Analytic Basics: Visitor Surveys

More organizations are using a visitor survey tool on their Web sites lately. Not so long ago, when running workshops I’d asked how many people were running surveys on their sites. Maybe 20 percent of the attendees would put their hands up. These days, it’s probably about 50 percent. That crude survey is indicative of the wider adoption of visitor feedback mechanisms as part of the digital analytics toolkit.

Why the increased adoption? First, online survey capabilities across all levels of sophistication are more available. These surveys have become more productized, making them easier for organizations to buy and deploy. Examples within the customer satisfaction measurement space include 4Q, a limited but free survey tool, and ForSee Results and iPerceptions, more enterprise-level products.

Second, organizations realize they can’t measure their digital marketing strategies’ effectiveness by looking only at clickstream data. Web analytics tools can tell you what happened in terms of visitor behavior and when it happened, but they aren’t necessarily the best tools for telling you who did what and why they did it. Survey data can provide this different perspective. By asking people questions about themselves, why they do what they do, and what they think, it’s possible to fill in some of the blanks left by the volumes of clickstream data at our disposal.

As with all measurement and analysis tools and systems, the amount of thought and preparation put into configuration and deployment pays dividends later on in terms of the data’s quality and robustness. Survey tools are no different. There are various approaches that an organization might take to developing and launching a survey.

First, it may choose to outsource the whole thing to an agency to manage on its behalf. The agency would be responsible for designing the questionnaire, scripting the questionnaire in whichever survey tool they use, deploying the survey, collecting the data, and analyzing results. Most organizations take this approach when doing offline market research, and there’s nothing wrong with using the same approach online. The organization’s main concern is to ensure the research objectives are clear and aligned to its business objectives, and to ensure the survey is fit for purpose and holds up to brand values. This last point is particularly important, as evidence suggests poorly executed online surveys can damage the brand whether they live on the site or are sent via e-mail. I’ve been on the receiving end of some surveys where the survey’s style was completely at odds with the brand.

Alternatively, an organization could choose to design and manage the survey itself. Today, there is no end of free or cheap survey tools that allow you to run surveys of varying complexity. Quite often a provider will offer a free or low-cost basic version that has limited functionality and data capture and will offer a more expensive, higher-end tool that allows more complex questionnaires to be designed and more responses to be captured.

But remember: just because a tool is free doesn’t mean the survey doesn’t require the same diligence in its preparation and deployment as a more complex, enterprise-level product. One danger of deploying surveys using cheap tools with little effort invested in them is the surveys look cheap and may have negatively impact user experience and brand perception.

In my next column, I’ll outline some tips for maximizing your survey efforts’ effectiveness.

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