10 Online Survey Best Practices: Tips for Effective Surveys

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We may be biased, but launching an online market research survey is an exciting event! You’re eager to hear what consumers will say and what their opinions mean for your business. Amidst all the excitement, you also need to be mindful of the quality of your survey, which will dictate the quality of feedback you receive.


In this blog, we look at the importance of survey design and how it impacts the value of your data.


10 best practices for creating effective surveys

When you set out with an objective for your research survey, you probably have an idea of what survey questions you’d like to ask in your questionnaire. You’re eager to hear what the answers to those questions are, but before finalizing your online survey, it’s worth slowing down to consider the strategic goals of the research. What exactly is the research designed to find out? How will the types of questions you ask answer your research objectives? Who do you want to hear from? Which statistical research methods will you use?


With that in mind, below are 10 survey design best practices for you to consider as you plan your survey questionnaire.


1. Set a clear goal for your online survey

For some survey research, the end goal might be broad. For example, if you’re conducting a study for the first time, you might want to start by establishing who your target audience is - with the end goal of establishing consumer profiles for marketing purposes. 


Another study might aim to get a more specific understanding of that target audience, such as how they use a product or service, or their fundamental opinions. The goal here could be to tailor product advertisements to use cases and consumer perceptions. Meanwhile, another research project may have the specific goal of identifying the best packaging concept from six prototypes.

No matter how broad or specific the scope of your project is, make sure to keep your end goal in mind to come away with actionable survey responses.


2. Keep it concise

As well as being focused on a goal, your questionnaire should be concise. As you craft your questions, think about whether or not they will ultimately answer your research goal or add valuable context. If not, get rid of them! If some of those other questions are still valuable to you but aren’t on the same topic as the main questionnaire, consider saving them for another study around those specific objectives.


Keeping your questionnaire short makes for a more enjoyable user experience and improves response rates; respondents are giving up their time to answer your questions, and a long-winded questionnaire risks ‘survey fatigue’ - a nice way to say that respondents are getting sick of your questions. This results in lower-quality survey responses, as participants become less thoughtful in their feedback, focusing only on getting to the end of the survey.


A final bonus? Shorter surveys often mean lower costs for you! The longer the length of interview (or, LOI, as it’s coined in the research world), the higher it could cost to source respondents to take your survey.


3. Be transparent

To our point on survey fatigue, if survey respondents know what they’re committing to when they start an online survey, it’s more likely that completion rates will be higher, with higher data quality.


Let participants know on the first survey screen approximately how much time the survey should take, and provide periodic check-ins using text screens such as ‘you’re halfway done’ or ‘just a few more questions!’


4. Provide disclaimers on sensitive questions

Along with keeping things concise and transparent, you’ll want to alert your survey participants of sensitive question wording or sensitive topics.


If you’re asking about a sensitive topic, provide an intro screen to prepare the respondent before they proceed. For example, before asking a question related to politics or substance use, show respondents a brief text screen that alerts them of a potentially sensitive topic. You might even give them the option to skip it.


Demographic questions can also be sensitive - with some respondents not wishing to disclose their age, gender, or ethnicity. Because demographic questions are often necessary for quotas and screening purposes, consider adding ‘prefer not to answer’ or ‘other’ answer options to make respondents more comfortable providing feedback. Additionally, reassure respondents that all data collection is kept anonymous and reviewed in aggregate so their information will never be reviewed on a personal level.


5. Use simple wording

Similar to keeping things concise, simple wording helps respondents move efficiently through a survey. Questionnaires should be written in clear, short sentences to explain prompts without ambiguity. Read questions back to yourself to make sure that a respondent won’t be confused by what’s being asked of them. Even better - have someone else read it for a fresh perspective.


For example, the question: ‘Describe the frequency with which you consume content such as shows and movies on television’ is a lot more to process than ‘How often do you watch TV?’, yet both result in the same answer. Make it easy for your respondents. They’ll thank you with valuable, authentic feedback rather than frustration.


6. Speak your audience’s language

Though it’s good to use simple wording, also consider your audience’s language so the survey feels relevant and engaging to them. It’s easy to become desensitized to industry jargon when working in market research, but remember that the words you use daily may not be familiar to your target audience.


For example, don’t ask respondents what they think of your brand’s positioning; ask them what they think the brand’s advertising/packaging/personality says about the brand itself and in comparison with other brands on the shelf. Or, when surveying younger audiences, consider turning to social media to add some references to trends or memes throughout your survey for higher engagement.


7. Be mindful of leading questions

Leading questions, as the name implies, lead a respondent to answer in a certain way (perhaps the way the survey writer hopes they will).


Questions that start off like ‘How happy are you with...’ or ‘How much do you agree with...’ assume that there is in fact a level of happiness or agreement with a product or service. This could make a respondent feel pushed into a more acquiescent response than they would otherwise give if they were able to answer more freely, which brings us to our next point:


8. Leverage response scales

Instead of using leading questions, use questions that ask respondents to rate their levels of a certain metric (i.e. satisfaction, loyalty, frequency of usage, etc.) by way of a Likert scale; for example: ‘on a scale of 1-10, please rate your level of satisfaction with...’ or ‘indicate whether you strongly agree/somewhat agree/neither agree nor disagree/somewhat disagree/strongly disagree.’


These scales show how happy or unhappy someone is, or how much they agree or disagree, by placing ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’ or ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ at opposite ends of a spectrum. They also offer a more nuanced alternative to ‘yes/no’ and ‘true/false’ questions.


Scaled responses are a form of closed-ended questions that make surveys quick and easy to complete while still achieving a degree of variation and nuance in responses. Use these in combination with multiple-choice questions or open-ended questions for a varied user experience.


9. Take your survey on a test run

Even the best-designed surveys can run into logic glitches or forgotten loopholes. Don’t wait to find this out through respondent survey data - run pre-testing before the survey goes live!


Through pre-testing, make sure you’re seeing relevant questions, responses are being logged accurately as completes or survey dropouts, only qualified participants are proceeding (i.e. a specific demographic or certain product users), etc. Testing a survey puts you into a participant’s perspective, and might even give you an idea of additional questions to ask.


Survey software makes it easy to clean these ‘test’ completes out before going live, so you don’t have to worry about it affecting final survey results.


10. Make your survey accessible

Lastly, (and this one’s easy!) make sure that your survey is readily accessible. Seek out online survey providers that distribute surveys to all relevant markets in local languages. Additionally, consider online survey tools such as automated survey software platforms that can efficiently connect with panel providers.


Design your survey with quantilope

Creating an effective survey takes some thought and crafting, but following these key principles can make a real difference between a good survey and an excellent survey - and is also what separates best-in-class insights teams/professionals from the rest. 


quantilope’s consumer intelligence platform makes it simple to achieve these principles, with survey templates to ask the right questions, advanced methodologies to uncover insights that contribute to research goals, and an array of question formats available through a simple drag & drop (such as multiple choice questions, open-ended questions, and response scales - to name a few).


quantilope’s platform is panel agnostic, enabling users to instantly connect to any survey panel provider they wish, or link their own sample source. And with results available in real-time, brands can begin their analysis before they even close out field.


To learn more about how quantilope can help you create effective online surveys that have a positive impact on your business, get in touch below:

Get in touch to start building effective online surveys!

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