10 tips to improve online survey response rates

Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 11.34.16 AMResponse rates are an important consideration for surveys. The response rate is the percentage of people who respond to your survey. If you contact 100 people and 40 respond, your response rate is 40%.

A survey that collects very little data may not contain substantial information to make it worthwhile reporting on your findings. In order to collect successful responses, it is important to do what you can to ensure you maximise your opportunity of achieving a high enough response rate.

To maximise your response rate you must consider the survey design as well as the invitation or message announcing the survey and inviting people to respond.  These 10 tips take both of these things into account.

Tip #1. Be clear about the aim of the research

When you are designing your survey, think about the aim of the research and what you hope to accomplish. This includes how you intend to use the data you collect. The clearer your are in your mind about what you hope to achieve, the more focused your survey will be, which will impact on the number of respondents who complete your survey.

Tip #2. Consider your relationship with your respondents

The better you know your respondents the more likely you will have a higher response rate. It may be beneficial to choose a small sample from a pool of people you know well. It can help to contact them in advance to let them know about the upcoming survey and the reason it is being conducted.

Tip #3. Ask the right questions

Create a survey that asks the right questions to meet your objective. If your questions are deemed irrelevant or uninteresting to your respondents they are likely to drop out and not complete your survey. I’m sure you can recall a time when you started completing a survey, only to become bored or frustrated and then giving up. Don’t make your survey one of those.

Tip #4. Design your survey carefully

Keep your questions short and concise. Create a logical flow throughout your survey. There are many other things you need to take into account if you intend to design your survey carefully. Your can read more of my tips about good survey design here.

Tip #5. Pilot test your survey

Test your survey with a small group before you send it out to your final audience. Ask them for feedback on flow, logic and ease of use. Make adjustments if necessary. It is much better to find an error at this stage than once the survey has gone out to your full list of respondents.

Tip #6. Consider your message content

The invitation message is what your respondents first see. When they first glance at the invitation, recipients could send it directly to SPAM if you ignore some important steps. Do not use spam language in the message such as all caps, money symbols etc. Include your contact information, how you got their email address, and what you intend to do with the data. Personalise the message. Include the name of your respondents in the body if possible. Indicate how long it will take your respondents to complete the survey.

Tip #7. Do not send unsolicited emails

Never send your surveys unsolicited to current or past emails. Never use purchased lists. Ideally, if you are a consultant, have the survey sent from your client’s email address, who ideally already has a relationship with everyone on their email list.

Tip #8. Only use current email lists

It is important that your email list contains only emails that are valid and current within the past year. If respondents opt out of future communications, clean all your lists.

Tip #9. Get the timing right

Consider the availability of your recipients. Avoid busy period and allow your respondents enough time to complete the survey.

Tip #10. Send email reminders

Sending a follow-up reminder every week or so may help with response rates. It is not uncommon for respondents have had good intentions to complete your survey but then forget. Response rates often spike immediately following an email reminder with another link to the survey.

Although it is inexpensive to run online surveys these days, it takes considerable time and effort to achieve the sample size you need. If you are unsure about how to design and run a survey, you would be well advised to consult an expert who can take on the entire process for you.

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