How to improve your online surveys

Phil Hearn: Blogger, Writer & Founder of MRDC Software Ltd.

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

Completion rates for online surveys can drop dramatically if you do not adhere to a few simple rules. Some are connected to the software you use, but many are practical tips that will work with any software you choose. So let’s get started.

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 they are about to complete 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), you could ask respondents if they mind completing some less important additional questions. Similarly, you could give half the sample one section to answer and the other half another section.
5 Take care with grids It’s a common need to put rating statements into questionnaires, but they can look boring as grids on a page. Respondents can soon get bored, particularly if they need to read lengthy statements for each rating. First, keep the statements short, avoiding unnecessary words – most respondents will determine exactly what you mean. Additionally, and more importantly, vary how the statements 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.