Survey Design Best Practices: What’s Your Survey’s Purpose?

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The key to the success of any survey design is found not in the respondents or the incentives, but in its purpose. The purpose, the reason you are putting together your survey in the first place, is the driving force behind each question.

Like duct tape, it holds your survey together.

There should be only one main purpose for your survey, which should be supported by up to three goals. Goals are smaller, actionable objectives that help you get the most out of your data.

There are many good survey purposes, but some of the more common include:

  • Identifying improvement opportunities
  • Monitoring customer satisfaction
  • Measuring market perception
  • Collecting persona data about your existing customers

As you plan your survey, really think about what kind of information you are looking for and how you plan on using it once the results have been collected. Once you’ve decided on a primary purpose and a few supporting goals, it’s time to think about how they tie into and influence your survey design.

Establishing Trust With Your Survey’s Purpose

The purpose should be clearly shared with respondents, so they know how the information they give will be used. Often, this is just an extra line or two on the very first page of the survey.

It is important to be able to design your survey in such a way that it separates itself from those impostor surveys with dubious purposes.

No one likes being taken advantage of, and no one wants to answer questions if the information they provide is not going to be put to good use. Being up front and transparent about your larger purpose is an important first step toward earning your respondents’ trust.

Establishing trust and offering clear directions will improve the quality of the data you collect, because respondents will be more likely to take the time out of their busy day to answer your questions.

Spotting Bad Survey Purposes

There are also plenty of bad survey purposes. A bad purpose goes beyond wasting respondents’ time and crosses the line into being dishonest and even unethical.

One notable example of a bad purpose, which I guarantee you’ve come across, is a survey that suddenly becomes a sales pitch.

Why are surveys used in this way? Usually, the survey style is used because people have the assumption that surveys are more legitimate than alternative means of getting in touch with an audience.

Real surveys are essential tools for research and data collection. People know this. Therefore, people are more likely to make the effort to answer a survey than they would a sales call.

An Unscrupulous Hotel Survey Example

Recently, I needed to make a last minute change to a hotel reservation. I called, made the change, and then they asked if I would be willing to take a survey about my future travel plans in return for some extra hotel points.

When I agreed, the booking agent asked a few basic questions about the kind of places I like to visit, then seamlessly transitioned the call from travel trends to selling me a weekend in their new Park City condos.

I had to book right then to take advantage of their amazing offer. No thanks.

Beware of Credit Card Surveys

Identity and credit card theft are much more prevalent now that so much of our personal information lives on the web. While you know you need to be savvy and safe with their information, it bears repeating: never, ever give personal, banking or credit card details to anyone over a survey unless you are 100% confident in the source.

If anything looks odd, contact the company directly. They can confirm or deny whether the survey is legitimate. This is especially true for any emails from your bank.


Share Your Purpose for Better Survey Data

I shared these examples of bad surveys to emphasize the importance of using a thoughtful purpose to guide your survey to make the survey experience positive for your respondents and, ultimately, help you get the best data.

Market research has an air of credibility because it is a big part of our culture. People everywhere try to improve their decision-making by asking the people whom those decisions affect.

By sharing your purpose openly, you will be rewarded with more engaged respondents and, most importantly, better data.

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