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Survey Your Readers and Discover Who They Are and How You can Be More Useful to Them

Two weeks ago I re-launched the ProBlogger weekly newsletter. The first email I sent out to subscribers was a story of how I’ve been changing my approach to blogging over the last year. The reaction to the email was huge – literally hundreds of readers responded with emails telling their own stories, asking questions and simply reacting to what I’d written.

I’ve never had that kind of response from a newsletter before – I’m not sure why it happened this time, perhaps it was that it was a story (of sorts), perhaps it was because I shared how about how little I know and that I’m still learning….. or perhaps it was just a day that people felt like reacting.

Whatever it was – it reminded me of the fact that email newsletters can be interactive.

Bloggers with newsletter lists sometimes get trapped into thinking that their blogs are the interactive component in what they do (they have the ability to collect comments after all) and that a newsletter is more of a ‘broadcasting’ tool.

Perhaps there’s some truth in that – email is useful for broadcasting and at their best blogs are great for conversation – but my first email illustrated that email can be interactive too.

Building on the Interaction – with a Survey

I decided to build on the interaction of the first email with a second one that was ALL about interaction. A few days later I sent out an email to my subscribers that simply invited them to participate in a 4 minute survey.

The idea came as I read the reactions to my first email. As I read I realised how little I knew about those who were subscribing to my newsletter and why they subscribed.

I decided to put together a survey to help me do 2 things:

  1. Tell me about my subscribers and their blogs – including some basic demographics (age, gender) as well as some about their blogs (how many they have, platforms that they use, topics that they blog on etc
  2. Inform me of what people want out of my newsletter – including questions asking subscribers to identify the challenges/problems that they face as well as inviting them to write about what they’d like me to cover in future newsletters.

The survey contained 16 questions which were mainly multiple choice questions that could be completed in 3-4 minutes. There were also options on some questions to write more and two optional open ended questions inviting people to write as much as they wanted.

I created the survey using Survey Monkey (I went for the paid option as it lets you download results and do more than 100 responses).

I sent out the newsletter (unfortunately my timing was terrible as it went out just as Aweber were doing an upgrade so those who got the email in the next few hours were unable to open the survey link – which meant I had to send out an other email…. it was a real mess up) and in the 3-4 days that followed have had 1989 responses from subscribers.

The email went out to about 20,000 people so the response rate has been around 10% – more than I expected considering the mess up with the email and the fact that my list has gone a little cold as I’ve not sent much to my list in a while.

Within an hour or so of people starting to complete the survey I realised it was one of the smartest things I’ve done for a long time. It was producing incredibly useful data in each of the areas identified above.

I’m still working through the responses (the open ended questions are rich with powerful feedback but will take me some time to crunch through) but am already feeling as though I have a much better understanding of:

  • who my subscribers are
  • why they’re subscribing
  • what their needs are
  • how I might be able to help them.

I will share some of the results from the survey with subscribers in an upcoming newsletter but one of the bonuses that also came out of the survey is that from the 1000 people who took the extra time to respond to the open ended questions I have literally hundreds of questions and ideas for blog posts. Any time I’m stuck for something to write about in the next year I can just dip into those questions and I’m certain to come up with something to write about.

Take Home Tips

  • Whether your blog is big or small – a survey can help you improve your blog on numerous fronts. Even in the first hour after I got results in and only had a handful of responses I was already learning valuable lessons about my readers that would improve my blog. Having lots of responses is great – but even a small number would be useful.
  • A survey is a great way to ‘warm up’ your cold newsletter list – I’ve not really sent out too many ProBlogger newsletters for over a year – as a result my list wasn’t overly responsive or feeling connected to me. This survey has really ‘warmed things up’ and already I’ve had a few readers responding with feedback that they feel valued and more connected.
  • Ask mainly closed ended questions – think carefully about what you want to find out and try to make the bulk of your questions as easy to answer as checking a box in a multiple answer question. This makes doing your survey quick (respecting the time of those who do it) but it also makes collating your data easier.
  • Ask a couple of open ended questions – the multi-choice questions have produced some interesting data for me, but its the open ended ones that have produced the real Gold. I asked one that asked readers for questions or suggestions on what they wanted me to cover and another that simply asked for feedback on any aspect of my site. Both questions have been fantastic and both seem to also have given respondents a chance to feel as though they’ve been heard (and they have been).
  • Survey Your Readers and/or Subscribers – in this case I’ve chosen simply to survey those who subscribe to the newsletter of my blog and not all readers and RSS subscribers. I partly did this because I wanted to be informed about how to improve the newsletter but also to help me manage the amount of responses – however valuable information could also be gleaned by surveying everyone or by targeting other specific sub groups within my network. Perhaps for you it makes more sense to survey your readers, your Twitter followers, your facebook fans, those who’ve bought your products etc – really it comes down to your objectives of your survey and how big your network is.

Have you ever run a survey with your blog readers (or some other subset of your readers)? What did you learn? What tips would you add?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I’ve only done informal surveys by asking questions on a blog post. It’s not that effective so may use your tips to manage a proper one some time.

  2. Yes your all visitors are not your loyal readers and if you want to convert them to your loyal ones than you will have to set up relationship with them and should provide quality stuff.

  3. Familyfriendly says:

    Surveys are important when you try to reach a specific “audience”, but I don’t think it’s a must-do if you just put some “most googled words” and try to get more visitors on daily basis.

  4. It’s very true that you have almost 100%control over a business if the product that you are selling, it’s yours. Clearly, you know where you want your product to be seen, how you want it to be known, you know all the details..and it’s really better for you to have the control.

  5. Goji says:

    Great idea Darren I will try this!
    Thank you.