Optimizing On-line Response Rates
We are frequently asked "What response rate can I expect from online surveys?"
The question itself is so general that it can't be answered without referencing
a specific survey, a specific audience, the method used to notify people of the
survey, or the type of information requested. This article will provide you
with guidance on what you can do to optimize response rates for your surveys.
Make the Survey Easy to Use
It is easy to create a simple survey that answers a few questions, just as it is
easy to create a complex survey that answers many. The challenge is to create a
short, simple survey that answers many questions.
Your questions need to be easy to understand, clearly worded and grammatically
correct. They should not be ambiguous or contain double negatives. Keep the
wording of your questions as short as possible, avoiding flowery statements and
long descriptions whenever possible. Since we are talking about web based
surveys you can always include hyperlinks within your survey that point to more
detailed descriptions that are contained in another location.
Choose a font and background color that makes your survey easy to read. While
eSurveysPro makes it easy to create extremely colorful surveys with elaborate
backgrounds and a large combination of fonts, the best surveys usually have
white backgrounds, sans serif fonts (Verdana is a great choice) and simple
black text. You want your respondents to focus on the content of your survey,
not some small graphics and odd looking fonts that may be attracting their
What will it take to motivate people to take your survey? Depending on the type
of survey there are several different forms of motivation.
Material Goods. This works great when trying to get feedback from
someone you do not know well or does not have a vested interest in the
information you are gathering. Material goods can be in the form of a chance to
win something like a Palm Pilot or other high tech gear, a free T-Shirt or
coffee mug, etc. Obviously the material reward you provide should be of value
to your respondents if your goal is to get them to take your survey.
Information. Sometimes the only reason a person needs to take
your survey is the promise that they will be able to get access to the results
of the survey itself. This is a good motivation method if you are surveying a
group or trade association where getting information on how others answered the
survey has value to the respondents.
Responsibility. When you are conducting surveys of employees the
simple act of requiring people to take the survey may be all the motivation you
need, though if the survey will cover sensitive information it may be important
for you to ensure the respondent's anonymity. Another type of responsibility
motivation is to stress to your potential respondents how important the
information they provide will be; this is often used with non-profit
organizations that provide a service that the respondents support.
It is important to remember that every survey requires some form of motivation
for the respondents and that each of those forms of motivation must be tailored
directly to your audience.
Leverage the Relationship
The relationship you or your organization has with your potential respondents
will dramatically influence the response rate you achieve. People tend to get
more involved with something they feel strongly about, either positively or
negatively, or a person or group they have a relationship with.
Indifference kills response rates. When a person receives a generic request from
some unknown entity to take a survey they are far less likely to participate
than someone that receives a highly personalized invitation that demonstrates a
relationship with the requester.
A good message contains specific information on the customer and looks like it
was sent directly from the customer service agent. While the customer doesn't
know who John Smith is, Smith clearly knows something about the customer and by
demonstrating that reinforces that there is indeed a relationship.
Choose the Right Notification Method
There are several notification methods that you can use to get people to take
your survey: E-mail, web site links, pop-up surveys and embedded surveys.
E-mail Notifications. These work great when you have a well
defined audience. While it is possible to purchase lists or enlist the aid of a
panel, communicating to existing customers, members, etc. through e-mail is
extremely cost effective.
By properly constructing your e-mail notifications (see above), this method can
provide you with the highest possible response rates.
Web Site Links. If you are looking to obtain general feedback
from web site visitors you can place a link on your site that pulls up a
survey. Simply placing a link on a page does not ensure that people will click
on it. To increase the likelihood that a survey link will be clicked you should
make the link prominent and position it next to a relevant section on the web
Pop-up Surveys. One way to get a person's attention is to use a
pop-up window and present your survey request in that. This method has fallen
out of favor recently because a number of sites use this same method for
advertising. To use this method effectively you should have a very small pop-up
window that has minimal text in it, essentially containing a click link to your
survey. It should be triggered by an event that is appropriate for the survey
you are requesting people to take.
Embedded Surveys. You can dramatically increase some response
rates simply by embedding the survey into HTML content. This works extremely
well for content related evaluations where the reader is asked at the end of an
article or story to rate the effectiveness or appropriateness of what they just
Not all of these methods should be used for all surveys - choosing the right mix
of notification methods can have a rather large impact on response rates.
Increasing the response rates for your survey is always a good idea, however
there is one caveat that must be observed. Every method you use to attract
people to your survey introduces a form of bias that affects the quality of
information you collect. If you use e-mail notifications for your survey you
will have introduced a bias on e-mail usage that would nullify asking questions
like "Do you use e-mail regularly?" The bias introduced into a survey should
always be taken into account when determining the validity of your data.