8 Tips for Choosing the Right Online Survey Tool

Choosing the Right Online Survey Tool

There are many online survey tools currently available. But how do you know which one is right for your research group or company? As with any major purchase, the first step is to understand your organization’s requirements. We thought we’d help by sharing some key questions:

  • What type of questionnaires do you need to program? Almost every web survey tool on the market offers the same basic question types. But if you want to create a more engaging experience for respondents and have the flexibility to ask any type of question, you’ll likely want an online survey tool with more advanced questionnaire design features. And don’t forget to check how the tool renders surveys across devices.
  • What is your invitation strategy? How do you want to invite participants to take the survey: send out email invitations, provide social media links or via a pop up survey? Do you want to handle distribution by yourself or would you like the vendor to handle the invitations? Do you want respondents to be able to take the survey online, offline, or both?
  • How many surveys do you expect to do each year? It’s important to get a firm grip on the number of surveys you expect to run. If your company is already conducting surveys, check how many surveys you have completed in each year historically. That will give you an indication of your likely minimum survey volume. Not all tools handle large volume well.
  • How many users will need to access the survey tool on a regular basis? Is it just you or the entire department? Do certain users, like managers, simply need access to the data reports? Some vendors offer integrated reporting portals at a reduced rate.
  • What other data collection modes are used by your organization? In today’s multi-channel world, many organizations are seeking to augment web surveying by also doing telephone interviewing, face-to-face interviews, in-app etc. Knowing which data collection methods you need to support will help you narrow down the list of possible providers.
  • Do you want to keep the software on premise or would you prefer to have it hosted by the provider? Some survey software providers host the software on their servers. This eliminates the need for you to maintain and incur costs for your own servers. Others enable you to host the solution on your own premises for full control over the data environment.
  • Do you have enough in-house resources to program surveys? Most web surveying tools today are extremely user friendly, with little or no training needed to do your own survey programming. But everyone can use a little, or a lot, of help from time to time. Check if a potential provider offers qualified professional services to give you a hand designing and programming surveys.
  • Is the vendor experienced and reliable? You do want a tried-and-true product. You don’t want to be helping a new company iron out bugs through your surveys!

Do you have any additional tips that might help in picking the right product? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

Good luck, and happy surveying!

Jason McGrath,


Planning on How Best to Interview the Next Generation of Survey Participants

With response rate challenges continuing to haunt the industry, we collectively need to start thinking about how to survey the next generation of survey participants. Youth today are very much driven by technology. They are also very used to being entertained and stimulated. Unfortunately, taking a survey isn’t always the most exciting activity one could do with one’s time.

Educating the next generation to the importance of market research is the first step in getting participation. This is a very large initiative and may need the full support of the industry as a whole in terms of marketing and advertising. Schools and universities are probably the best places to start. Something to think about!

There is debate in the industry today

As far as making research fun and exciting, there is debate in the industry today as to the bias “gamifying” surveys creates. I myself have posted before on being aware of the potential traps utilizing technology just because it exists. The participant needs to be thoughtfully providing honest and open responses to questions and not simply enjoy the experience of taking the survey. For this reason, more research needs to be put into investing rather than simply into making surveys games.

New landscapes

There have been a number of new elements added to the survey mix; web/mobile surveying, crowdsourcing, research panels, and market research online communities all provide new sources of data collection participants. Panels lend themselves particularly well to younger respondents due to the fact they are being paid and typically can complete a number of studies quickly and easily using mobile devices (the young person’s trusty side arm!).

Would you like an incentive with that?

Credit: Within Advertising

Credit: Within Advertising

From my experience, the youth today tend to be less motivated and making the surveys easy to get in front of the respondents is going to be key for getting participation. Incentives are also going to play a bigger and bigger role in getting completes.

Last but not least, another consideration is having research topics that are very specifically relevant to the target audience. Having a survey pop up on a teenager’s smart phone as they walk out of McDonald’s on their experience of the meal they just took along with an incentive for a free meal just might do the trick. This employs smart interviewing technologies and expensive incentives but will give the edge on getting the completes needed!

I welcome your thoughts and comments. Do not hesitate to post your thoughts below and I will respond. You can also contact me at jason.mcgrath@voxco.com.

“PS: If you think this is information other research specialists might find useful, tweet about it!’”

Polls and the U.S. Elections

                                                      “Polls are for strippers and cross-country skiers”

–      Sarah Palin, speaking at a Tea Party rally one year ago

Despite this assertion from the defeated Republican vice-presidential candidate, polls continue to be omnipresent in the coverage of electoral seasons. We are witnessing this in the United States, even more than we did recently in Quebec’s elections. The fact is, even if dismissively downplayed by some, political and opinion polls are here to stay because, in addition to being an important gauge of public opinion, they are heavily relied upon and commented on by the media to feed their news cycles. With such a strong demand for polls, their supply will continue. The market (for them) has spoken.

The United States is as fascinating a case as it gets in assessing the significance, or not, of polls in today’s electoral process. Some argue that polls influence election results. Let’s just say that with close to 500 national and state-level polls regularly cited at any time (the Huffington Post Pollster tracking model charts their average daily), hardly a day goes by without a voter hearing or reading about a new poll. This may or may not scare them into volunteering for their candidate or convincing friends and family of the importance of their vote, but it could secure their feeling of being in the lead, maybe to the point of not bothering to vote. Most likely, however, people realize that a poll is not a prediction and that it should not change their vote or electoral behaviour. “The web site is called Pollster, not Forecaster” Stanford University political science professor Simon Jackman reminds us about HuffPost’s tool.

One thing to keep in mind when reading U.S. polls is that national ones often matter less than those in, say, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio or Virginia, a few of the infamous “swing states”, those that could swing either way in the November election and where Obama and Romney will focus their campaigns. That is due to the American political system which, in all its heightened polarization, reduces the significance of polls in most states, even the giants California, Texas or New York because they rarely switch allegiance despite their huge populations. The most sought-after votes are those of independent voters, and most especially in those swing states.

So if you want anything that looks like a prediction, the polls reflecting these battleground states’ intentions are the ones you should pay most attention to.

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