a lot of people will see your survey request on a mobile device so make sure it is mobile enabled. Some of the basic DIY online survey packages are not automatically mobile enabled. If you are using one of these check its level of sophistication and upgrade if required.  It is also a good idea to allow people to quit and come back automatically to where they were in the survey when they log in again. That way if they are waiting for a bus or an appointment when they start the survey, they can complete it later on. The points about survey length and design are particularly important when mobile is involved. If your customer sample is very mobile orientated a series of short quiz style surveys over a period of time might work better than a single full length survey.

When people complain about consumers not completing surveys it is usually worth looking at how the questionnaire was designed. A single page full of dry questions with multiple choice requirements and large complicated grids will try the patience of even the most committed respondent. It is better to break things up. Use interesting tools like emoticons for like – dislike scales, pick and drop for rating scales and logos rather than just names for brand choice questions. Use colour coding on different pages or when the subject matter changes.

Your survey is a communication with customers. You wouldn’t send them a scruffy, poorly designed, dull piece of direct mail or e-zine so why would you send them a survey that is at odds with your overall communications’ guidelines? The customer’s communications’ experience should be seamless which is why it is worth inviting a designer to have a look at your proposed layout and design just as you would if laying out a piece of print or online work. Your questionnaire is the copy, the design is what makes it compelling. In the case of an online survey this can be the difference between a good and bad response rate.

If you use a proprietary panel company like Research Now to source your sample they will take care of issues like incentives. If you are working from your internal customer database or a social media trawl, it is a good idea to provide an attractive incentive. It does not have to be particularly expensive but should match the profile of your sample. A draw for a good quality Tablet might work for some people, a holiday break or one for all vouchers for others. Whatever you decide, make sure you check with your legal department before going ahead.

When you think you have everything ready to go invite a few colleagues to run through the survey to check it for flow, ease of completion and timing. If they come back with the all clear invite some people outside your organisation to run through it with the same criteria in mind. Finally and this might sound excessive but it isn’t, soft launch your survey with a small number of people from your sample database. This allows you to check completion rates, speed of completion and to identify any sticking points. It compiles your snag list and saves you pulling your hair out if you were to find easily fixable problems following a full launch. Like most things, the effort put in at the developments stage of your survey will impact directly on the outcome.

Finally, release your survey to your database, cross your fingers and hope that all of your due diligence pays off. The excitement builds as the data pours in and a picture emerges that will drive your brand forward to even greater success.