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7 Steps to Creating More Effective Reader Surveys

This guest post is by AJ Kumar of Single Grain.

The benefits of polling your readers and conducting good customer surveys have already been well-established in the blogging world. 

Not only does this technique enable you to make better informed marketing decisions, gathering information via reader survey can help you to identify your visitors’ pain points and determine what they’ll spend their money on—before you invest the time in writing posts or paid products!

However, there’s a big difference between the data generated by a thoroughly-planned, well-executed customer survey, and one that’s hastily thrown together without clear goals and objectives.

If you haven’t been impressed by the results of your past survey efforts, check out the following seven steps to making your next customer survey far more effective.

Step #1. Define a single objective

Your first priority when developing a good reader survey should be to define a single objective.  Although you may have several different topics you’d like to poll your readers on, the reality is that most internet users today have extremely short attention spans.  Homing in on one major area of interest will help to keep your surveys manageable, increasing the number of responses you receive.

If you’re a blogger, a few potential survey objectives to consider include:

  • selecting a topic for your next info product
  • determining if the balance of post topics on your blog is meeting your readers’ needs
  • uncovering reader areas of interest you haven’t covered yet with your posts
  • setting the price and features of your future info products.

Really, any major topic can be addressed with a customer survey—as long as you’ve carefully chosen a single subject that prevents reader confusion or distraction.

Step #2. Avoid leading questions

Once you’ve defined the objective of your questionnaire, the next step to building an effective reader survey is to structure your individual questions in a way that doesn’t lead respondents into providing specific feedback (a scenario known as “leading questions”).

For example, suppose you’ve decided to put together a survey to determine how much your readers would be willing to pay for your next ebook.  Any of the three following question versions could be potential ways to gather this information:

Version #1:

Would you be comfortable paying $47 for the ebook I’ve described?  Select “yes” or “no” below:

Version #2:

What would you be comfortable paying for ebook I’ve described?  Enter your response in the field below:

Version #3:

What would you be comfortable paying for the ebook I’ve described?  Select one option below:

  • $1-$7
  • $8-$14
  • $15-$24
  • $25-$34
  • $35-$44
  • $45-$54
  • $55+
  • I am only interested in free content.

Although each of the variations listed above gathers the same basic information, the way each version does it—and the different responses each question style could provoke—is very different.  Heck, even the specific data ranges you use in questions styled similar to Version #3 listed above could influence the information you receive!

While there’s no right or wrong way to structure your survey questions, it is important to think carefully about the type of data your questions will return, and whether or not this information will help you to meet your survey objectives.

Step #3. Avoid “yes or no” questions

Now, to be fair, “yes or no” questions can be useful in some cases.  If you’re introducing a totally new concept to readers, getting a straight answer on whether the idea is worth pursuing or not may be helpful and can be accomplished with a simple “yes or no” response.

But in most cases, asking “yes or no” questions limits the amount of feedback you’re able to generate from your respondents. Take our example above.  If you asked a question about product pricing using the “yes or no” style described above, you might find that the majority of your respondents aren’t comfortable at the $47 price point you’ve specified—leading you to scrap the idea altogether.

However, this question style could cause you to miss valuable information.  Suppose, instead of using Version #1 of our sample question, you had used Version #3, which indicated that most survey respondents were comfortable in the $35-$44 price point range.  Even though these respondents may have been turned off by the idea of a $47 product, you could still have a profitable idea at a slightly lower price—which you wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t bothered to collect information beyond a basic “yes or no.”

Step #4. Cut the total number of questions

As you build your questionnaire, keep a close eye on the total number of questions you ask.  Keep in mind that short attention span mentioned earlier, but also limit the length of your survey out of respect for your readers’ time.  After all, if they’re taking a few minutes out of their otherwise busy days, shouldn’t you at least do them the courtesy of making your survey as clear and concise as possible?

The magic number for most reader surveys falls between 5-10 questions per survey, depending on how in-depth and involved each of your questions is.  If this seems quick, remember that it’s better to create multiple surveys to ask further questions than to burn out your readers and cause them to never respond to your questionnaire invitations again!

Step #5. Solicit responses from multiple sources

Just as your readers access your standard blog content in a variety of different ways—from your blog itself to your social networking profiles to your email newsletters—be sure to promote your survey across multiple sources as well.

By making your survey easy to access from a number of different sources, you’ll increase your odds of catching a reader at exactly the right moment—when he or she has the extra time to kill in exchange for a small incentive.

Step #6. Offer an incentive for participation

Offering survey participants a small reward for their time and effort isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that’s often applied as a blanket recommendation.  For example, you’ve probably heard before that you need to offer readers a free ebook or a coupon code in order to convince readers to take your surveys.

Not true!

In fact, the specific incentives or types of rewards your audience will respond best to can vary wildly from one blog to another.  In some cases, you’ll need to offer something tangible—like the ebook or coupon code mentioned earlier—to persuade busy, high-volume internet users with a compelling reason to take your survey.

In other cases, if your readership is loyal enough, you may be able to convince visitors to take your survey simply by telling them you appreciate their feedback!

Truly, the only way to determine what types of incentives are most appealing to your unique audience is to test out different offers.  As you run customer surveys over time, include different rewards and track your response rates to see if you can detect any measurable differences.  Over time, this should enable you to conclusively identify the type of incentive that’s most effective for your readers.

Step #7. Expand your response base with paid survey partners

Finally, while generating reader data through the use of effective customer surveys can be an extremely valuable part of growing your business, be aware that this method has a few limitations.

For example, what if your current readership is too small to gather a meaningful amount of information?  If you’re a top blogger, this shouldn’t be an issue—but even smaller, first-time bloggers need customer data!

Or, what if you’re planning to expand into a new market and want to survey members of this new target community before making your move?  In this case, polling current readers won’t give you the information you need to make smart decisions.

The solution to these problems lies in contracting with paid survey partners.  If you find you aren’t generating enough data through your own customer base, companies like SurveyMonkey or iResearch will distribute your survey to the users in their databases that meet your set criteria.  Of course, you’ll have to pay to capture these additional responses, but you may ultimately find that the cost of working with paid survey partners provides a positive ROI for your overall marketing efforts.

Have you used customer surveys before?  If so, share any additional tips you have on how to make them as effective as possible in the comments below. And stick around—later today we’ll profile ten cheap (and free!) tools to help you run a survey that gets a strong response!

AJ Kumar is co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency< based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media, and various other marketing strategies.

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Comments

  1. Samuel says:

    Interesting stuff. Surveys are now one of the best ways to gather some info for any project you may have.

    The question of the survey is what I found most helpful. Just bland yes and no answers to questions is not going to get you results.

    I agree with the first point in finding the cause of your survey and follow through with that cause.

  2. Ben Troy says:

    The most important goal as a survey author is to construct clear, direct questions using the language that survey participants will understand,make sure your survey is relevant, accurate, and valid. I also use survey including some feedback, not just filling out option check .

  3. Very good post. I agree that using surveys are a great way to check the pulse of your audience and for you to focus on the things that they want.

  4. Akash says:

    nice this very good writing and great full content

  5. Very good info. I’m starting an affiliate program guided by Shawn Collins. I’m new at blogging and want to have patience so I read all the legit info I can.
    Thanks.

  6. benita michelle wheeler says:

    Great information, thank you for sharing it.

  7. Ayaz says:

    Hi Kumar,

    Its been really interesting and helpful article and learn few new things regarding surveys.

    Thanks for sharing great article :-)

  8. Kimberly says:

    Great information. The steps are helpful in creating a survey. And because of the survey, you are able to know what other thinks about the business.