12 Best Practices for Creating Effective Surveys

— April 17, 2017


Surveys can provide email marketers with invaluable customer insights. But there’s a science to developing surveys that actually get you the info you need. To help you make your next survey as effective as possible, we’ve put together an even-dozen list of best practices from survey experts.


1. Pay attention to your sender address


“Sending a survey from ‘customerservice,’ ‘helpdesk’ or ‘info’ is not likely to get you a solid batch of survey responses,” warns mTab. “The email introducing your survey should instead come from a trusted individual within your company, preferably one with whom the customer has already communicated. Also, make sure the introduction has a personal touch, appealing directly to the individual to take a moment to complete your survey.”


2. Focus your survey on a single objective


“Narrow down what you want to know to the key questions that get to the root of the issue,” advises Constant Contact. “For instance, when conducting a post-transaction satisfaction survey, stick to questions surrounding the sale process and nothing more. This will keep your survey focused and help avoid the ‘just one more question’ syndrome when building your survey.”


3. Keep your questions clear and simple


“Avoid technical words, jargon, lingo, or any industry-specific language that might confuse or frustrate your survey respondents,” suggests SurveyMonkey. “You’ll also want to be specific and concrete. Better to poll survey takers on ‘cell phone’ usage instead of ‘handheld device’ usage.”


4. Ask only questions that will help you meet your goal


“You need to be ruthless when it comes to cutting unnecessary questions from your surveys,” advises HelpScout. “Every question you include should have a well-defined purpose and a strong reason for being there.”


5. Avoid yes/no questions, if possible


“Many yes/no questions can be reworked by including phrases such as ‘how much,’ ‘how often,’ or ‘how likely,’ says the Qualtrics blog. “Make this change whenever possible and include a response scale for richer data.”


6. Keep your survey short


“Every extra question reduces your response rate, decreases validity, and makes all your results suspect,” suggests the Nielsen Norman Group. “Better to administer two short surveys to two different subsamples of your audience than to lump everything you want to know into a long survey that won’t be completed by the average customer. Twenty questions are too many unless you have a highly motivated set of participants. People are much more likely to participate in one-question surveys.”


7. Avoid biasing responses


“Ask questions in a manner that doesn’t trend answers in a particular way,” suggests Constant Contact. “For instance, when gauging a customer’s likelihood of referring your business to friends, use a scale that ranges from “not very” to “extremely” with a few options in between. Avoid using ‘always’ or ‘never’ extremes as they can bias responses in the opposite direction.”


8. Allow ‘N/A,’ ‘neutral’ or ‘not sure’ answers


“If a question doesn’t apply to a respondent, it is better to understand that than it is to get false data,” says My Market Research Methods. “Otherwise, users will be frustrated by being coerced into answers they are not comfortable with and you will get inaccurate information. It is also a good idea to include an ‘other’ choice where appropriate. Here’s a motto to remember: When in doubt, give the respondent an ‘out.’”


9. Beware of acronyms


“Don’t use acronyms without an explanation of what the acronym means,” writes Vertical Response. “If you use an acronym several times, spell it out the first time and place the acronym in parentheses.”


10. Save demographic questions until the end


“Respondents will have a certain amount of goodwill towards your survey and you don’t want to use up this goodwill with simple questions about their age and gender,” advises Userfocus. “So, engage respondents by asking the interesting questions early in the survey. Keep the more boring demographic questions until the end.”


11. Consider incentives


“Depending upon the type of survey and survey audience, offering an incentive is usually very effective at improving response rates,” according to the Survey Monkey blog, which cites research that indicates that incentives can boost response rates by an average 50 percent. “People like the idea of getting something for their time.


One caveat is to keep the incentive appropriate in scope. Overly large incentives can lead to undesirable behavior, for example, people lying about demographics in order to not be screened out from the survey.”


12. Keep spam filters in mind


“Spam filters can cause your response rates to plummet, thanks to their uncanny ability to block your survey from ever getting to your targeted participants in the first place,” advises mTab. For more on spam filters – including how to avoid them –– check out our informative post on the topic here.

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Author: Kristen Dunleavy


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