Surveys can be an effective research tool for small businesses. You can use them to collect feedback from customers, learn about the needs and wants of your target audience, or even learn how your employees view your company’s operations.
However, it’s not as simple as just throwing a few basic questions at your customers or team members. Using survey best practices can help you ultimately gather more responses, more accurate results, and clearer data that point your business in the right direction.
Survey Best Practices
A carefully planned survey design can help you get better results from your market research initiatives. Most small businesses should complete surveys regularly, including sending out questions to customers after purchases, researching markets before introducing new products or services, and making sure employees are happy with their current working conditions. Before you start crafting your questions, here are some best practices to keep in mind.
1. Set Goals
Before you start designing your survey, you need to think about what you want it to accomplish. These goals will drive a lot of the decisions you will make as the survey is created, implemented, and the results analyzed. Keep your goal in mind to limit the number of questions and make sure everything is focused. You can always complete another survey later on for topics that don’t fit with your current objectives.
2. Choose Your Target Audience
For best results, you need your survey to go to those you actually want to hear from. If you’re considering a new product that appeals to your target customers of women in their 50’s, then a series of questions sent to millennials isn’t going to get the results you’re looking for. Clearly outline who you want to hear from and why before shaping your survey design.
3. Keep It Short
Respondents aren’t likely to actually complete lengthy surveys. You’ll get more results if you keep it under around five minutes. Anything longer than ten is likely to see a lot of abandonment, and thus make it harder for you to get a representative sample. You might even state upfront how long the survey is likely to take, or keep a running tally of how many questions are left so respondents can see their progress as they go.
4. Start with Easy Questions
People are also likely to abandon surveys if they think the questions are difficult or invasive right away. Ease them into it by asking simple questions with predetermined choices so they’re more likely to keep going. This means saving any open-ended or leading questions that deal with personal or demographic data until later on.
5. Provide Options
There’s a time and place for open-ended questions. But you’ll get more data that’s easily quantitative if you provide multiple options. These questions are also easier for people to answer, so try to keep the bulk of your questions to this style.
6. Avoid Double-Barreled Questions
If you ask two questions in one, it’s difficult for people to answer accurately. For example: Do you love pancakes and bacon for breakfast? Well, some people might love pancakes but not bacon — so how should they answer? Separate these types of questions or clarify the wording so they don’t confuse respondents.
7. Avoid Leading Questions
Asking something like “Wouldn’t you love to see a product like this on your store shelves?” is more likely to get positive responses than, “How likely would you be to purchase this product?” With this type of question, survey takers may be more likely to tell you what you want to hear. However, most small businesses should be looking for accuracy rather than reassurance, so keep it as neutral as possible to get people’s real feelings.
8. Keep Options Balanced
Another way to skew answers in one direction is to provide options that clearly lean that way. More specifically, don’t provide responses like: strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, neutral, disagree. This clearly provides more opportunities for people to agree with your statement. Instead, keep everything balanced around one neutral option.
9. Use Open-Ended Questions Sparingly
There are instances where you may want people to provide open-ended feedback. Just try to keep it to one or two questions per survey, since they tend to take more time and tough to answer. Additionally, you should mainly include them toward the end of the questionnaire so people are more likely to keep going rather than quitting on a survey as soon as they reach a tough question early on. In these instances, explain what type of answer or length you’re looking for so respondents don’t feel like they need to write a novel just to answer a specific question.
10. Provide Mutually Exclusive Options
There should never be an instance where more than one answer to a single question may overlap. This commonly happens with numbers. For example, if you need to include a range, you might think that responses like: 0-10, 10-20, and 20-30 makes sense. However, if someone’s answer to that particular question is 20, they could realistically pick either of the last two options. Instead, clarify with options like: 0-10, 11-20, and 21-30.
11. Use Consistent Formatting
You’re likely to have some survey questions that offer similar options, like: strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree. When offering the same options, try to keep them in the same order and format so people don’t get confused. If people are used to clicking the option on the right when they agree with a statement, they may do so accidentally if you switch the options around.
12. Tailor Language to Your Target Audience
It can be easy for people in an industry to use jargon or insider terms when describing a product or concept without even realizing it. But if you’re surveying customers or potential customers, they may not understand these terms clearly. Always put yourself in the respondents’ shoes when explaining questions, or ask people who fit into your target audience for input when crafting questions.
13. Use Precise Language
You also want to be very specific when asking questions on surveys. Try to keep each question as short as possible, and use active voice to make points as clear as possible. Do your best to cut out redundancies or extra language that isn’t necessary for understanding each question.
14. Provide More Options for Increased Accuracy
If you’re looking for really specific data, include more options for respondents to choose from. If you only give people the opportunity to choose between one positive and one negative response, you might miss there are a ton of people in the middle who feel fairly neutral about the concept you’ve described. More options allow you to drill down more and get to people’s real feelings.
15. Delete Repetition
There’s more than one way to ask a question. But if you ask people very similar things more than once, they might get confused or frustrated, which can muddle your data. This also makes your survey unnecessarily longer, which means you’ll collect fewer responses overall.
16. Consider Including Images or Video for Clarification
Some survey platforms allow you to add photos or videos with questions. If it’s difficult to describe something with only words, these features may help you keep your survey easy and clarify points or ideas quickly. This may be especially relevant when introducing new products or comparing multiple options. Just make sure you have quality images or videos that fit with your exact needs.
17. Save Personal Questions for the End
Respondents are likely to exit a survey early on if they’re asked personal or invasive questions right away. Once you’ve built up some trust and explained the reason why you’re collecting their information, they may be more likely to stick around. Even details like the first name, last name, email address, and demographic information should be placed toward the end.
18. Seek Out a Representative Sample
If you’re looking to survey your customers, you’ll get more accurate information if your sample reflects your entire customer base. It’s unlikely that you’ll get responses from everyone, but your data isn’t going to be as reliable if you only question one type of customer. Instead, break your respondents down into groups based on things like demographics and location and try to get responses from people in all of those groups.
19. Have a Number in Mind
It’s also important to collect enough information that your survey data may be reliable. This number can vary depending on your goals. For example, a survey of your small team may only require 20 responses, while a survey about a new product for customers may require 1,000 or more.
20. Consider Incentives
If you want people to actually complete your survey, give them a reason to. It doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. You might just send out a survey to your email list and enter those who complete it into a raffle for a free item.
21. Explain Your Goals
People are also more likely to complete surveys if they understand the purpose. If you’re surveying employees, you might tell them their responses will be used to create a better working environment. If you’re surveying customers, you could explain how you want to improve customer service or grow your product line and want to make sure the new products appeal to them.
22. Test Your Survey Before Sending
Even if you’ve kept all of these best practices in mind while constructing your questions, there may be simple mistakes or things that aren’t clear in your survey that you simply didn’t catch while writing it. Before actually sending it out, take the survey yourself or have someone else complete it to make sure each question makes sense and works toward your original objectives.
23. Visualize Feedback
Once you’ve collected responses, it’s time to actually break down your findings. It can be easier to do this with visuals like charts and graphs. Some survey tools do this for you, or you could use a design program to create these representations. This can be useful in presentations to team members or just help you more easily digest the data from all the questions survey takers answered.
24. Break Down Responses into Categories
You should also dig deeper into your findings to look for underlying trends. For example, your customer base as a whole might like your new product idea, but if you break it down into demographic groups, you might see that older consumers love it a lot more than younger consumers. This could help you shape who you market the new product to, ultimately giving you the best chance of success in your new initiatives.
25. Act on Your Findings
Your surveys won’t do much good if you don’t actually use what you find. Not every survey question necessarily requires immediate action, but you should dig into action items based on the overall trends and consider whether or not changes may be necessary, whether it’s improvements to your customer service strategy or a new marketing plan for specific customers.
How to Create a Survey
There are many ways to create a survey, both online and off. A few of the most popular include:
SurveyMonkey offers a variety of survey solutions for businesses of various sizes. You can choose templates like customer satisfaction surveys, HR surveys, and opinion polls. You can also use their online platform to distribute surveys to relevant consumers, or use your own email list to distribute questions to current customers or employees.
Zoho Survey is a free online survey tool that includes a variety of question types and themes. You can distribute surveys via email address, website embed codes, Facebook, or even offline. There are also pre-made templates and paid plans available for those who want to create a more thorough survey strategy.
Survey Gizmo is an enterprise tool for survey creation and distribution. You can use the tool to ask questions in simple polls, run A/B testing, or even create branded surveys that are specific to your company. There are a variety of paid plans to choose from, with customized enterprise options as well.
For more options, check out: 25 Survey Tools for Your Business
Whether you’re considering starting your very first market research strategy or struggling over a specific question for survey takers in your organization, make sure to always keep your survey design and strategy in mind. The best practices above can help you keep your company’s goals in mind and ultimately achieve more accurate results and better outcomes.