Must-do 5 Tips for Creating Effective Surveys

Having a great site put together by us is a good step in creating a commanding presence in your industry. But as with anything in business, building something is just the first step; managing user expectations and knowing what they want is the next.

As mentioned in this space before, it you want to know what your website users think, you have to ask them. Fortunately, you don’t have to go door-to-door with a clipboard, and you don’t have to print up and distribute hundreds of postage-paid postcards. Through the magic of the Internet, you can make it easy—even fun—or your users to respond to surveys, thereby providing you a higher response rate.

Survey Options

Surveys are easy to set up, either on your own site or by using a third-party service such as SurveyMonkey. With third-party services, you typically register for an account and pay a fee to set up a survey. These surveys can become quite sophisticated, with branching question paths according to previous answers, a mixture of Likert scale questions (“On a scale of 1 to 5,…”), true-false, open-ended (free-text) questions, and more.

The trouble with third-party survey services is that they usually are not tightly integrated with your website. You have to email a link to the survey or provide a link on one of your pages—which takes a reader’s attention away from your site.

To keep users from bouncing, an in-site (or even in-page) option is a better approach. There are many options available. You can have a separate area for a detailed survey, or you can put a poll (typically one question) right on one of your pages. Polls can also be set up to provide instant feedback to the user, with a pie chart summarizing all of the responses so far.

Both WordPress and MODX have plug-ins available that support polls and surveys, enabling you to create, modify, and execute surveys whenever you want and view the results in graphical or tabular form. Your friendly local web developer should be able to customize one or create one from scratch.

Putting Together a Good Survey

The good news: It’s easy to create a survey. The bad news: It’s tricky to create a good survey, one that gives you maximum useful information from the fewest questions. Users typically don’t like long, drawn-out surveys, unless there is some kind of prize or compensation at the end, so unless you’re willing to shell out some cash, it’s best to keep it short, simple, and direct. Here are some more tips for writing good surveys:

  1. One idea per question. If you have a question such as, “One a scale of 1 to 5, how useful and organized was the website?”, and the user answers 3, it’s difficult to tell whether the site organization and usefulness were both 3, or one was 1, and one was 5 or something else. Separate these ideas into different questions.
  2. Don’t get personal. Starting a survey with questions about the respondent’s age, income level, and marital status is a bit tacky and likely to send users running the other way. If you really need this information for demographic or marketing purposes, inform the users why the information is needed and assure them it will be used only in accordance with your privacy policy. Above all, save these questions for the end of the survey.
  3. Avoid industry jargon, slang, and vernacular. Besides presenting a more professional image, using clear language that doesn’t rely on verbal shortcuts is more likely to provide accurate results. Words that can be interpreted in more than one way should be clarified.
  4. Take it easy with the open-ended questions. You didn’t like essay questions in school, and your users didn’t either. It’s also difficult to summarize the answers in a useful way because you have to read each one and have some way of classifying the answers. Save yourself (and your users) some trouble and limit the open-ended questions to no more than one or two per survey.
  5. No leading questions. Perhaps most important of all, avoid wording your questions in such a way that there is an obvious “right” answer; that is, leave your biases out.

Do a Test Run

Before unleashing your survey on real people, find a suitable candidate to do a test run for you. Ask this person to tell you whether any questions were confusing, vague, leading, or irrelevant. Get these problems fixed before sending your survey out and getting potentially useless information from it.

With a well-written survey, you can get valuable insights on what your customers (or potential customers) are thinking and where to place your marketing emphasis. Give them a survey that’s easy to answer, and you’ll get all the data you need to make your next move.