Consider Your Respondents When Designing Online Surveys

With all the thought and planning that goes into designing an online survey, researchers frequently fail to devote sufficient resources to evaluate how the survey-taking experience will be perceived by respondents. Instead, most of the thought process is devoted to ensuring that the survey meets the research needs of the sponsoring firm. As marketers fight higher costs due to increasingly low response rates, the importance of making a survey appealing to respondents grows ever more important.

Here are a number of guidelines that will help make online surveys more palatable to respondents, and possibly lead to increased response rates:

  • Frequently, designers are far more concerned with checking survey mechanics on the back end, such as skip logic and whether or not the database is populating correctly. In order to combat this problem, survey designers should build �eyeball� tests for things such as general formatting, ease of use, and general appearance into the overall quality process. Testers should not be previously familiar with the survey, as their �first glance� opinions are often the most valuable. Frequently simple, common sense formatting issues that would frustrate respondents can only be caught by this type of testing.

  • Monitor the survey length. According to Nielsen research, the average person spends 27 minutes a day online. A survey that takes 15 minutes to complete, therefore, does not make much sense from a respondent perspective unless it is coupled with a considerable reward. Researchers would essentially be asking survey takers to devote more than half of their daily online experience to their questionnaire. Before launching an online survey, it is a good idea to repeatedly test how long it takes a variety of users to complete all of the questions. Also, when contemplating whether to add additional questions to the survey, it is important to consider the effect on overall survey length. Researchers must always be mindful of how long of a commitment they are asking of their respondents.

  • Make the entire survey experience as easy to follow as possible. Pay particular attention to the survey instructions, which often get overlooked, as well as the ease of logging in. If a survey requires a respondent to remember a complicated login and/or password in order to access the survey, that survey is likely to lose a high percentage of potential users. Likewise, surveys that are complicated, use hard-to-understand language, or require complex instructions to complete will be similarly affected. Remember, online users are always only one click away from doing something else.

  • Add user-friendly features. Research shows that respondents are more likely to complete a longer survey if they have a progress bar showing them how close they are to completion. It is also important to allow users to easily move back and forth between survey pages, so that they can go back and update answers as necessary. It is also important to keep in mind that the entire online interface is a reflection of the company sponsoring the survey, so considerable care must be made to ensure a professional and attractive online survey design.

  • Align all aspects of the survey to ensure relevance. This includes sending invitations to the correct people, asking them questions that they will have an opinion about, and offering them an incentive that they will like.

  • Thank people for their time, and let them know that their opinions are valued.

  • Upon the completion of the survey campaign, prove to respondents that their feedback is valued by telling them how their feedback has been used. One of the main reasons that people are willing to take surveys is to have their opinions heard. Sharing with respondents the results of the survey as well as any changes being made as a result will only encourage future participation and brand loyalty, as respondents are made to feel valued.

If these guidelines are carefully followed, the researcher will provide a superior online experience for respondents and ensure a better chance at higher response rates. This will also guarantee that respondents will walk away with a better opinion of the survey, the company sponsoring it, and online surveys in general. With constant competition from other mediums such as television and radio, as well as the proliferation of surveys across the Internet, the future success of online research partially hinges on researchers ensuring a positive experience for their respondents.

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