Site Surveys, Quick and Dirty

Who comes to your site? Why do they come? How do they hear about your site? Are the people who buy from you different from the rest of your visitors? What do visitors like and dislike about your site? How do they suggest you improve your site?

You would be shocked to know how many companies can’t answer these simple questions about their web site. From e-commerce leaders to major brands, many simply haven’t gotten around to answering basic questions about their visitors.

Talk about flying blind. How can you effectively create and market a user experience and product offering to a mass of unknowns?

Registration data can help answer some questions, but your registered customers might be a lot different from the people who come to your site and never bother identifying who they are. That’s why it is important to survey your visitors.

Some companies are afraid that surveys will annoy their customers. However, most people like to tell you what they think and feel, especially if you offer an incentive. Asking customers for their opinions shows that you care.

For major players, or those with major aspirations, it makes sense to work with people with research expertise to design questionnaires and analyze data. Good surveys can yield customer-segmentation analysis that makes marketing and merchandising more effective. Statistical analysis like regressions can help isolate what characterizes and motivates your customer.

But those companies with small budgets and no internal research expertise should still benefit from site surveys. It is better to have answers to simple questions, like whether your visitors are customers or prospects, than to grope around in the dark.

Luckily, there are a number of web services that allow you to create free site surveys. Many people I know have had good experiences with these off-the-shelf, basic tools.

Here are a few of them:

  • cPulse:
    cPulse allows you to put a survey on your site, free. Some of the questions in the survey, however, are chosen by cPulse, so that it can aggregate the data and sell benchmark and syndicated reports. I know two people who have used cPulse and have been happy with it.

  • Zoomerang:
    Zoomerang gives you a customizable template to design surveys. The product is mainly geared to creating email surveys, but I am told that the surveys can be rigged to appear on a site. It’s free, but your data is available only for 30 days.
  • PollCat:
    PollCat is another free survey tool. While I don’t know anyone who has used it (or even heard of it), it could be worth checking out. Note that its web site is a little cheesy, and its business model, which has PollCat charging $15 for the first minute of customer service, might be a little shaky.

All of these services have a hidden cost, however — your data. These companies reserve the right to crunch your data and sell it back to you, in benchmarked reports, or to others, in aggregated comparisons. This can and should be a problem for some web businesses.

Site surveys form the basis for future research efforts. In usability testing, most researchers gauge users’ ability to perform certain tasks, like signing up for a newsletter. But how do you know what is important to users in the first place? A site survey is a good step on the road to being customer-centric.

Many of the new CRM packages that are hitting the market have survey functionality built in. That bodes well for the future; survey information ought to be correlated with behavioral and other implicit data. Quick-and-dirty site surveys will leave a lot of questions unanswered. And if research isn’t your expertise, you run the risk of biasing or limiting the value of your results. While it always makes sense to get some professional help, if you follow some basic guidelines, rudimentary tools, along with some common sense, can go a long way.

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