What Is A Good Survey Response Rate?

Philip Cleave
December 3, 2020

Whether you’re trying to assess customer satisfaction with your business, what your customers may think about a new product you’re developing, or even levels of staff happiness and engagement within your organization. Whatever it is, surveys and more importantly the ability to achieve a healthy survey response rate will be critical to what you’re able to find out and the level of positive actions you’re able to take as a result.

But before we go on to look at what is a good response rate for a survey, we need to clearly define what we mean by the term and take a look at average survey response rates, as this will make it simpler for you to recognize when you have achieved a strong rate going forward.

What is the survey response rate?

Survey response rate is calculated by taking the number of people who answered your survey divided by the number of people you sent it to, which is your sample. That number is then multiplied by 100 to give you a percentage.

Example response rate calculation:

Let’s say you sent your survey to 600 people and 150 completed it, then your response rate would be 25%, as (150/600) x 100 = 25%

Why is response rate for surveys is so important?

Achieving an acceptable survey response rate is important because too low a figure can give rise to sampling bias, particularly if the number of nonresponses is unequal among survey respondents.

For example, if you were to select a sample of 1000 sales executives out on the road and ask them about their workload, those with a high workload may not answer the survey because they do not have enough time to answer it. Alternatively, those with too low a workload may be equally likely to decline your request, but this time out of fear that their supervisors or colleagues could perceive them as being underemployed or even surplus to requirements.

Therefore, non-response bias may make the measured value for the workload inaccurate; either too high or too low. Whatever the likely outcome from these options, if your survey response is too low it’s unlikely to provide you with an accurate picture of what’s really going on.

Besides results bias, if the volume and quality of your survey responses is too low, it can be more difficult to draw any useful conclusions from your results and subsequently make it more challenging to put any effective follow-up actions and processes in place.

What does an average survey response rate look like?

This isn’t the easiest question to provide an immediate answer to, as there’s a lot of factors that can affect response rates, from the survey distribution method that is used and whether it’s an external or internal survey, to how strong your relationship is with your respondents before issuing the survey.

However, more generally and irrespective of your survey type, typical survey response rates can lie anywhere in the region between the 5% to 30% range, with those surveys distributed from unknown senders tending to be at the lower end of this scale.

By contrast, a survey response rate of 50% or higher is often considered to be excellent for most circumstances, with those at the higher end of the scale likely to have been driven by high levels of motivation to complete the survey, which could be as a result of a strong personal relationship between the business and the customer.

So, what else can affect my chances of achieving a good survey response rate?

As we’ve briefly touched on already, your choice of survey distribution method can have an impact on what can be considered to be a good survey response rate.

If we look at studies into this, we find that the in-person survey typically delivers the best average survey response rates at 57% quickly followed by the email and online surveys. It’s not so surprising to see the in-person survey at the top of this list, when you consider that many people when asked face to face to participate in a survey might feel uncomfortable about declining a request. However, the in-person survey approach requires significantly more resources and expense to carry it out compared with email and online survey approaches, which can reach a much greater number of people in a much shorter space of time.

When you’re examining what is an acceptable survey response rate, you also need to think about whether the survey distribution method you’re using is the most appropriate one for the scenario in which you’re using it. For example, if you’re an ecommerce business or conduct virtually all your business online, rather than using one of the more traditional survey distribution methods, you would gain a much greater response with an embedded or pop-up survey, which people could take as they enter or leave your site.

Besides your type of business, your choice of survey distribution could also be influenced by the demographic makeup of your target audience, with different methods appealing to different age categories. For example, if you were carrying out research on a new product or service and looking to get the views of a predominantly younger audience, you would be more likely to gain the best response rate with an SMS survey, as younger people tend to have higher smartphone usage than any other demographic age groups.

It’s also important to note that there can be a stark difference between the survey response for an internal and an external survey, with research indicating that average employee survey response rates typically run at around 30-40% in contrast to the average response rate for external surveys at 10-15%. In addition, growing numbers of organizations are now using online survey software to reach out for internal feedback, such as with staff surveys and externally for critical customer survey feedback, due to the many benefits that online tools offer over other survey methods, which we will go on to talk about next.

The benefits of moving your survey online

When we look at the research into survey distribution methods, we can see that average online survey response rates are currently around 30%. And while this is less than the typical survey response rates for an in-person survey, the benefits of the online survey significantly outweigh the time and expense of carrying out an in-person survey and other labor-intensive approaches such as the mail survey.

From increased speed and minimal cost of set up, to ease of survey distribution, data gathering and analysis, the online survey is one the best methods for reaching out and evaluating the views of your audience quickly and cost effectively, making it an indispensable approach for research.

So, having taken the decision to move your survey online, what is a good response rate for an online survey?

While there can be some variation of views about what is a good or an acceptable response rate for an online survey, as a general rule of thumb it’s about having a large enough response rate to work with to avoid sampling bias, while still having enough to be able to take business decisions with.

How to improve survey response rates

To help maximize your survey response rate there are a number of things you can do. Make it as easy and as interesting as you can for participants, from your tone of voice and simplicity of the language you use to smart features, which ensure respondents only have to answer what’s relevant to them.

Think too about your survey’s length and the mix of questions you use, to keep things fresh and engaging and ensure respondents complete your survey. There are many more tips that can help you to improve your online survey response rates. For more support why not take a look at our blog on online survey response rates.

Similarly, with email, which is still one of the most popular channels for distributing an online survey, particularly amongst business audiences, there are a number of ways in which you can improve your response success. While tactics such as identifying the best times to distribute your survey email and split testing subject lines can help you to cut through the noise of busy in-boxes and improve your open rates, there is still much more you can do to achieve better results.

Further tips that can help response rates include the use of brand identifiers such as your company logos, graphics and a branded email domain to build trust in your respondents about where your email survey invitation has been sent from, to personalisation tactics that show you recognize their preferences and previous purchasing habits about what they want from you. For more in-depth detail about these and some further tactics you might like to read our blog on email survey response rates.

Consider using a consumer panel

Another very effective way to ensure the right number of responses from the right audience is to use a survey panel such as our own Live Audience service. With consumer panels such as this you can identify broad or highly focussed participant groups and target these respondents directly.


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