Online Surveys = Ongoing Insights

10 Tips to Improve Your Online Surveys

10 Tips to Improve Your Online Surveys

What is a great survey?

A great online survey provides you with clear, reliable, actionable insight to inform your decision-making. Great surveys have higher response rates, higher quality data and are easy to fill out.

Follow these 10 tips to create great surveys, improve the response rate of your survey, and the quality of the data you gather, by following these basic rules of good surveying.

10 steps to create a great survey.

1. Clearly define the purpose of your online survey

SurveyMonkey is a web–based online survey tool packed with industry–leading features designed by noted market researchers.

Fuzzy goals lead to fuzzy results, and the last thing you want to end up with is a set of results that provide no real decision–enhancing value. Good surveys have focused objectives that are easily understood. Spend time up front to identify, in writing:

  • What is the goal of this survey?
  • Why are you creating this survey?
  • What do you hope to accomplish with this survey?
  • How will you use the data you are collecting?
  • What decisions do you hope to impact with the results of this survey? (This will later help you identify what data you need to collect in order to make these decisions.)

Sounds obvious, but we have seen plenty of surveys where a few minutes of planning could have made the difference between receiving quality responses (responses that are useful as inputs to decisions) or un–interpretable data.

Consider the case of the software firm that wanted to find out what new functionality was most important to customers. The survey asked ‘How can we improve our product?’ The resulting answers ranged from ‘Make it easier’ to ‘Add an update button on the recruiting page’. While interesting information, this data is not really helpful for the product manager who wanted to take an itemized list for the development team with customer input as a prioritization variable.

Spending time identifying the objective might have helped the survey creators determine:

  • Are we trying to understand our customers’ perception of our software in order to identify areas of improvement (e.g. hard to use, time consuming, unreliable)?
  • Are we trying to understand the value of specific enhancements? They would have been better off asking customers to please rank from 1 – 5 the importance of adding X new functionality.

Advance planning helps ensure that the survey asks the right questions to meet the objective and generate useful data.

2. Keep the survey short and focused

Short and focused helps with both quality and quantity of response. It is generally better to focus on a single objective than try to create a master survey that covers multiple objectives.

Shorter surveys generally have higher response rates and lower abandonment among survey respondents. It’s human nature to want things to be quick and easy – once a survey taker loses interest they simply abandon the task – leaving you to determine how to interpret that partial data set (or whether to use it all).

Make sure each of your questions is focused on helping to meet your stated objective. Don’t toss in ‘nice to have’ questions that don’t directly provide data to help you meet your objectives.

To be certain that the survey is short; time a few people taking the survey. SurveyMonkey research (along with Gallup and others) has shown that the survey should take 5 minutes or less to complete. 6 – 10 minutes is acceptable but we see significant abandonment rates occurring after 11 minutes.

3. Keep the questions simple

Make sure your questions get to the point and avoid the use of jargon. We on the SurveyMonkey team have often received surveys with questions along the lines of: “When was the last time you used our RGS?” (What’s RGS?) Don’t assume that your survey takers are as comfortable with your acronyms as you are.

Try to make your questions as specific and direct as possible. Compare: What has your experience been working with our HR team? To: How satisfied are you with the response time of our HR team?

4. Use closed ended questions whenever possible

Closed ended survey questions give respondents specific choices (e.g. Yes or No), making it easier to analyze results. Closed ended questions can take the form of yes/no, multiple choice or rating scale. Open ended survey questions allow people to answer a question in their own words. Open–ended questions are great supplemental questions and may provide useful qualitative information and insights. However, for collating and analysis purposes, closed ended questions are preferable.

5. Keep rating scale questions consistent through the survey

Rating scales are a great way to measure and compare sets of variables. If you elect to use rating scales (e.g. from 1 – 5) keep it consistent throughout the survey. Use the same number of points on the scale and make sure meanings of high and low stay consistent throughout the survey. Also, use an odd number in your rating scale to make data analysis easier. Switching your rating scales around will confuse survey takers, which will lead to untrustworthy responses.

6. Logical ordering

Make sure your survey flows in a logical order. Begin with a brief introduction that motivates survey takers to complete the survey (e.g. “Help us improve our service to you. Please answer the following short survey.”). Next, it is a good idea to start from broader–based questions and then move to those narrower in scope. It is usually better to collect demographic data and ask any sensitive questions at the end (unless you are using this information to screen out survey participants). If you are asking for contact information, place that information last.

7. Pre–test your survey

Make sure you pre–test your survey with a few members of your target audience and/or co–workers to find glitches and unexpected question interpretations.

8. Consider your audience when sending survey invitations

Recent statistics show the highest open and click rates take place on Monday, Friday and Sunday. In addition, our research shows that the quality of survey responses does not vary from weekday to weekend. That being said, it is most important to consider your audience. For instance, for employee surveys, you should send during the business week and at a time that is suitable for your business. i.e. if you are a sales driven business avoid sending to employees at month end when they are trying to close business.

9. Consider sending several reminders

While not appropriate for all surveys, sending out reminders to those who haven’t previously responded can often provide a significant boost in response rates.

10. Consider offering an incentive

Depending upon the type of survey and survey audience, offering an incentive is usually very effective at improving response rates. People like the idea of getting something for their time. SurveyMonkey research has shown that incentives typically boost response rates by 50% on average.

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.

Get a jump start by using a SurveyMonkey survey template to create your online survey!

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  • John@Online Surveys

    Companies have been paying people money to participate in research and review surveys for a LONG time. They used to hang out in malls and other places with lots of pedestrian traffic, offering free pizza and a $50 gift card or something to shoppers as they walked by.

    That sort of information is valuable to companies, and they are willing to pay you for it.

    The internet makes that sort of thing way easier, but there are a number of scams out there. Just be smart and don’t give them any personal information unless you’re sure they’re legit.

    • Hanna J

      Hi John ~ You’re right — sharing your opinion is a valuable thing, but you have to be smart about what you give out, what you don’t (passwords, credit card information, etc), and who you give that information to. Thanks for the good advice. Have a great day.

  • Jarkko Inberg

    Those ten tips are very helpful specially the “Keep the survey short and focus” and “Keep the question simple” those are very good tips which is some online survey don’t know about it.Thanks for sharing.

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  • Trisha Agarwal

    This is brilliant. You clearly have a keen insight into customer psyschology. The survey method can be leveraged based and the process can be varied based on the desired outcomes.

    • kaytek

      Thanks, Trisha! We’re glad this was helpful to you.

  • Akshay Makadiya

    I really love the way you describe the survey methods to get Results

  • ddf

    Is it possible to allow multiple responses from the same IP address?

  • Qaiser

    nice and informative post, keep it up

  • Naomi

    I want to include a survey in a circular newsletter. I will not be allowed personal access to the individual e-mail addresses but the newsletter administrator can add my survey to the newsletter, for people to complete shuld they wish. Is it therefore possible to post asurvey monkey web link directing individuals to the survery?

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi Naomi,

      Absolutely! You cay insert a Web Link collector into the newsletter for respondents to click on. If you’d like the respondent’s email address to be linked to their response, then you may want to consider sending your Newsletter via our Email Invitation or MailChimp. Here’s more info on those options:

  • Veronica

    Does anyone know how to capture anonymous responses?

  • Lisa

    Is there a way to quickly import responses collected on paper?

  • Cally

    I want to survey 3 groups of individuals regarding their participation in the same volunteer program, can i set up my survey so that the first question determines which type of participant they are and then send them to the appropriate page of questions? 5 questions for each group.

  • Laine

    Is it possible to put a password on a survey, or can anyone with access to the SurveyMonkey login that created the survey view the results?

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi Laine,

      If someone has access to your account, they will be able to view the survey data. Our Select, Gold and Platinum plans are meant to be used by a single administrator. If you’re interested in sharing an account and would like this sort of security, we do offer our Enterprise option where there can be multiple seats on an account! You can learn more here:

      Thanks for checking with us!

  • Meghna

    I want this feature in my survey that if the respondent clicks on say yes option to one question, the subsequent questions are a different set and if its a no, then another set of questions will follow.. how can I do that? Please Help!! S.O.S.

  • Nicci

    Hello – how do I send a reminder about a survey without creating a new collector? or can you merge the results of collectors? Thanks.

  • Mark Skoog

    How do I set up three links for collecting responses to the survey. 1) Health Insurance 2) Dental Insurance3) Life Insurance

  • Vesna Mateska

    Hello. Can you tell me if I can get the results from the questionnaire separately instead of aggregated? I need to analyse the results from each questionnaire separately. Is that possible? Thank you

  • Elaine Ouimet

    We want our audience to have the choice of responding anonymously? If we send the link to the survey via a separate email or through our website, can we guarantee that those who want to remain anonymous are truly anonymous? Elaine

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi Elaine–

      Great question. You can set up a Web Link collector, Embed collector or Email Invitation collector to be anonymous. The only type that can be 100% anonymous is our Web Link collector. If you’d like the respondents to be able to identify themselves, simply add a question with that option!

      Here are all the details you’ll need on making a survey anonymous:

      I hope that helps out!

  • chekpeds

    on the last page, I’d like to include a link for people to send to others by email , twitter or facebook
    How can I do that ?

  • Coral Mercintile

    simple and nice tips to improve the surveys.

  • Jocelyn Burges

    Is the survey length guideline (no more than 11min) applicable to both consumer and B2B audience?

  • Helen Mills

    can you add manual entered responses to the same survey where some are responding by email and so as to include this into the final report

  • Nina

    Hi, how can I make sure to only be receiving one response per person? . I.e. if I have answered the survey and click on the link again, I get an info that I have already participated.

  • Justine Van Buttingha Wichers

    How can I allow one person to complete the survey more than once i.e. a secretary will fill in the responses for four members of her team

  • Leftcadio Hern

    how do I allow multiple responses from a single computer?

  • Jenny Sorek

    What is the best way to launch the survey to multiple customers in different countries?

  • Mad Science HR

    Can I use SurveyMonkey to design a survey on Facebook?

  • Ayman Askar

    I bought a one month subscription to survey my students, I created a different survey for each class so that i can identify their learning styles. Can I display all students’ responses in each class in a single chart? Now, i can see one single question’s responses. One more thing, can i merge all surveys’ responses together so that i get a broad picture?

    • KTsurveymonkey

      Hi Ayman,

      Sadly you could not merge all the surveys form your account due to the complexity of collectors but you might want to export all the results and and merge them from Excel.

      For future surveys though, I would definitely advise creating a unique survey and using a different collector per class so you can have all results together as well as filtered if you need:

      Hope it helps!

  • Amogh Panje

    Hi, I’m new to survey monkey. Is it possible to design a survey such that every time a user answers a question the results become available to the surveyor without requiring the user to complete the survey. The reason I’m asking is that I have two parts to my survey. The first part consists of questions that I’m truly interested in and the second part consists of bonus questions that I’d like answered. I don’t want to lose submissions to the first part of my survey because users drop off during the bonus questions. How can I design a survey such that I can collect the information users have provided during the first part of the survey even if they drop off during the second part?