10 things that make a difference to the success of your online survey

I was about to write a blog article about what things make a difference to survey completion rates when an email dropped into my inbox from Confirmit about the topic. The email offered me eight top tips for great survey experience (and lots of responses!), but I was left thinking two things. Firstly, there aren’t really eight tips there. Secondly, and, more importantly, these are not top tips, in my opinion. I could add a third by saying that there were too many exclamation marks in the sales material – I mean, top tips – but that would be just a bit picky.

So, I’ll give you 10 top tips and explain why at MRDC Software we think differently, perhaps.

  • Keep the survey short
  • Treat your respondents with respect
  • Clarity not beauty
  • Be honest
  • Take care with grids
  • Use colour
  • Use images where possible
  • Make sure it works on all devices
  • Keep respondents engaged
  • Offer some feedback

So, what were Confirmit’s top tips?

The first tip was to make sure that surveys work seamlessly across all devices – this is without doubt the best of the eight tips.

The second tip was suggesting that you should use tools that create surveys the way you envision them. That caused me a problem. It implies, at least to me, that making the most cleverly or artistically designed survey is a good thing. It might not only be a huge waste of your time and effort, but it may make it harder for your respondents to complete. And, we all know, respondents are just one click away from leaving your survey unfinished.

The third tip advised that survey creation should be quick and easy. Whilst I would agree with the sentiment, the product should have a GUI (graphical user interface) rather than rely on a scripting language where it is easy make errors and needs experts to drive it. I suspect Confirmit users mostly rely on a scripting language.

The fourth tip recommended that surveys are consistent and always look their best. Whilst this is almost a repeat of tip number 2, consistency is not essential. Being easy to understand, being clear and not boring rate far higher than consistency. If every survey looks different, I don’t think it matters.

The fifth tells you to make sure that your intercept surveys are powerful and unobtrusive. I’m not sure what that means but it sounds a bit like the politicians who are currently vying for my vote in the forthcoming General Election here in the United Kingdom.

As we labour to the sixth tip, I am left to wonder what having surveys that fit to the respondents’ environment means. Maybe, I need to go to the Arctic Circle to understand this.

By the seventh tip, I am struggling. Surveys should be accessible to all your respondents. The ‘all’ is in a bold and in an accentuated font in case I am not sure what I need to do. Surely, if a survey is not accessible to a respondent, the respondent isn’t a respondent if you see what I mean.

Finally, exhausted I got to the last tip hoping for something big to inspire me. I was not disappointed as I was told that your layout should fit your questions – and not the other way round. They may have a point, but it seems like a repeat of the above top tips and not exactly revelatory.

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MRDC’S 10 Top Tips

So, we recommend that you stick to our ten top tips which, I think, will get you more responses. Getting people to answer questions is getting harder, so it is important to put yourself in the shoes of potential respondents and make sure that you are making the task of answering your survey as rewarding as possible. Here’s a bit more detail from my top tips.

Tip # Tip A bit more….
1 Keep the survey short It’s always tempting to add a few more questions because it costs nothing in theory. The cost might be that your respondent gets bored and leaves the survey.
2 Treat your respondents with respect This might seem a little unnecessary, but even though a respondent is connecting with a computer to answer your survey, participants will be more likely to complete your survey if you thank them at the beginning, tell them they are halfway through and thank them at this point again and try to imagine how they might feel as they are completing your survey. It’s about building a rapport – and we even warm to computers when we are treated thoughtfully and with respect.
3 Clarity not beauty Your survey is not a sculpture for an exhibition. It needs to be clear and easy to follow with no ambiguities. Participants won’t be impressed by your snappy design or clever use of gimmicks. They just want to be engaged and understand what is needed.
4 Be honest If you ever told someone that it is a short 3-minute survey when it is a boring 20-minute survey, you should stop doing it! Just be honest. If you really must have a long survey (because you can’t persuade the client not to perhaps), think about giving people the option to drop out after the first half. You might find that by being honest and respectful that they will carry on.
5 Take care with grids It’s a common need to have to put rating statements into questionnaires, but they can look boring as grids on a page. Respondents can’t soon get bored particularly if they need to read long statements for each rating. Firstly, keep the statements as short possible avoiding unnecessary words – most respondents will work out exactly what you mean. Additionally, and more importantly, vary how they appear. It might be OK to show a small set of rating statements as a grid on the screen, but sliders and drag and drop tasks, for example, might take respondents a bit longer but they will feel more engaged.
6 Use colour Colour brightens our lives so your questionnaire will look more attractive to complete if you use a sensible amount of colour. By contrast, too much colour or gaudy colours may be off-putting.
7 Use images where possible Images are used on most webpages to make the page more attractive. If you can use an image rather than words, use an image.
8 Make sure it works on all devices You never know what type of device a respondent will use to answer your survey. It needs to be easy to work with on any device. Indeed, you may need to hide some questions on phones if they need too much text or have hard to view images or videos. Certainly, you need to reduce the text on a phone, particularly again for rating scales. Above all else, check what it looks like on each type of device before launching.
9 Keep respondents engaged Yes, this is a repeat, to some extent, but surveys can soon get boring to complete so some easy interaction makes the experience more engaging. If you have to give someone a boring task to do that is likely not to be engaging, try apologising first.
10 Offer some feedback Having completed your survey, it’s a nice idea to give something back regardless of other incentives such as money or a chance in a prize draw. Ask the respondent whether they would like to get feedback on some of the findings. It needn’t be much, but if you mention this at the beginning and offer it at the end (and then, of course, carry out the offer), you are likely to improve your response rates.

So, there’s my ten tips. I could add some more, but I see these are good starting points to get more responses by improving the survey experience. And, as for the software that you need to use, it doesn’t need to be an over-priced scripting language in most cases, a product such as Snap Surveys with backing of a good company (like MRDC Software, of course) will go a long way to achieving what you want – engaged respondents and more responses.

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