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How to make an online survey work


Webmaster-Now > Articles > How to make an online survey work

How to make an online survey work

What do people really think of your web site ?
Do they find easily what they are looking for ? What do they want you to add to the site ? Is the web site easy to use ?

Feedback form and guestbook do not give enough qualitative information to these questions.

Statistics give us information on the quantity of visits more than on the quality. Although we can estimate the average length of visit, the number of page views or the most popular paths, we still don't know for sure what the people think of the site.

The best way to get an answer is to ask the site's users in a direct, simple and convivial way. The online survey gives us a precise estimation of the site users opinion that no other tools can match.

However a few requirements must be met in order to get valid information:

The choice of the questions is essential. List your priorities first. What do you want to get from the survey ? Focus on your priorities. Do not ask questions that won't help to fulfill the goals set.

The questions must relate to a significant part of the audience. If the site is about cars do not ask question about trucks unless you want to create a new “truck” section.

The questions need to be as precise as possible in order to get relevant answers and useful information.

Too many open questions will not allow youto see the significant trends of the audience because the answers will be too diverse. An open question is where users are free to give the answer they want.

Too many closed questions will not allow you to know very precisely what the people think of your site. A close question is where you give a choice of answers to.

A good qualitative survey is a balance between open and closed questions to meet your goals.

It is necessary to limit the survey to one response per IP address. This way the survey is clean and is not perverted by many answers from a same unique user. A good online survey software should have the functionality to identify an IP address and to block it after a survey is filled.

Online software help you to build, manage and analyze a web survey.

Some run on the same server as the analyzed site. Others work on a third party's server.

Some are free, some are limited by a number of surveys or questions, or answers.

In order to get the best information as possible in the most tailored way, the best option is to install a software on your server and to customize the survey to your own need.

I recommend CsPoller, a cgi-script, cheap, customizable, easy to use.

Other choices are SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang as third-party online survey software.

A good qualitative survey should have:

Less than 10 questions: people do not have the time. They only have a few minutes spare to spend on the survey.

An estimatation of the time needed: give the people an idea of how much time the survey will take to complete.

A mix of open and closed questions:
A closed question gives quantitative information.
Example: Please rate the usability of the web site ?
Very good – Good – Average – Bad – Very bad
An open question gives qualitative information.
Example: What subject would like to see on the site ?
Users are free to answer what they want to.

Closed questions are much easier to analyze. With an open questions you may get as many different answers as respondents.
It is sometimes useful to mix open and closed in the same question.
What subject would like to see on the site ?
Answer: News – Interviews – Pictures – Games – Other, please specify.
Therefore a good ratio is one open question for five closed questions.

No personal information that are not necessary: do you need the snailmail address or the phone number ? The more personal information you ask, the fewer the responses you will get as people will give up along the way.

Ask respondents to leave a comment at the end of the survey. Inform them that you can use a comment as a testimonial.

Let users enter a sweepstake, offer exclusive content, give them a giveaway, anything to motivate people to take the survey.

When you write the questions and answers, always have in mind what it will take to analyze them. Do not offer too many answers. Do not ask too many open questions. More answers mean multiple different results and a risk that the trend that should be there is diluted and cannot be seen.

The best tool to analyze the answers is a spreadsheet such as Excel. Although some online survey tools are able to analyze the answers.

It is not recommended to give the results online to the users as it can influence people who have not taken the survey yet and inform the competition.

Some suggested questions to ask in a survey are:

What do you think of the web site content ?
Very good – Good – Average – Bad – Very bad

Rate the usability of the site ?
Very good – Good – Average – Bad – Very bad

Is it easy to find relevant content on the site ?
Yes – No

Do you like the design of the site ?
Yes – No

What content would like to see on the site ?
Open question, users are free to answer what they want to

After 100 or 1,000 surveys filled and analyzed, you already have a good snapshot of the users' opinion. The next step is to adapt the web site based on the survey's results and satisfy the users.

About the author

Phil Blasco has 10 years of web marketing experience. He shares his best tips in Webmaster-Now, a tutorial to help you build, manage and promote a web site. Webmaster-Now also includes a set of online tools and a directory to give you all you need to make a success of your site. http://www.webmaster-now.com


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