From Google Forms to Confirmit – 5 questions you need to consider before choosing online survey software
There are around 100 software solutions for collecting market research survey data online. Many of these 100 solutions have compelling reasons to choose them instead one of the other 99 offerings. The aim of this guide is to explore the key questions you need to ask yourself when choosing the right online survey software tool.
Why the choice is important
Making the right choice is important. Or, perhaps, more accurately, making the wrong choice can be important. Learning the skills to master a software solution can add to the cost and it can be difficult to move to another platform not just through inertia because of the difficulties of moving big or more complex projects from one platform to another.
If money is no object….
One solution is to buy the most complete solution on the market so that there is no project that is beyond the scope of the chosen software package. Just as an inadequate solution may leave you vulnerable to meeting clients’ needs, a ‘heavyweight’ solution may make your operation inflexible or make simple projects expensive to handle. In some cases, I have recommended buying two software solutions so that complex and simple projects can be handled as efficiently as possible.
So, let’s look at five key questions which I am confident will guide you in the right direction.
1. What’s best for me? Free/ low-cost software vs licensed paid for software
It comes as no surprise that my recommendation is to use free software if it does what you want. If you Google ‘free survey software’, you will be presented with a selection of offerings. The real question you need to ask yourself is whether using free or low-cost software is simply not good enough or leaves you vulnerable. If you are looking at free/ low-cost software, the key considerations are:
- Does it do what I want now and for the near future?
- Am I vulnerable if I client asks for something slightly more complex?
- Will I need any support?
- Are there hidden costs?
- Do the costs become less attractive if volumes increase?
- Can I get the data out in the way I need?
It might sound as though I am trying to steer you away from free/ low-cost software, but these are all serious considerations. Some of the low-cost options end up more expensive than the solutions that have an entry fee or a licence cost. Further, you might find that support is poor or non-existent. Most of the paid for licence providers will have experience in solving day to day problems or requirements.
Dearer than it looks?
Let’s take SurveyMonkey, which is perhaps the best known low-cost online survey software. You find that GBP32 per month will allow you to conduct unlimited surveys, but this leaps to GBP99 per month if you want what I would call basic features. If you want 3 users with most features that you would probably need commercially, the cost becomes GBP225 per month. Now it’s not so cheap. QuestionPro is another. It starts free, but you soon find that it’s USD99 per month and if you want all the features for a team, you need to apply for the costs – presumably, they are a lot more!
If you are just conducting your first survey or a small number of short simple surveys, there are plenty of free tools to give you what you want. It can take some time to ascertain whether there are enough features to do what you need, but cheap/free software is available.
2. Is it better to have menu driven software or scripting software?
This is a big topic that I have covered in another blog post. Generally, learning menu-driven software with a graphical user interface (GUI) takes a fraction of the time it takes to learn a scripting language. I am aware of products like Confirmit and Beacon being sold as though they are ‘easy to use’ systems, but the reality is that you need to learn a scripting language to drive them. Or, perhaps, more accurately, if you don’t need their scripting language, you are over-spending unless you are preparing for much more complex tasks in the future.
Needing the right staff
Scripting languages also demand that you have the staff to use the software that is ready to learn a scripting language. As developers and providers of MRDCL, the leading tabulation software, we never sell MRDCL as anything other than needing skilled, trained staff. Scripting languages don’t need users that are just computer savvy, they need to understand logic, commands, structure and best practices – a huge step up from staff that are proficient using Word, Excel or PowerPoint.
3. Can you compromise or not?
This is, perhaps, the least likely question of the five, but I think it is important. As a general rule, the more you spend on the software, the more likely it is that it will allow you to prepare and administer an online survey in exactly the way you would like. However, do you really need ideal solutions? Can you compromise? In most cases, you can compromise, but, equally, there may be occasions where you need to serve your customers’ need in a specific way.
What compromises might be needed?
The compromises might be trivial. You might not be able to display something on the screen how you would like. You might be limited to the number of characters for a question or response. All these things are restrictions, but they may or may not matter. Certainly, companies running service bureaux will probably be required to meet any need and, therefore, will have to buy a premium product. Thinking about this before purchasing any software in this market is important.
4. Do you need other functions included?
Online survey platforms come with a variety of other tools, some are free, some are not. Most allow you to produce the most basic of counts and cross-tabulations, but others will allow you to produce complex analyses, statistics, PowerPoint reports, PDF reports and even online dashboards. Do these things matter to you? If the solution allows you to prepare comprehensive online reporting or tabulations, you may be able to drop another product that you currently use.
Getting the data out of the platform
Another major consideration is how easy to get the data out of the platform in the way you want it? I have seen some companies spend hours reformatting data that has been collected in a free online platform so that it can be analysed. If this is difficult and prone to error, it might be the wrong solution. I think the importance of this aspect of the software is often underestimated. Can you output the data the way you want it for every project?
5. Is support important?
The fifth and final question covers the topic of support. The lesser systems tend to need less support, but is there anyone to help if things go wrong? What level of support is provided?
Familiarising yourself with the software
I include in support the matter of learning to use the software. Some software providers will have one basic video tutorial (or not even that!) whilst others will have videos covering every important topic. Other suppliers may say that you need 5 days’ staff training at $$$ expensive!
Support is important
Support is one of those things that isn’t important until the time that it is. What if you can’t download your data when you have a crucial deadline? What if you can’t get a particular feature to work when it is due to be launched? Is there someone to help? The higher end companies will tend to be far more reactive in this area.
One more question: Does the pricing model suit your business?
I’ve cheekily added one more question that you should ask yourself. I think looking at the pricing model is important. If your business grows – and online surveys are likely to grow – what do the costs look like? If you need to upscale in a year’s time from say 5,000 interviews per year to 20,000 interviews per year, does the cost increase fourfold? If so, you might be choosing the wrong solution. So, taking a good hard look at the pricing structure is important. Other unscrupulous companies sign you up to payment plans which include a fixed number of interviews per year. If you exceed that number, the rate for each extra interview may be extortionate. Read the small print!
So, what’s the right software?
I will declare a bias here as we are vendors of Snap Surveys. I think Snap has its market, but it will not be the right fit for everyone. Snap scores well if you want an end to end solution that will collect data from paper, CAPI or online questionnaires and produce tables, charts and reports how you want them. Few can match this offering. Further, it is reasonably easy to use, which means that you do not need to spend heavily on training or expensive staff. For many users, it can be the only survey software, you will ever need.
New to surveys?
If you are new to surveys, it is probably a good idea to start with a free product unless you are needing to field something more than a basic survey. As the title of the blog says, you can use Google Forms to create a survey. You can use heavyweights like Confirmit as well. Having a clear strategy can, in the long run, save you time and money. Considering having two products can be a good solution if part of your survey work requires complex surveys.
Need more help?
I am always willing to offer advice. That means that I won’t sell you the wrong solution. There is no benefit to MRDC if you are sold the wrong solution by us!
Contact me if you want free, helpful advice – firstname.lastname@example.org
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