Improving Survey Response Rates

Philip Cleave
September 8, 2022
People completing an online survey

Whatever rationale you have for conducting your survey, you’ll want to achieve as healthy a response rate as you can. The reason for this is that if it’s too low the overall quality of your responses could suffer, making it difficult to draw any useful conclusions from your data and take any positive action as a result.

By contrast, with a high response rate you can be more confident about what your data is telling you, making it easier to draw conclusions and drive positive action and change.

So, in order to improve survey response rates, it’s useful to have some guidance at hand to help you. Subsequently, we’ve outlined some tips for you to consider below.

6 ways to help increase survey response rates

From better understanding your audience, making your surveys easier to read and choosing the right survey distribution method, to your survey’s introduction, methods to encourage greater completion and offering respondent’s reassurance about their data privacy. There’s lots you can do to help increase your survey response rates.

So, let’s get started.

1. Understand your audience

It may sound obvious but the better you’re able to understand your audience, the better you’ll be able to shape your survey to one that is of greatest interest to them. This is particularly the case with your customers, which can be helped through customer segmentation.

Essentially customer segmentation is the process by which you divide your customers up based on common characteristics such as their demographics or their behaviors. It’s useful, because as well as informing you about what they have in common, you can see where they differ. This can enable you to put customers into groups where they share the same characteristics, such as age brackets, income or gender.

This principle can help you when you’re looking to send out a survey. For example, if you chose to segment your customers based on where they are in your customer lifecycle, you would have a clearer idea about what surveys would be of most relevance to different groups. So, in the case of new customers, while they might be happy to rate you based on their recent service or first purchase experience, they would be far less likely to complete a survey about your products, when they are still relatively new to your brand.

With this level of knowledge, you could then ensure each customer group only received surveys of greatest relevance to them, which should result in a better response rate.

2. Make your survey easy and engaging to read

Besides relevance, having a clear and engaging survey can also make a huge difference to how many responses you can obtain.

From your tone of voice and how simple or complex your wording, to the questions you use and the overall length of your survey. There’s lots of things that can influence your response rate.

When it comes to questions, while closed questions are quick and simple for respondents to complete by simply selecting their answer from a range of options, open questions take longer, but give them the chance to express how they really feel. And while the data from open questions may give you more detailed insights, you’re generally likely to get a higher response rate when you have more closed questions in your survey.

Similarly, you’re more likely to increase respondent engagement and get them to complete your survey, when you mix up of your questions with a range of different styles. This could be anything from multiple choice and matrix style questions to rating and ranking questions.

It’s also useful to consider the use of advanced features such as skip logic and piping, which can make your surveys easier for respondents to complete, by skipping them past any irrelevant questions and smartly re-using information that a respondent may have provided to a previous answer.

Finally, the length of your survey can influence how likely respondents will be to go on and complete it too. While the general belief is that the shorter your survey the better your response rate, you’ll still need to balance that against the complexity of your subject matter and depth of insight you’re looking to gain.

3. Use survey distribution methods your audience prefers

Your choice of survey distribution method can also impact your response rate.

In particular, the demographics of your audience group can have a major bearing on your choice of survey distribution. For example, if you consider much older age groups, they’re more likely to be comfortable with older technologies like email and links in websites, as opposed to younger people. The latter group are likely to be using a much wider range of devices and technologies and therefore have more of a preference towards survey distribution methods based around SMS, social media and QR codes.

Another consideration to bear in mind is whether you’re targeting a B2B or consumer audience. If it’s the former, then more traditional technology like email and web embed surveys are likely to engage them, as opposed to consumer audiences where it’s prudent to put SMS, social media and QR codes into the mix, which can also extend your reach too.

Think about the location from where you’re issuing your survey too. For example, if you were at an event in the countryside, with poor or totally absent internet connectivity, only a survey platform with an offline survey capability could ensure you were able to keep collecting responses.

4. Engage respondents with personalized and enticing survey introductions

The way you introduce your survey can also have bearing on your response rates.

Think about the last time you received a survey, did the company sending it address you by name?

Consider the options for opening a survey below:

Regular survey: “Would you like to help us by rating your purchasing experience with our company?

Personalized survey: “Hi John, do you have a spare minute? Could you please help us by rating your purchasing experience with our company?

Of these two options it’s likely that the second one will have resonated with you more than the first. In fact, research suggests that a personalized subject line can deliver a 41% boost in survey response rates.

When you’re creating survey subject lines you also want to make them as enticing as you can. Here’s some ideas to get you started.

  • Help our staff. Vote for them now!
  • Want to share your point of view with us?
  • Love to rate us about your recent purchasing experience?
  • We want your advice (and would be happy to give you 50% of your next purchase for it)

5. Reassure those taking your survey about their data privacy

Given how clued-up todays respondents are about data privacy, the importance of confidentiality, and all the issues surrounding it, you need to be able to detail the steps your organization takes to protect this. If you can reassure them that you will protect their data privacy and have the processes in place to ensure this, the more likely they will be to complete your survey.

At SmartSurvey we take data protection extremely seriously. We are certified with the Data Protection Act, and comply with the current GDPR laws governing the safe collection, use and storage of personal data. In addition, as an ISO27001 accredited business we have some of the most robust industry processes and infrastructures in place to secure our customers’ data including hosting in a secure, UK based data center.

6. Consider ways to encourage greater survey completion

Besides some of the methods we’ve already discussed, there are also some more direct ways of boosting your survey response rate.

The most obvious of these is to follow up with those that don’t respond to your first survey invite. Many respondents could be busy or unavailable when you send them your initial survey invitation, so scheduling reminders to reach them at a more convenient time can help increase your survey completion rate.

You might also consider putting a progress bar into your survey, which can be especially beneficial for longer surveys. Giving respondents a clearer idea about what percentage of the survey is left can make all the difference between them abandoning it or staying on to complete it.

Final thoughts

We hope you’ve appreciated the advice we’ve outlined here and will consider implementing some of them in your next survey.

While trying to incorporate some of these steps may take up some extra time for you during your survey planning stage, they’re worth persevering with, as the extra volume and quality of responses you’re likely to receive will pay dividends for you moving forward.

Get the right survey tools to drive your survey success

Improving your response rates is just one important aspect of getting the insight you require. You also need to be using the right survey tools, if you’re to maximize the effectiveness of your survey creation, data collection and data analysis, and your survey’s overall success.

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