Getting a good response rate: 5 tips to encourage people to take part in your online survey

Written by: Lindsey Armstrong

Getting a good response rate: 5 tips to encourage people to take part in your online survey 

The foundation of great research is robust and valid data. You may have designed a fantastic questionnaire, but unless you are able to get it in front of an appropriate audience and encourage a representative sample of that audience to respond, the feedback you get may raise more questions than it answers. 

A good response rate means that enough members of your target audience participate in your survey to deliver the insights you are looking for. You may be surveying your customers or employees, giving you a finite number of people to reach out to. Or perhaps you are targeting an external audience of potential clients, customers or employees, in which case you have a far wider pool to fish in. Surveying people with whom you already have a relationship is often easier than reaching an audience who does not have a connection with you, but both cases require an approach that will persuade the right people to take part. 

So, what can you do to convince them? Here are our five top tips for getting a good response rate to your online survey: 

  1. Be honest and succinct. Most people are time-poor and used to instant gratification. Long, boring questionnaires will not engage them and they are likely to exit your survey before completing it, especially if they expect a 5-minute exercise and it takes considerably longer. Be honest and give a realistic time estimate for completion. Avoid wordiness, long question texts and hone your questionnaire to deliver what you need in the most effective manner possible. For longer surveys, consider using a progress bar to show how far they have got and go all out on tips 2 and 4 below. 
  2. Make it attractive. People use short cuts (heuristics) when making decisions such as choosing to take part in a survey. You can use these heuristics to your advantage when designing the communications around your invitation, mirroring core beliefs or experiences common to your target audience to engender feelings of resonance and belonging.
    They will also be more likely to take part if they believe other like-minded people have participated or if they are offered a seemingly unique or limited-time opportunity, tapping into the fear of missing out.  
  3. Make it accessible and inclusive. For most research, you will want a representative sample of your audience which may include people with a range of needs. The most basic way of being inclusive is to keep questions and instructions short and easy to understand (which also makes your survey faster to complete). From a visual perspective, keep your online survey clutter-free with easy navigational tools. Consider the colour of question text and the background: black text on white, and light pastel backgrounds for darker pictures provide optimum accessibility for all, but particularly for a neurodiverse audience. Make sure your survey is compatible with popular screen-reader software, and consider font sizes to ensure that visually impaired users can access and navigate through the content effectively. 
  4. Offer a reward. For some, the topic of your research may be interesting enough to motivate them to respond, but for others, a little more incentive may be needed. In most cases, offering a reward for completing a survey is a good idea. This can include monetary rewards (e.g. a voucher or cash payment), an entry into a prize draw, making a charity donation for each completed survey or providing participants with a summary of some key research findings. Match your incentive to your audience and scale your budget accordingly. 
  5. Alleviate concerns. Whether you are surveying people you know, such as customers or employees, or those you don’t, how you collect, store and use their feedback is critical. Unless you have a specific reason, personal, identifiable information (e.g. name, address, email) should not need to be collected, so reassure your respondents that their answers will be aggregated and not reported individually. Always be clear what you will do with the information collected. It is often useful to have an independent research agency design and conduct your survey for you. Research agencies have to comply with the latest data protection rules, giving your respondents confidence that they won’t be identifiable and encourage them to be more open with their feedback. 

A good response rate can never be guaranteed, but there are things that you can do to position your online survey as an interesting, inclusive and valuable opportunity. Consider the tips above when thinking about your next piece of research to make sure your survey successfully gathers the information you are looking for. 

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