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Insight Blog

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8 Quick and Easy Ways to Optimise Your Online Surveys

Online surveys are a staple of the market research industry. According to the 2015 Quirk’s Corporate Research Report (CRR), online surveys are the most popular research method with approximately 95% of all end clients currently making use of them. Yet despite this, only a little over 40% of all clients rate them as very effective. Another 50% state that they are effective, with fewer than 10% ranking online surveys as ineffective or very ineffective.

While this is encouraging, it still leaves room for improvement. It is up to us, as researchers, to ensure our clients are getting the most from their surveys – and maximise insight at every step of the process. These are our top 8 quick and easy ways to optimise online surveys for better insight.

1. Optimise Email Invitations

The first, and often overlooked, step of ensuring that there is a high engagement rate with your survey is optimising the email invitation. Email invitations are the first impression that a potential respondent will have of your survey. Taking time to consider the layout, content and wording of your invitation is a quick-fire way to instantly boost engagement.

To better understand how to effectively optimise email invitations, we recommend taking a look at Survey Gizmo’s guide. Our favourite points are: use merge codes to personalise content, describe the purpose of the survey and its benefit to the organisation, and pay attention to the subject line.

2. Highlight Incentives

Both in your email invitations and throughout the survey itself, one of the easiest ways to reduce drop-out rates is to reinforce incentives throughout the process. In our own research, presented in the webinar ‘Rewarding Research Participants - The Psychology of Incentives’ we discovered that 84% of respondents were motivated by a guaranteed financial incentive.

As well as this, two of the most commonly cited reasons for not completing online surveys were that the incentive was not enough or that it was not fully explained. To find out more about how incentives affect online research, we recommend watching the free recording on our blog.

3. Keep It Short

Another finding from the same study indicated that survey length was the factor most likely to affect survey completion. 47% of respondents stated that they would not complete online research if it was too long. The solution? Simple – keep it short. Ask the questions that are most important. If you can’t decide which questions to drop, there are still a few options available.

We would suggest splitting the survey into a number of shorter surveys and sending it over a period of time. Describe this process in your invitation email and adjust your incentives to match. Offer a lower amount per survey, but include a ‘completion bonus’ to motivate participants to complete the set. The second tactic involves splitting your database. Similar to an A/B test, send half your participants the first set of questions and the other the second half.

4. Show Progression Status

To further improve survey completion rates, be sure to show the progression status throughout the survey. Knowing how much is left avoids frustrating participants and enables them to manage their time more effectively. If you are unsure whether this is possible, talk to your technology provider. It may seem simple, but it can dramatically improve survey completions and reduce last minute drop outs.

5. Simplify Language

This applies to all research, not just online surveys, but the effects are particularly apparent when time is of the essence. To best engage participants, use vocabulary that is familiar to them rather than your business. Ditch the technical terminology and focus on the language of your participant. Sometimes (particularly in B2B research) this might require learning new names, terms and ideas – but the effects are significant. Take a look at these examples of effective and ineffective survey questions to see what we mean:


  • Which CTA has been most effective in influencing your online shopping behaviour?
  • How often do you interact with a member of the customer experience team?
  • Are you concerned that recent policy changes will lead to a ‘single payer’ government run health insurance scheme?


  • Which words in particular convinced you to buy [product] from our online store?
  • In the past 7 days, how many times have you contacted customer support?
  • Are you concerned recent changes to the NHS will give too much power to the government?

6. Use a Range of Question Types

Online surveys offer a range of interactive and engaging question types. However, too often online surveys are simply treated as paper surveys replicated in a digital environment. The vast range of question types provides opportunities for gamification and interactivity that enhance the participant experience and encourage them to complete research. The following are just a handful of the types of questions that can be asked online: multiple choice, ranking, image sorting, balancing and open ended.

However, even some of the more basic question types can be tweaked to provide variety. When asking open-ended questions for example, by limiting question length you can challenge participants to express their views succinctly. For more on how gamification can benefit online surveys, we recommend reading Tom Ewing’s article on 4 gamification methods that can improve research.

7. Route Participants Effectively

Routing questions in market research involves directing participants through research in such a way that they only answer the questions most relevant to them. In traditional paper surveys this would have taken the form of a statement along the lines of: ‘If you answered ‘no’, please proceed to question 16.’ However, online research offers the opportunity to make this process invisible.

The benefit of this is that each participant will receive an experience uniquely tailored to their answers. Rather than opening a daunting webpage of over 100 questions of which only 10 may be relevant, the participant is guided through the process – which is condensed and optimised by effective routing.

8. Consider Mobile Survey Design

Finally, no list of online survey tips would be complete without a mention of mobile research. As Frank Kelly of GMI said, ‘we don’t have the time to debate the mobile transition, like we did in moving from CATI to online interviewing, since things are advancing so quickly.’ So how do you make sure your surveys are mobile ready?

Make sure your surveys are either hosted on a responsive website that adapts to the device, or a dedicated app designed for mobile screens. Of course, there is much more to mobile survey design than this alone. In fact, most implications are about how to adapt questions for participants ‘on-the-go.’ For a detailed explanation of our top tips for mobile survey design, take a look at 10 Tips for Collecting Insightful Mobile Data.

Read more about our online survey tools. Or, to book a demo of any of our 16 flexible qual & quant tools, contact one of our experts.

Christopher Martin

Written by Christopher Martin

Chris is experienced in marketing strategy and brand development, which he uses to skilfully guide the FlexMR brand to its full potential. Chris works hard maximising opportunities and ensuring the brand’s offering is relevant and appealing to insights professionals. You can follow Chris on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Topics: Survey Panel, Survey Tools