Online customer surveys have boomed over the past five years as a host of new services has made it easier than ever for small and mid-sized businesses to conduct their own market research. But business leaders need to evaluate the pros and cons of online surveys before basing their business decisions on the results.
In a recent study, Nancy Ellen Kiernan, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University, compared the response rates of Web-based surveys to traditional mail-in surveys. "Among those participants successfully solicited by e-mail, Web survey participants were more likely to respond (95 percent) than mail survey participants (79 percent)," Kiernan says in the study. She also found that Web respondents gave longer responses to open-ended questions.
However, experts warn not to consider Web-based surveys an exact science. "In my experience, online surveys tend to be a bit skewed to one extreme or the other as those that are most pleased or most displeased with a product are the most likely to respond," says Jennifer Laycock, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Guide, a website that tracks Internet research. "Surveys that are offered and tied to an incentive, like 'do this survey, get a discount,' also tend to be inaccurate because people will simply fill out whatever answers just to get to the discount."
That said, online surveys are readily accessible to the small business market. They are inexpensive and often provide business leaders with market research insights that they wouldn't otherwise have. The following are some Web-based survey services if your company does opt to go this route.
Online survey services
Claiming 800,000 customers, Zoomerang is perhaps the largest survey program. The free Zoomerang Basic allows 100 survey questions to an unlimited number of respondents, though the online results are only available for 10 days. Aside from text, there is limited survey modification. Zoomerang zPro allows unlimited survey questions, downloadable survey results and cross-tabulation. Zoomerang zPro costs $75/month or $599 annually.
Advanced programs include Zoomerang Sample (find appropriate survey respondents), Zoomerang Online Focus (organize focus groups) and Zoomerang Services (general consulting). Costs vary based on organization size and needs, though discounts are given to non-profits.
EZquestionnaire has fewer bells-and-whistles than other survey companies, but comes at an affordable price. The free basic membership, similar to Zoomerang, allows you to send out surveys, albeit without corporate logos, highly modified content or tech support. The Premium individual membership is much more robust offering survey modification, real-time reports and downloadable answer data. Premium individual membership is $10 per month.
Finally, the company's corporate and non-profit memberships are identical except in price. Corporate and non-profit membership allow distribution of press releases and tailored websites. Corporate membership is $25 to $50 per month, while non-profit membership is $15 per month.
Key Survey is a more expensive, although more thorough solution. It offers basic, premium and professional models on one-year terms.
Depending on your company size, the basic model may be more than enough to cover the bases. It can handle up to 2,000 respondents, unlimited surveys and offers both pre-rendered templates and do-it-yourself options. The premium model offers data cross-tabulation, e-mail reminders and filtered reports, while the professional level model features multilingual surveys and direct SPSS compatibility. Annually, the masic model costs $799, premium is $1,950, and professional is $3,950.
Like EZquestionnaire, Survey Monkey is an affordable tool for basic survey needs. Basic and professional subscriptions are available.
The basic subscription allows 10 questions and 100 responses per survey, but questionnaires can be visually modified and pop-up invitations can be used to attract respondents. Specific results can be analyzed through a filter or downloaded for later viewing. The professional subscription is the same as the basic subscription, but allows unlimited questions and responses. The basic subscription is free and the professional subscription costs $19.95 per month.