Three Good Reasons to Survey Your E-Mail List

When was the last time you surveyed your email list?

Though you don’t want to conduct surveys all the time, I find this easy, cost-effective tool for learning about your list is too often underutilized. You should be able to survey your list two to four times a year without causing a backlash or creating a situation where oversurveying leads to greatly diminished response.

There are so many things you can learn by surveying a list:

  • If you have specific questions, you can get specific answers. I recently surveyed an association’s email list to identify the most convenient offline locations and other details (parking, metro access, price) for its monthly luncheons. We’ll use this information to select a venue we hope will increase attendance.

  • If you just want to learn more about your list, you can. I recently surveyed a client’s house email list to learn more about who was on it: what size company they worked for, where they were located, and which industry issues concerned them most. We’ll use this information to better target email marketing efforts to this group.
  • You can find out if you’ve still got readers’ attention. Got a list that’s unresponsive to your promotional and newsletter email messages? Send them a short survey with a relevant incentive for completion. If they don’t respond, chances are you’ve lost them for good.

Most best practices associated with offline surveys hold true in the online realm, including:

  • Offer an incentive. You’re asking for some of the respondent’s time; make it a barter deal by giving something in return.

  • Make the incentive relevant to your business. Discourage professional sweepstakes entrants from taking your survey by making the incentive something only your target market will find valuable. If you’re a broadband service provider surveying DSL customers, offering the chance to win a free year of DSL is a better than offering a chance to win a trip to Disneyland.
  • Focus the survey. Resist the temptation to do an everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink survey. This can be especially tough if you’re in a large organization, where people tend to want to jump on any good idea that someone else is doing the legwork on. Decide what you really want to know and stick to it. You can always do another survey in three to six months.
  • Keep it short. I like mine to take two minutes or less. Time yourself or someone else taking it.
  • Ensure questions are clear and concise. Have a third party read the survey and provide feedback. A question that makes perfect sense to you may confuse respondents.
  • Tell the audience what they’re in for. Tell people taking the survey how many questions it has, how long it is, or how long it should take to complete. Let them know there’s an incentive (be specific) waiting for them at the end. The better you set expectations, the fewer people you’ll lose mid-survey.

One mistake some companies make is the type of information they request. You don’t want to ask respondents to do your job; you want to ask them for information so you can do your job better. It’s a fine line. Let’s say you publish an email newsletter. Asking respondents to provide article topics and ideas is asking them to do your job. Offering them a list of industry issues and asking them to rate the importance of each gives you information to do your job better.

Open-ended questions are a double-edged sword. Use them wisely. They’re harder to tabulate than multiple choice questions because you must do it manually. That’s the down side. But their very nature can yield responses you’d never have dreamed of. That’s the up side. Mix a few in with easier-to-manage multiple choice options.

Now, a few words on technology. Some email service providers (ESPs) have “in-email” survey capability, meaning recipients see and can complete the survey right in the email body. Though I’m not against this, be sure the technology works for the majority, if not all, of the recipients. It sounds simple, but Outlook is slightly different from Gmail, which is very different from Lotus Notes. If the technology doesn’t work with all of them, you won’t get the results you’re looking for.

I know it adds an extra step, but I like to set up surveys online and send an email with a link. I use, although I’ve heard good things about similar services. In addition to providing a great deal of flexibility in the survey creation process, SurveyMonkey’s reporting capabilities are very impressive. It’s amazing how it can offer this level of service for such a low monthly fee.

If you haven’t lately, it’s time to survey your email list! Let us all know how it goes.


Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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