How to Improve your Survey Response Rate: Ten Tips

If you are conducting an online survey it is important that you collect a large enough sample of responses to make the research significantly accurate. This essentially means that you need enough responses for the results to be representative of a larger group.

Clearly not everyone that sees your invite or clicks on the link will complete your survey, so in order to increase the number of responses you have two options:

  1. Increase the number of people that you invite (see post on how to research your audience here)
  2. Increase your response rate, the proportion of people that you invite that actually complete the survey.

It is worth taking some time to implement changes to improve the response rate before you send the survey out to a larger group in order to maximize the number of responses.

There are a number of steps that you can take that will help to ensure more people read your email, follow your link and ultimately complete your survey.

  1. Target the right people – You will always get a low response rate if the survey simply isn’t relevant to the people you are sending it to. Make sure you take the time to check that you are targeting the survey at the best possible audience.
  2. Address people by name – People respond to people, so you should always email them from a human email address (as opposed to info@…) and sign off the email from you personally. If possible you should also address the person by name.
  3. Keep the invite short – People’s attention spans are short and if you send a long winded email people won’t even read it. Think about how much spam email you delete each week without even reading. Keep your invite really short and to the point.
  4. Validate who you are – In your invite email explain who you are and if possible include a link to your website. People are naturally suspicious and will wonder who you are and what you do, so be prepared to answer these questions.
  5. Put two links to the survey in the invite email – You have to make it as easy as possible for people to get to the survey so make it really clear where they need to click. Having more than one link has been shown to increase response rates. Also make sure that you check the links before you send the email out.
  6. Put a time limit on it – You don’t want to keep the survey open forever, so make sure there is some time pressure on the participants. This works particularly well if you have a good incentive i.e. “take the survey by midnight (GMT) on 23rd October to get a FREE…” If you don’t put a time limit on it people will say that they’ll come back to it later but the majority actually won’t.
  7. Check for errors – Make sure you check the invite email thoroughly for any spelling, grammar or formatting errors before you send it. While this might sound like a small point, errors of this kind can seriously damage your credibility and put people off taking the survey. If possible, ask someone to read through the email before you send it out. A second set of eyes and a different perspective will often spot errors that the original author missed.
  8. Offer good incentives – People are far more likely to take the survey for some form of personal gain, rather than just to help you out. Show them that you value their time and appreciate their input by offering them a good incentive. This needn’t be very expensive, in some instances people will be willing to participate in exchange for a copy of the findings. In other cases, you could offer a free sample of your product or services, or money off the full product. Or you could offer people the chance to win a prize. Again this could be related to your product or service or you could give away something else entirely.
  9. Make it quick – People will only be willing to sacrifice a limited amount of their time to complete the questionnaire and this time will vary depending on the size of the incentive you have offered. However, to ensure a high response rate and completion rate, try to keep the survey as brief as possible.
  10. Use quantitative or bucketed questions – One way to help keep the survey short is to use primarily quantitative, or multiple choice questions. This saves people the time of writing out long worded answers. This also will save you a lot of time in the analysis of the responses. If you require more in-depth qualitative responses you could always conduct a few separate interviews as well.

Ultimately getting the most from your survey involves finding the balance between the depth and quality of the information you need and the number of responses you are prepared to settle for. You may feel that you absolutely need a long, qualitative questionnaire and you are prepared to have a very low response rate. On the other hand, you may be willing to compromise on some of the detail of the output if it means that your sample size is much larger.

One final point to bear in mind is to learn from each survey you do and try to make them better each time. If you are committing to putting market research at the heart of your business strategy, you will quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.

For more information on getting the best from your surveys, check out the Startup Market Research Guide.