During the course of a website discovery session, our team might suggest that the client survey their website visitors. We all know that data gives us a lot of information, but it may not answer the question of why: Why that one page has a higher bounce rate. Why shopping cart abandon rates have been higher lately. We can guess, but why? One way of getting the answers we need is through a survey; one that is well planned, well written, and well executed.

Once you decide to conduct a customer survey, you have to identify what the problem is and then really focus on the specifics surrounding that problem. For example, if you’re having an issue with cart abandonments, surveying your customers about the entire checkout process will result in a very long survey that not many people will respond to. Instead, dig deeper into the data if possible. You might see that the issue is actually with the shipping costs. Perhaps you’ve just come off of the holiday season and shoppers have had a reprieve from paying shipping, so they just aren’t in the mindset to start doing it again. But you won’t know unless you ask.


Now that you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to start structuring the survey. First you need to determine how long it will be. According to SurveyMonkey, the more questions you put in a survey, the less time people are going to spend answering them. For a general external survey (as opposed to an internal employee-focused survey), people spend about 9-10 minutes answering surveys that are between 26-30 questions, but abandon rates go up after about 8 minutes. So it appears as though the sweet spot is about 11-15 questions which people take, on average, about 5-7 minutes to complete. One thing becomes clear: that’s not a lot of questions. This means you have to be economical with your thoughts and get to the point.


Depending on the type of information you’d like to receive, there are three different types of questions that you can use: 1) Categorical questions are yes/no, multiple choice, and checkbox (respondent can choose more than one answer) types; 2) Ordinal questions include things like age and income range, ranking preferences of something in order of preference (e.g., milk, soda, juice, etc.); 3) Interval/Ratio questions ask respondents to rank their preference on a scale (e.g., 1-5, strongly agree, agree, etc.). Interval/ratio questions tend to result in a better analysis of the situation, so consider them in your survey.

Though your questions will probably be multiple choice as opposed to being open ended, adding a comment box at the end of the survey gives respondents a chance to further explain their answers or point out another issue or solution that you might not have thought about. Ideally, we’d like all respondents to take their time and provide thoughtful, detailed answers but unfortunately, that’s not always possible. So, choosing the right type of answer will help you gain the insight you need.


There are a lot of variables that affect response rates, but a good number to shoot for is 30%. If your numbers fall below that, your survey hasn’t failed by any means, but if you don’t get a lot of responses, you’ve just put out a lot of effort for little in return. And, your customers probably aren’t going to be up for another survey anytime soon. Having a well-known brand, surveying loyal customers, sending a relatively short survey by email, and sending it to millennials and baby boomers if possible will most likely increase your response rate.

One of the other tactics that can move the needle on responses is promoting your survey before sending it. This gives people a heads-up so that they can look for it in their email and it may encourage some people to ask if they can participate. Another, and very important consideration is incentive. Giving people discounts or gift cards for completing your survey is a great way to incentivize and thank people for their time.  


If you need your survey to be statistically significant, representative of your audience, and within a certain margin of error, we suggest you use a sample size calculator along with a margin of error calculator to determine the right number. However, if you’re looking to do a more casual survey, the number is a bit easier to determine. If you feel like 100 completed surveys would give you enough information, then based on an average 30% return, you will need to send about 143 surveys. Now, your reaction might be to send as many as possible, thousands perhaps. But before you do, remember that, 1) You’ll end up paying for a survey tool subscription to accommodate that large number and 2) You, or someone, will have to analyze and make sense of all those results. Choose your number wisely.


Online survey tools have come a long way, and there are several to choose from. Most offer email marketing, mobile surveys, question branching, questions libraries, skip logic, data export, question type options, custom logos, and URL customization. Depending on your needs, you can probably design, send, and analyze a survey for free given the many tools available including SoGoSurvey, SurveyMonkey, Typeform, etc. Pricing comes in the form of a subscription and increases with add-ons like additional respondents, question types, and functionalities. If you’re looking for something really robust, tools like Qualaroo offer visual customization, integrations with Google Analytics and Marketo, feedback campaign consultation, and questions asked through “nudges” that are processed through AI sentiment analysis. Fancy.

The information you gain from surveys can be invaluable as it takes the guesswork out of marketing. You get to hear what your customers think which can be the beginning of opening a dialog and making new connections. From a customer’s perspective, it’s always nice to see that a company you are loyal to cares about what you think. In the end, you really can’t beat a good survey for proving valuable customer insight.  

A global team of digerati with offices in Washington, D.C. and Southern California, we provide digital strategy, digital marketing, web design, and creative for brands you know and nonprofits you love.
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