Creating Effective Surveys: 6 Steps for Gathering Relevant Feedback

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Article Summary:

  • Surveys help you quickly reach and engage with a diverse audience at a much lower cost.
  • Follow our six-step guide to design your survey to gather the actionable feedback you need to make informed business decisions.
  • With an online application like SurveyMethods you can develop and deploy your survey in minutes via email or web and watch the results come in — in real time.

Too often, business leaders operate in a vacuum, making their best guess as to what customers truly want or need. In the end, there’s no better approach to understanding your customers than simply asking them. One of the most effective ways to keep an open dialogue with customers is to use surveys, which give your customers (and employees, in some cases) a chance to provide the feedback you need to understand what’s important to them.

Conducting Effective Online Surveys

So, you’ve wisely decided to survey your customers—and the rest of your company has “bought into” the idea. As is so often the case with new-technology adoption, it pays huge dividends and accelerates ROI to partner with an online survey leader, such as SurveyMethods, to benefit from their expertise and experience to help you every step of the way. Using our online survey software, you can quickly and easily design effective surveys by following these six steps.

Six Steps for Conducting Effective Online Surveys

1. Define Your Survey’s Objectives

The first key to a successful survey is to define objectives. Exactly what is it you want to know? Is there a problem (or problems) that needs solving? What actions are you prepared to implement depending on the results of the survey? Put a survey together with less-than-focused objectives, and you almost guarantee a survey with unclear results. List the questions your survey should answer. Do you want to know what your customers’ satisfaction levels are by segment? Do you want to ask if they’d recommend your company to others? Do you want to measure in what format and how often your customers prefer to receive communications from your marketing department? Focus on the big picture, and keep your objectives narrowly scoped; more complex surveys tend to result in less meaningful results.

2. Identify Your Target Audience

Who should you survey? You may want to start with your existing customer base, but consider surveying prospects in other markets, as well. The proper sizes of survey samples depend on budget and the time available to analyze the results and act on them. Statistically, larger sample sizes deliver more accurate results. The good news: today, the web makes it easier than ever to sample large groups quickly and cost-efficiently.

3. Prioritize Your Questions

Obviously, every survey revolves around a specific set of questions, but with so many options, where do you start? Create questions related to your goals and objectives from Step 1. What customer attitudes or perceptions do you want to measure? What answers might ultimately help you to make more informed decisions? Remember, always provide an option that allows a recipient to say, “I don’t know” or skip a question entirely, especially when you’re asking for subjective opinions vs. quantitative facts. Also, don’t ask more questions than necessary; the shorter the survey, the better your chances of success.

4. Test the Survey

It may sound obvious, but before you hit “Send” and broadcast the survey to your selected sample world, test it thoroughly on as many different PC platforms, operating systems, various web browsers, etc. Try to “break” it in any way you can, because it’s an unpredictable technology world out there.

5. Communicate the Survey’s Purpose

It’s important to communicate to customers why they’re being surveyed, how you’d appreciate their support and what you intend to do with the information you gather. In other words, what’s in it for THEM? Explain why the survey is relevant to the recipient. Will it help the company create better products and services, improve customer service, seek more competitive pricing, etc.? One proven technique is to send an email announcing the survey to your existing customer base, asking for assistance and highlighting a direct link to the survey within the message. Providing an incentive can greatly increase response rates, especially from your top customer segments; it’s amazing what customers will do for a ballpoint pen, free T-shirt or other promotional items you may have sitting around in boxes anyway.

6. Analyze and Act Upon the Results

As soon as your send a survey and results begin to trickle in, you can begin analyzing the data. Once it’s in your database, it can be sliced, diced and analyzed as needed in spreadsheets, presentation programs and statistical software. Finally, it’s time to act. Compare the results of your survey to your original objectives, coming up with specific and actionable business responses as a result. After all, isn’t that the reason you surveyed customers in the first place?

Advantages of Deploying Your Survey Online

Web-based surveys are both quick and cost-effective, allowing you to reach broad audiences quickly and analyze results in real-time. Compared with traditional mail surveys, using an application like SurveyMethods has many benefits and limited drawbacks.


  • Extremely fast: An email survey or a survey posted on a popular website can gather several thousand responses within a few hours.
  • Cost: After initial setup, there’s practically none.
  • Complex logic: Online surveys can use complex question-skipping logic, randomization, quotas, and other features that can deliver better data.
  • Customization: Questionnaires can include colors, fonts, and other formatting options, and can easily be customized for different users with custom fields and mail merge.
  • Media flexibility: With the SurveyMethods survey software, you can display pictures, video and play sound, all from within your survey.
  • Higher response rates, compared to ordinary “snail” mail surveys.
  • The honesty factor: Most people will give more honest answers to a computer rather than to a person or sheet of paper.
  • More details: Respondents typically provide longer answers to open-ended questions on the web than they do on other kinds of self-administered surveys.
  • Superior analysis: SurveyMethods provides you with easy-to-use analysis tools that enable you to conduct group analysis, segmentation analysis, and more.


  • You must have (or purchase) a list of email addresses, or have a high-traffic website to distribute your link on (social media makes this much easier).
  • Many people dislike unsolicited email even more than unsolicited regular mail.
  • People can easily quit mid-questionnaire online.
  • If you’re deploying the survey with a custom URL pasted on a web page or on social media, you often have no idea who’s replying – if that information is desired (and it won’t result in less candid responses), make sure you ask for contact information as well as include questions about the person’s background, demographics, etc.

Surveys are by no means new. But today, conducting a survey with a large sample size is significantly more efficient and affordable with new technologies and the support of online survey industry leaders, such as the proven experts at SurveyMethods. It’s no longer necessary to assume or guess what your customers’ needs and expectations might be. Ask them yourself, with a quick, cost-efficient online survey. You might be surprised with what you learn!

If you need help in creating and implementing your online research strategy, contact SurveyMethods or start your free trial today.

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