Survey Says... A Beginner's Guide to Maximizing Online Survey Results

The wide range of online survey platforms have made it easier and more cost effective than ever to gain valuable marketing insight about your target audience. Not every survey is created equally, so some of the traditional rules of thumb-such as "The shorter, the better" or "Quality over quantity"-don't necessarily always apply.

It's important to establish a goal and the subsequent tactical strategy for the survey prior to drafting questions. There are a few options to consider and questions to ask yourself before posing questions to your customers.

Quality or quantity?

While the answer may seem evident, there are certain instances where more responses might be advantageous to your marketing goal. For example, if you are gathering responses for statistical uses, such as infographics, you will want a fairly large data set. If you are tapping into your target audience for deeper feedback or insight, the quality of answers is of greater concern than the sheer amount. The context of your survey might affect baseline metrics such as open rate or click-thru rate. Thought-provoking research requires more time from the respondent, but those that choose to answer the questions will most likely supply you with quality information.

How will I get the word out?

Distribution can make or break your survey. Email is the "traditional" way of easily digitally delivering a survey to potential respondents. It assures a targeted blast to a list of people you know and regularly contact, and allows you to track the results. Surveys can also be sent via email to rented lists such as publication subscribers, to reach a larger audience, while remaining within a focused segment of customers. If the questionnaire requires a large response without the need for detailed targeting, other channels that cast a wider net such as social media and featured web content can boost response numbers.

What's in it for me?

Not all surveys need an obvious incentive to acquire a good response rate. With a highly targeted audience, just asking for feedback on current materials, product offerings, etc. can garner valuable insight. In this case, a branded survey identifying your company as the sender is preferred. Customers want to know they are being heard, so let them know that their opinion matters to you. It can even bolster your position as an industry thought leader by simply asking for their help.

For a more top-level market research survey, you may want to consider an anonymous or "blind" distribution. This can encourage more honest, unbiased feedback. This approach typically works best when offering respondents an added incentive, such as a gift card.

How should I say this?

The length of your survey is important, and that is dependent on you questions. It's key to ask for the most amount of information, by asking the least amount of questions. That's not to say that every survey needs to be five questions or less. Rather, it's critical to be succinct and focused when drafting questions. After you have your question set, try to combine or rework similar ones. Question type is key to keeping your effort short, but complete. Long-form options can replace two or three multiple-choice questions.

Don't forget that tone also matters. There's a time and place for conversational questionnaires as well as more technical surveys.

Online surveys are a quick and convenient way for both you and your customers to gain feedback from a captive audience. What you put into a survey, starts with what you want to get out of it. Take the time to create an impactful and insightful survey, while you have your customer's attention.

About the Author: Bridget Poetker is an account executive of the Content & Social team at Celtic Chicago, a full-service marketing agency passionate about launching products and brands with ideas that work and creative that delivers meaningful results.