Five techniques to improve response rates in online surveys

Whether it be social media, TV ads, promotions or even junk email, consumers are faced with a constant barrage of marketing messages. Similarly, insight professionals compete for consumer attention when it comes to recruiting people to take their online surveys. This has become increasingly more challenging over the years, with response rates ever on the decline. Unsurprisingly, this has been a cause for concern. The more difficult it is to recruit people to take a survey, the more time, energy and cost involved.

Non-response error becomes a concern with diminishing response rates. Non-response error occurs when the people that take do take surveys differ from the people that refuse. This can bias the survey data and give the researcher an incomplete picture of the population. Similar to the silent majority — we may not hear from a segment of our customer base, but their opinions do matter to us.

How can we address this problem and improve response rates to our online surveys? It turns out there are some simple tricks that can be employed. Outlined below, there are five key factors affecting survey response rates. Over the next few blogs, we will provide more detail on each, including the “how” and “what to do” in order to ensure healthy response rates and meet the desired number of completed interviews for your survey.

1. Email invite

The email invite is the first point of contact with the respondent, so this is a critical area for recruiting respondents. Nothing improves response rates more than when an email recipient recognizes and trusts the name of the sender. Simply put, we are more likely to take a survey from someone we know or have some sort of existing relationship with. The content of the invite also matters. Done well, it can show the recipient that we value their time. Whereas a sloppy invite conveys the message we don’t care, so why should they? Paying attention to details, executing a properly branded invite with a professional look and a personalized touch can go a long way towards improving response rates to your survey.

2. Incentives

To encourage participation in surveys a monetary or gift reward may be offered as an incentive. Generally, incentives have a positive but modest impact on response rates, and results can vary from study to study. Most incentives are a gift card or some sort of financial payment, however the best kind of incentive depends on your audience. Different respondents value different things. For example, access to financial research might appeal to business investors. Free tickets to a RedSox game would be a big draw if you were trying to solicit Boston sports fans to take your survey.

3. Survey Design

In any survey, we want to ensure the respondent has a positive experience with it. Researchers talk about “cognitive burden” or the degree to which survey participation is difficult or mentally taxing. Surveys with low cognitive burden achieve better response rates (as well as better data quality). This means a survey should be clear, engaging, easy to fill out, and not cumbersome. A good way to ensure your survey provides a smooth user-experience is to conduct the proper pre-tests. Spend time taking your own survey before distributing it to your customers. This way you can spot any difficult areas or problems beforehand.

4. Mobile compatibility

These days it’s all about mobile. The majority of emails are opened and read on a mobile device, which means your invite and survey needs to be mobile compatible and mobile friendly. Mobile friendly means making content easy to read or touch tap on a smaller screen. In a survey, unnecessary content must be stripped out so that there is room for critical components–like the survey text and input areas–to be enlarged and readable on the smaller screen. Mobile friendly surveys can boost response rates by as much as 50% among smartphone users.

5. Reminders

The use of reminders have shown to improve response rates. After an initial survey invitation is sent, those who do not complete the survey may be e-mailed a follow up reminder to do so after a certain number of days. Reminders substantially improve response rates for a survey. People who do want to fill out a survey are grateful to be reminded to do so. Now they have the survey link at the top of their inbox and don’t have to look for it.

These five steps can help make your next survey project a success. With so much online entertainment and information available to consumers, surveys must stand out as polished, user-friendly and engaging. Nothing turns off a respondent more than a survey that doesn’t work well or a sloppy email invite that looks like SPAM. But if you take care of the details, you can maximize your response rates and ensure you get the most out of your online surveys.

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