5 Myths of Online Surveys

  • February 27, 2023

  • Eyes4Research

The online survey industry is a flourishing market. That’s not surprising due to the fecund waters of information that is the internet, regularly dipped into by businesses and academics alike as part of their market research methods. Like many aspects on the web, employing an online panel is alluring because of its effortless aspects.

Effortless is not always good in cyberspace, though. Oceans of information don’t necessarily create tributaries of accurate figures. To become truly survey savvy, it’s important to understand some myths that can hamper online survey projects. With these in mind, the quality of research can rise above the surf of diluted data.

1. Online panels are just waiting around to send surveys. Online survey providers aren’t storing respondents’ data like the Architect in The Matrix. Sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turks do house millions of respondents ready to take surveys; yet these are teeming with what is known as river sample (the Mos Eisley of general population sampling, although not really a hive of scum and villainy). In reality, it takes energy, resources, and continual project management to maintain online panels of good quality.

What this means: Be patient before and during an online survey project—especially if you are asking for a specialized sample with a low incidence—like (Irish Na’vi who smoke Montecristos).

2. The more questions you ask, the better data you’ll get. This seems (almost) logical. Many companies seem eager to bloat their questionnaire template for their research project. However, we demonstrated the opposite in a previous blog. Research indicates that shorter questionnaires result in superior data. Byzantine and long questionnaires instill what is known as “respondent fatigue.” As the New York Times reported, respondent fatigue that has caused “declining response rates over the last decade.”

What this means: Keep it short and sweet like a tweet. Keep in mind that any survey over 20 minutes is asking for Mos Eisley-type results.

3. Survey results come back in quickly. Sure, this is the internet age, where even breaking news is dated after reading the headline. However, respondents are still flesh and blood people with their own lives (probably spent online in other avenues). Not only do online panelists have to be recruited and engaged, but they also have to be incentivized and called to action. Additionally, results have to be analyzed carefully. The best enterprise software is still beholden to the gateways of internet providers (like that speed-demon AOL!). In other words, it’s a bit more than putting up a Facebook post and waiting for ‘likes’ to rain down like batteries at a Philadelphia Eagles game.

What this means: Beyond being patient, you know something IS actually fishy if results arrive too quickly—as an average project typically takes 3-7 days. Then it’s time to call your online survey provider, and get close to accusing them of being a hive of scum and villainy.

Incentives are not that necessary because of shared interest. Some would call this cheap thinking. It is. It just doesn’t work that way. For example, our company specializes in veterinarian panels. These good folk are physicians who work very hard. For a veterinarian to leverage time to sit through a 30-minute survey takes quite a bit of labor and compensation. Like any other sample, the smaller the reward the larger the risk of apathy. Lastly, many online providers understand this crucial aspect of incentives: “Promised incentives are not as effective as enclosed incentives. Numerous studies demonstrate that postpaid incentives have no impact on response rates.”

What this means: Online survey providers are well-aware of how to incentivize their panels, and many will do so before the project is live if it’s a specialized audience. For those Irish Na’vi who smoke Montecristos, expect a steep price due to the incentive alone, but know you will be rewarded with the data you need.

People are patient taking online surveys. This should be an obvious myth to dispel, since we are talking about the internet: the Nirvana of short-attention-span. In real life, people are busier than ever, continually bombarded by other information, and are just not going to be passionate about your research. This may sound callous, but an honest approach goes a long way for that empathy to conduct successful online research. 

What this means: Short questionnaires, patience on your part, expected incentives…and online surveys can actually become wealthy avenues of communication and even qualitative market research.

Dispelling these myths is also extremely important because of the future of online surveys: mobile technology. 

As a recent white paper on Research stated:

“Mobile growth in online surveys is mirroring overall growth in mobile access to the internet with survey starts on mobile and tablets rising from less than 10% of survey starts in 2011 to more than 25% of survey starts in 2014 according to 2014 Trends Report: Mobile Participation in Online Surveys.”

There are certainly disadvantages of mobile surveys, as we’ve discussed in past publications. Regardless, in the online world, screens are getting smaller, space is getting tighter, and time is getting shorter. With the right approach and understanding of these myths, market researchers can become survey savvy and come out of those internet waters with refreshing results for their research.