The Benefits of Anonymous Surveys

Philip Cleave
June 7, 2021
A survey taker keeping his identity anonymous.

Having taken the time to create the perfect engaging survey, got your distribution methods ready and your team prepared to collect and analyze your responses, it’s now time to issue your survey.

However, you’re suddenly stuck about what to do next. Should you collect respondents’ names, or let them remain nameless and anonymous?

In this blog piece we examine why in some circumstances you would be much better off making your survey anonymous.

Why make your survey anonymous?

Before outlining the benefits of an anonymous survey, it’s helpful to explain what an anonymous survey is.

An anonymous survey is one that does not collect personal identifiable information (PII) from a respondent, such as their name, email address, social security number and street address. This eliminates any potential for identifying values in responses that could be linked to a participant.

Generally, the only items on the survey concern the subject under consideration itself. There are few, if any, basic demographic questions. And if they do have to be used, demographic information is used in aggregate and not linked to you.

Conducting your survey under these conditions helps deliver some key benefits:

Recipients are more comfortable about responding

With the absence of PII, most survey takers will feel happier about responding. This is due to the fact that they no have a fear of reprisals or feeling embarrassed.

Your response rates increase

While the requirement to leave some identifiable information alongside their responses, may have caused some previous recipients to skip your survey, the option to remain anonymous should increase your response rates moving forward.

You gain more honest feedback

When a survey is anonymous, respondents are more inclined to discuss sensitive issues and provide more detailed and honest feedback. It’s why we tend to see more anonymous staff surveys, compared to those that require staff to provide identifiable information.

Helps you to avoid social desirability bias

If survey takers are asked to leave identifiable details, it can result in social desirability bias in your results.

Social desirability bias occurs when those responding to questions, answer them according to how they think they will be viewed by others instead of answering truthfully. If too many people answer in this way it can skew your results.

However, when people are allowed to fill out a survey anonymously, with no identification of their IP address, there is no longer any reason for them to answer untruthfully, helping to improve the overall reliability of your survey results.

The disadvantages of anonymous surveys

While there are some solid beneficial reasons for running anonymous surveys, like any approach there will always be some downsides. Therefore, it’s useful to be aware of these before taking the decision whether to make your survey anonymous or not.

You can’t conduct any follow ups

Depending your survey’s objectives, there may be times when you want to take further actions on responses, such as adopting a certain policy or addressing a specific problem. Unfortunately, with an anonymous survey this is extremely difficult to do. Therefore, before settling on an anonymous survey, you must be sure that you won’t need to follow-up on anyone’s responses.

You’ll have no point of reference for negative comments or complaints

Without any reference to what might have contributed to a negative comment, it’s hard to visualize completely what when on.

For example, if someone made a comment based on an experience they had with someone in your support team, without more detail, it would be hard to investigate and try to resolve.

You can’t defend against someone who may just have a vendetta against your company

There are some things that are difficult to legislate against, and people with a personal vendetta is one of them. In such a scenario, they may give false answers simply to try to skew your results.

Best practice for anonymous surveys

Having decided to run with an anonymous survey, it’s prudent to be aware of some do’s and don’ts. This will ensure you get the greatest benefit from their use. Here’s some key things you need to be thinking about:

Always include a clear and early statement:

Having taken time to make your survey anonymous, you’ll want to make this as obvious as you can to participants.

An ideal way to communicate this, is to start your survey with an introduction. Make sure people know that your survey is completely anonymous and protects their personal data and identity. This way you’re more likely to get the most truthful answers.

Let’s say you devised a healthcare questionnaire and decided to make it anonymous to obtain honest feedback about your service. You may consider writing something like the following:

“We’d just like to thank you in advance for participating in our survey. We really value your feedback and assure you that your identity will remain completely anonymous.”

In addition, it helps to be totally transparent about why you’re collecting the data and how you intend to use it.

Remember to check all of your survey collectors

You must also think about your ‘collectors’ or survey distribution channels, as they are otherwise known, as these determine the sending and gathering of survey responses. You need to ensure you’ve turned on the anonymous survey responses for each of your collectors you’ve selected.

Don’t employ custom variables

By their very nature, the fact that custom variables allow you to track data about individual respondents, by passing one or more values through a survey link and onto your survey results, means that they don’t ensure anonymity. It’s therefore wise to avoid custom variables if you can.

Check your questions don’t inadvertently reveal information about a respondent’s identity

While it’s obvious to remove questions that ask respondents for their name and telephone number, other more subtle questions could inadvertently provide identifiable information.

For example, if you asked someone what organization they worked for, as well as their job title, it may be possible to reveal their identity.

Therefore, it makes good sense to double check your survey and remove any of these questions before you issue it.

Getting the right survey tools

Following best practice guidance will get you onto the right pathway. Yet, if you’re to maximize the success of your survey, it pays to be using the right anonymous survey tools.

With our own survey software, it’s quick and simple to enable the anonymous survey feature, in a few short steps. This feature also prevents the storage of IP addresses.

We can also offer a managed service, that will help you to generate, collect and analyze your data anonymously. This will also give your audience the assurance that their responses are being handled securely by an unbiased third-party service.


Get started and create your first survey

If you would like more information then please get in touch.