Beyond Web Analytics Data: Online Surveys

During the heady days of the dot-com boom, there was a common perception that “new media” meant an end to many traditional marketing practices. As far as market research was concerned, things were different in the “Internet world.”

Certainly, many businesses had a more interactive relationship with their customers and, hence, had much more access to information on what their customers were doing (or not doing) than ever before. The Web was perceived to be totally measurable through site behavior analysis. Traditional practices, such as market research, were no longer appropriate for doing business in the digital age.

Enormous amounts of data can be generated about what people do online. It’s possible to track every movement on a Web site; you can tell how many people put something in their shopping baskets and either take it out again or fail to complete the checkout process. It’s also possible to track exactly which ad creative was clicked on a specific site to attract those shoppers in the first place. We also know the challenges involved in generating meaningful insight from the vast quantities of Web analytics data.

Although site-centric data is very good at telling you what happened, it’s generally very poor at telling you why it happened. Additionally, Web analytics data can tell you what happened in the past but doesn’t necessarily help predict what may happen in the future.

Total reliance on Web analytics data can be likened to driving down a road at full speed while only looking in the rear-view mirror. You can tell where you’ve been, but you don’t know what’s about to happen. Getting beyond the “what” and more into “why” enables you to predict where the business is going. To do this, you must learn why your customers do what they do and how they feel about it.

Surveys are one of the most common methods of understanding what customers think and how they feel. Developments in usability and affordability of online research tools make conducting research among a customer base easier than ever. However, there’s a huge difference between deploying surveys that generate useful insight and pulling together a few questions or doing a site poll.

Traditional market research concerns about possible biases from conducting research using online methods aren’t relevant to online businesses. If customers do business online, they’re likely able to be researched using online methods.

Online research can have many advantages over more traditional approaches, such as face-to-face interviews and telephone surveys. First, costs are dramatically reduced, as it’s much easier to actually collect data in the first place. Typically, the actual costs of online data collection can be half the overall costs of a market research study using face-to-face or telephone data methods.

Second, project times can be reduced. With some of the available tools for conducting online research, you can write your questionnaire into a system and have it “in the field” within a day or so.

Just because online research can be cheaper and faster doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve design rigor. A badly designed survey is a badly designed survey. It doesn’t matter whether data are collected face to face, over the phone, or on the Web.

A badly designed survey can affect not only response rates but also people’s perceptions of your brand. Though online research’s increased accessibility means potentially many more businesses can use surveys as part of the marketing intelligence tool kit, they still must ensure those surveys have some degree of expertise applied to them.

Next, some thoughts on how to improve your online surveys’ effectiveness.

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