Analytics Basics: Maximize Surveys’ Effectiveness

Last time, I looked at the importance of getting a good understanding of the online user experience through tools such as surveys and other feedback mechanisms. Technology development means these types of tools can be obtained either for free or relatively cheaply, lowering one barrier to adoption.

But just because the tools are cheap doesn’t mean the survey needs to be cheap as well; asking for user feedback is all part of the user experience. So if you’re looking to run surveys yourself rather than have an agency do it for you, here are some things to consider.

  • Be clear about the survey’s purpose. Getting some user feedback is better than getting none, but don’t do a survey just to do a survey. Be clear about what you want to know. Write down the survey’s objectives and keep them hard and focused. You may have more than one objective, but don’t try to answer everything in one go.
  • Keep it short and simple. It’s difficult to say exactly how long or short a survey should be, but be as efficient as possible. Stick to the objectives and avoid the temptation to cram too much in. If necessary, do more than one survey on a different user sample or only ask certain people certain questions. Also be careful of your language and question style. It’s easy to slip into your own business terminology or market-speak. Your users probably won’t understand either one. Above all, make it interesting. Make sure the questions are relevant and the survey is engaging.
  • Work out how much data you need. While some data is better than no data, be wary of basing decisions on a small number of responses. A rule of thumb I use is that 400 responses will give you a reasonable level of accuracy in the answers. Getting loads more won’t necessarily give you a lot more accuracy, but it will mean you can filter the data to look at subgroups (e.g., the differences in responses between young people and older people). Once you’ve worked out how many respondents you’re likely to need, work out how many people you need to ask to take the survey to get the right number of respondents. The response rate on surveys can vary enormously. If you haven’t run surveys before on your site, you may need to test first.
  • Test before going live. Test the survey on a small number of users before going fully live. This is especially true if you have a survey where the questions that people are asked depends on the answers they’ve given before. You must check that the survey works well technically and from the user perspective. It’s best to spot mistakes early.
  • Keep it ethical. Use your surveys for research purposes only. Don’t use them to try to sell people things.
  • See your survey as an extension of your brand. If you use online surveys on your site, then they’re part of the user experience. Ensure that survey’s tone, design, look, and feel complement the brand. You don’t want users having too different an experience. I had a good reminder of this when I was asked to take part in an online survey for a well-known technology brand. The brand image is all about ease of use and good design. The survey was badly designed, looked horrible, and was very difficult to complete. I was so annoyed by the survey that I wrote the brand and told them what I thought.
  • Be prepared for feedback. You’ll probably get more feedback than you anticipate. People will either reply to an e-mail invite or write comments in open text boxes. You’ll need processes in place to deal with any customer service issues that may bubble up. Many of these may be nothing to do with the Web site, but they need to be dealt with.

Hopefully these tips will help you gain some useful and interesting feedback from users about their online experience. With the range of tools available there’s no reason not to get started — and make it a good experience!

Join moderator and ClickZ columnist Jack Aaronson for Dynamic Display Ads: Putting All Your Best Offers on Display to Double ROI, Thursday, February 5 at 12 p.m. EST. This Webcast will show you how dynamic display ads stream live offers from your Web site to get the right offer to the right customer at the right time.

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