Writing a great survey isn’t easy. At first it might seem straightforward, but after banging out a few questions with your favorite survey tool (I use Wufoo most of the time), you start to see the complexity and intricacies involved.
More and more startups are creating surveys as a means of collecting data from early prospects and customers. I’ve seen a few examples of this implemented; there’s a landing page with an email sign-up, and once you’ve converted, a survey pops up. This is a great way of collecting user feedback. But only if the feedback you collect is useful.
Recently I’ve been helping a friend collect data through surveys for a project he’s working on. (Sadly I can’t go into more detail than that, but it’s definitely interesting!) I logged onto Wufoo, created a new survey, and started writing questions. As I looked back at the questions, I asked myself, “What’s the point of each question?”
Actually, out of all the questions I wrote (or asked myself in my head) that was the best one. What’s the point?
In reviewing the questions, I wanted to be crystal clear on each one’s objective. It took me a fairly long time re-working the survey before I felt it was ready for action.
I’m far from an expert survey-writer. And below I’ve included a number of great resource links to help you learn more about writing great surveys. But I wanted to share what I’ve learned to-date:
- Take the necessary time to write a great survey. Don’t rush this step because you’re eager for customer data. And don’t rush this step because you “just know” that all the answers are going to be what you want. Take your time. Do the research. Think things through.
- Surveys don’t have to be static. Feel free to iterate on your surveys, changing them as you see data coming in, adding / removing / editing questions as appropriate. I wouldn’t take this step lightly, because it could make the analysis more complicated, but don’t assume you nailed the perfect survey right away. And I think it’s reasonable to try A/B testing your surveys too.
- Focus on actionable data and metrics. You need results that you can actually do something with. There have been some great posts on actionable metrics. I encourage you to read them all.
- Be strict with yourself. I found when writing surveys it’s easy to let things slide a bit. You throw in a question, even if you’re not sure it’s right. Or you don’t edit the language carefully enough, assuming people will understand questions clearly. You need to be ultra-vigilant. And you need to be unafraid to kill a question completely if it doesn’t meet the proper standards.
- Don’t worry too much about length. I’ve experimented a bit with various survey lengths, and haven’t found it’s made a huge difference in completion. I suspect this is similar to the debate between long and short landing pages — it’s not the length that matters as much as the quality and effectiveness of the content.
- Ask tough questions. You have to force yourself to ask tough questions. You can’t be afraid, otherwise you won’t get enough honest, raw and actionable results. The survey.io tool (for very simple but useful customer surveys) asks, How would you feel if you could no longer use the product? That’s a tough question to ask, because you might not like the answer.
- Stay open-minded to discovery. As I look at the survey results I’ve collected, I’ve noticed that there’s lots to discover that was unintentional. This may not be a great thing, but it’s still interesting. I have a couple of open-ended paragraph-style questions in the surveys and the results are absolutely fascinating. They lead me to think about new ideas, and also make me want to follow up with respondents to dig further. It’s just about staying open-minded to the possibility that you don’t know everything about everything (which is fairly easy in my case!)
I have a lot to learn about writing great surveys. But one thing is certain: You need to recognize the importance of collecting actionable survey metrics, testing surveys and putting a lot of effort into getting them right.
Here are some resources for writing great surveys:
- Qualtrics Blog – They did a 5-week blog series on writing great survey questions. Here are all the links: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
- Survey Design
- Writing a customer satisfaction survey
- 6 easy steps on how to create customer surveys
- Writing objective survey questions
- Online employee and customer surveys — Great line: “If in doubt, throw it out.”