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

How much does online research and questionnaire software cost?

Choosing the right online survey platform to meet your needs is difficult as there are some big hitters out there, with prices ranging from free or almost free to high-ticket items. In this blog article, we explore the BIG EIGHT – things you should consider so that you can set your budget sensibly. They are:

  1. Do you just want to handle customer feedback surveys?
  2. Are your surveys complex or straightforward?
  3. Are your surveys for you or surveys for clients?
  4. Who is going to author the questionnaires?
  5. How does the pricing work if you grow?
  6. Do you just want data collection or analysis/dashboards?
  7. Do you need to keep respondents engaged?
  8. What devices will be used to complete your survey?

Let’s look at the BIG EIGHT in some detail.

Do you just want to handle customer feedback surveys?

If you use Google to find online survey platforms, you will tend to find tools for customer feedback surveys. Why? Because the number of surveys has exploded in recent years, but most are short, simple customer feedback surveys that pop up on your phone or laptop after completing a transaction or using a service. If feedback surveys are your focus, Google will guide you to platforms that range from inexpensive to expensive. If not, Google may mislead you.

Complex or straightforward surveys

Most online survey platforms will allow you to collect traditional research questions – for example, questions with responses where one or multiple answers are permissible and numerics and rating scales. Most will allow some level of question filtering and routing so that you can choose which respondents answer a question. The ‘Nearly Free’ market will generally have these features. But there is a lot more to consider. Here are some examples:

  • Showing images or videos
  • Allowing respondents to upload pictures or videos
  • Randomisation of the order of responses or questions
  • Standard question templates
  • Quota management
  • Automated mailouts/reminders
  • Styling
  • Links to databases to retrieve respondent data or send data to merge with a CRM system
  • Linking seamlessly to panel providers
  • And much more…

The more items you need on this list, the higher end of the spectrum you will need to shop.

Surveys for you or surveys for clients?

A massive difference exists between conducting surveys for your company and providing a service to other companies. The look and feel of surveys you conduct on your own behalf are your decision, although I don’t recommend making your surveys look ‘cheap’ as they are part of your image. However, if you are offering a service to customers, you will need to be more flexible. That doesn’t mean you need top-of-the-range software, but a decent range of options and styles will be necessary. These additional options and styles will typically come at a cost.

Who is going to author the questionnaires?

I often find that the most overlooked consideration is who will author the questionnaires. Some software platforms mostly or entirely use a scripting language like Javascript. These tend to be more expensive, but you may also need a training budget and, probably, more skilled staff on a higher wage. Platforms with a graphical user interface are usually much easier to learn and use, although they can be slower to prepare questionnaires if your needs are on the more complex end of the scale or you have a high throughput. Scripting languages tend to be significantly more expensive but offer far more flexibility.

How does the pricing work if you grow?

I investigated the price of using several platforms not too long ago. Some have a low entry cost but become expensive if you want the fully-featured version. Similarly, platforms that charge on a cost-per-interview basis (or blocks of interviews) can be priced at a flat rate or, alternatively, be heavily discounted as you increase usage. I found one platform that was about a quarter of the price of another when you completed a couple of thousand or so interviews in a year but was almost six times more expensive if you grew to 50000 interviews per year.

Just data collection or analysis/dashboards?

Some online survey platforms do a lot more than collect data. They give you topline counts, allow you to produce crosstabs, word clouds, and even dashboards you can share with colleagues or clients. Whether these added tools benefit you will need consideration and may come at a price. Regardless of these additional tools, I would advise you to place importance on the ability to extract data in the most common formats. By this, I mean Triple-S, SPSS format, Excel data, CSV data, ASCII data or a database.

Do you need to keep respondents engaged?

This might seem like a silly question, but it’s an important one. Online survey respondents can leave your survey with one click. If you plan to field longer surveys (over 7-10 minutes), you must keep your surveys engaging. This is also true if your surveys are on less interesting topics. This means you need to avoid monotonous rating scales and replace them with tools that make them more interactive. Respondents are more likely to complete an interactive survey than pages of rating scales. Not only that, they are more likely to answer honestly or carefully. Tools offering this flexibility are likely to be present in the more expensive systems.

What devices will be used to complete your survey?

Finally, lower-priced software can focus on one type of device – mobile or desktop. If you want to conduct surveys aimed at users likely to complete them on laptops, tablets or mobile phones, you will need a software platform that renders your questionnaire as easily and quickly as possible for each device type. Again, the higher-spec platforms will minimise the effort to make this possible.

So, do I need a top-of-the-range package really?

It is easy to go further up the range and spend too much. The variance in price between the cheapest and most expensive is, frankly, staggering. Most mid-range packages and above will provide everything you need to conduct most online surveys successfully. There may be special requirements that you have or don’t have which may move you up or down the scale; hopefully, this guide has given some pointers.

Why does MRDC Software offer?

The platform we offer is Snap. We would class Snap as upper middle range but competitively priced for its class, performing well in the BIG EIGHT. It doesn’t use a scripting language, but it does allow you to type some commands which may be laborious to import for experienced users. Further, the pricing allows for growth, such that it may be a little more expensive than others if you only conduct a few thousand interviews per year. However, you will find the platform cheap if you grow to 20000 or more interviews per year. Snap has a good range of tools to keep respondents engaged, and modules are included as standard for data analysis, tabulations and reporting. You can even give clients access to surveys at a minimal cost.

For more details about Snap or to get a verifiable product comparison, contact