Running a web site can be a hit and miss affair at times. We try our best to provide
solid information and products to attract visitors, encourage subscriptions
and sales and
importantly, return visits from these people. Sometimes we assume too much as to what our visitors want and don't want.
There are many ways of eliciting feedback from visitors, from very personal strategies such as direct email communications, to the impersonal figures and bar charts of our server log reports which identify popular pages and therefore, areas of interest.
An excellent additional tool is to run polls or surveys, either intermittently
or on an ongoing basis. A well thought out survey can give you a fairly accurate
snapshot of what your visitors and customers want or don't want; providing
you with valuable information to take into account as part of your marketing and
general online business strategy.
Tips for running a brief survey
A survey doesn't necessarily need to be a 300 question rigorous psychological test, in fact; it really shouldn't be. A simple question, regularly changed is all that is needed to begin building up some good demographic information regarding your site visitors. Once in a while, run a more thorough survey to gain further insight.
In single question surveys and polls, instead of just
offering Yes/No options for answers, try and give visitors a few options which will allow for
gray areas. If these gray areas become prominent in survey outcomes, then further polls can elicit more information on these specific points.
Running lengthier surveys
A more detailed survey with dozens of questions can provide you with even greater insights into your visitors and customers, but bear in mind that you'll be asking people to give you their most valuable commodities in order to complete the survey - their time and opinions. Very few people will want to spend 30 minutes completing a survey without something substantial in return.
For this reason, you'll still need to make the survey as easy to complete as possible, allow the flexibility for those who do have the time to spend to give more complete answers and also to appeal to respondents' WIIFM (What's In It For Me) motivator.
To begin with, before the person is presented with the survey questions, let them know how long it will take to complete. Some companies have a awful habit of popping up a box on their site asking for feedback, and then sucking up a great deal of the visitors' time. Often these surveys are abandoned halfway through as the respondent has no idea how much longer it will take to complete.
I also suggest that no survey question should be mandatory unless there is a powerful incentive being offered and all questions be multiple choice with features to allow for added comments.
The reason for not making questions mandatory is quite simple. Someone may be able to provide you with very valuable information on the first 9 out of your 10 questions, but question number 10 is a showstopper for the person. If they aren't able to submit the survey because of their inability or unwillingness to answer the last question, then you'll not only frustrate the person, but also lose the valuable data that they were able to give unless you're using survey software or a service that collects the data as it's being filled out.
By the same token, you don't want people to accidentally miss questions, so I suggest that an option for each question be "not applicable" or "not sure" or "I don't know"; depending upon the nature of the question. That way you'll be sure that the person has at least seen the question.
While questions with multiple choice responses are a great way to save respondents time and allow you to more easily group and analyze data; the choices offered may not suit everyone, or some people may want to provide you with added information. It's a good idea to add an "other" text field at the bottom of the list of choices, plus a "further comments?" field so respondents can go into further details if they wish or provide an alternative answer.
Offering survey incentives
In order to get the best participation rates; especially for lengthy survey; recognize that what you're asking the person to do is of great value to you and that you'd like to recompense or reward them for their time in some way.
The compensation could be a discount coupon, a free whitepaper or report not publicly available on your site; or perhaps a sweepstakes entry. See the survey not only as a way of gaining valuable data, but also as a marketing tool to generate more sales.
It's very important that when offering an incentive that the incentive will not influence the types of answers the person may give; which defeats the purpose of the survey.
Use your mailing lists
One of the best groups of people to put your survey to is your subscriber and client lists. These are the people who have expressed more than a passing interest in your online business, are somewhat familiar with you and therefore they have the most valuable information to give.
Allaying privacy fears
Wherever possible, surveys should not require the name or other confidential person details of the respondent. For example, instead of asking their age, ask for an age range. Instead of asking what their job is; offer a range of industry categories for them to choose from.
People are for the most part hesitant to give out personal identifying information for fear of what you may do with that information. To encourage the best response rates, reassure people at the beginning of the survey by telling them that the survey is anonymous; and if it isn't, what safeguards you are giving their information. For example, you could say something like: "the personal information you provide will not be sold to a third party".
There are many software packages available for conducting surveys, ranging in price from free to many thousands of dollars and applications you host on your own server, or are hosted on the service provider's
Locally hosted survey software
Locally hosted means refers to software hosted on your own survey.
Instant Form Pro is an easy-to-install and easy-to-use survey and form creation tool. No technical expertise is necessary and it utilizes a drag and drop interface. Instant Form Pro isn't just for surveys, but can be used for forms,
questionnaires and testimonial
Remotely hosted survey services
In order to take advantage of the features of high end survey packages without the huge outlay; consider utilizing an ASP (application service provider). These are essentially 3rd party providers that offer high-end survey applications for a small monthly fee, or charge based on the number of responses processed.
The other benefits of using an application service provider include:
a) they are responsible for security
There's nothing worse than emailing thousands of clients asking them to complete a survey and the software you run then suddenly crashes, suffers other glitches or is unable to cope with the load of many people accessing the survey simultaneously.
One such provider is Survey Gizmo. SurveyGizmo offers a wide range of plans catering for everyone from small online business right through to large companies; including free accounts - perfect for surveys where you're only expecting a couple of hundred responses. Survey Gizmo offers some great features including:
This is just scratching the surface - Survey Gizmo offers an incredible range of other high-end features valuable to marketers, researchers, bloggers and online business owners. As mentioned, a basic survey account is free and perfect for surveys where you're only expecting a couple of hundred responses. For surveys where you're expecting thousands of responses, Survey Gizmo's pricing is very reasonable and offers very good value for money.
The benefits to you through utilizing survey data can be immense. The feedback received can assist in planning new site content, design elements and products or services you offer. Your visitors and customers will then benefit by having more relevant content and features to suit their needs.
If you act on the feedback you receive from the survey, your visitors will notice and feel appreciated and respected. This will encourage loyalty and increase the chances of them recommending your site to others. Even in this age of bleeding edge Internet marketing tools, nothing beats word-of-mouth referrals.
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