An abundance of Web-based surveys has made it simpler and cheaper for even the smallest company to use these online tools to collect data from customers, employees, and vendors. But just because it’s available doesn’t make it easy. There’s a right way and a wrong way to conduct research online, and if you’re going to the trouble of putting together a survey, you might as well do it right.
That’s the advice of market research professionals such as Mary Malaszek, owner of Market Directions, a Boston market-research firm that works with businesses of all sizes.
Companies conduct surveys all the time for lots of different reasons. Right now, for example, Jon Erickson, U.S. operations general manager of a Web-based survey company called SensorPro, is helping a 25-person boutique winery prepare to survey members of its wine club. “With the rough economy we’re facing, they want to make sure the promotions and activities they’re doing are what the members want,” Erickson says.
When it comes to using Web-based surveys, both Erickson and Malaszek caution small businesses to stick to a few simple but important rules:
The shorter the better
Don’t alienate survey takers with long questionnaires. Limit yourself to 25 questions, which should take people five to seven minutes to finish, Malaszek says. If surveys are much longer, people will abandon them “and then you can’t use them, and the next time you send them a survey they won’t even open it,” she says.
Other methods for keeping surveys short, according to a SensorPro white paper on online survey guidelines:
Make the first page simple, so people aren’t intimidated.
For questions with many possible answers, present options in multiple columns or a drop-down box.
Put a status bar at the top of each question page so respondents know how close they are to being finished.
Use images sparingly; too many could clutter the survey and make a Web page take too long to load.
Entice people to complete a survey by offering them some type of reward, such as a coupon or product sample.
Avoid open-ended questions
Since people want to zip through a survey, don’t include a lot of open-ended questions where they have to type out the answers. Close-ended questions they can click on a button to answer — Yes, No, Maybe, Never, Often — work much better, Malaszek says. Companies can use close-ended questions to get the same kind of in-depth analysis open-ended questions provide by using rankings scales, which ask a respondent to rate something on some type of scale, 1 to 5, or 1 to 10, she says.
If you’re asking customers or vendors to take a survey, it’s OK to send more than one invitation, especially to people who’ve previously indicated they would be willing to participate. Just make sure you’ve got people’s permission, so they don’t think you’re spamming them, the survey experts say.
Busiensses decide they want to do a survey then get impatient when they can’t get the results right away, Malaszek says. Even though online surveys reduce some of the work, they take time to design and administer, and when the results are in, more time to interpret. It’s a good idea to pick one person to shepherd the process, she says.
If you’re polling employees use an outside firm
Generally, employees answering survey questions are too worried the boss will be able to match their answers to their identities to answer truthfully, Malaszek says. If you want to poll employees about work-related issues, hire an outside firm.
Thanks to the large number of software companies selling Web-based surveys, prices from one vendor to another are pretty close, according to Erickson, the SensorPro executive. He and Malaszek suggest that small businesses choose a vendor based on the work they need done, the analytics they want produced and the pricing structure they need, as some vendors sell yearly subscriptions while others charge a pay-as-you-go rate.
SIDEBAR: Online Survey Tools for Business
Here’s a list of some other vendors of Web-based survey tools: