One of the best things about digital marketing is its dynamic nature, but the most effective campaigns remain rooted in data. One of the leading ways to gather information about your audience, such as individual, consumer-level opinions, is through research – specifically surveys or questionnaires. Essentially a series of questions about a topic, a survey’s value is its ability to obtain specific types of information from targeted populations. Perhaps the single-most important decision to make is the survey’s primary objective: what, if nothing else, is the critical piece of information that you must obtain?

Design Considerations

With your objective in place, you now need to develop the survey itself. With basic survey design, questions can either be open-ended or closed-ended, with a defined set of responses, or some combination of both. Each format offers benefits and drawbacks depending on your survey objective. Open-ended response structures are generally more suitable for exploratory questions, those without a predefined set of responses, or those where detail and context are important to what you’re trying to learn. Closed-ended response structures typically yield better outcomes when there is an obvious and defined set of responses, or when additional detail is not necessary or desired, such as basic demographic information that does not need elaboration.

It is also valuable to consider how a survey’s structure could influence a respondent’s decision to complete it. Respondents are typically time-sensitive and may not have the motivation or ability to devote extensive amounts of time to completing your survey, particularly if they must develop all the responses. Therefore, a closed-ended response structure is typically helpful in encouraging greater response rates. Constraining the survey’s response structure, as well as its length, can serve to increase the likelihood that consumers will respond to your questionnaire.

Content Considerations

Now you can begin drafting your survey content. Remember to spend some time developing the questions and answers – clarity in wording and sentence construction, question order, and plain understandability all play a role and your survey needs to be evaluated accordingly. If you’re considering a closed-ended questionnaire, you need to ensure that your response categories are mutually exclusive (i.e. answers can only fit in one category) and exhaustive (i.e. is there an answer for everyone?). Additionally, avoid things such as double-barreled questions (which essentially ask more than one thing) or biased wording in both questions and responses.

Also consider the layout and presentation of the survey – is it attractive and something that a respondent would find appealing enough to take time to complete, or do you need to incentivize them to do so in some way? Finally, don’t forget your instructions, they should provide concise direction to respondents to ensure the accuracy of the survey.

Pre-test, Test, Test Again

As with all things digital, we can’t stress the importance of testing enough! Once you’ve constructed your survey, you’re then ready to pre-test it. Pre-testing is valuable because it is the window of opportunity to refine your survey before the full roll-out, thus increasing the accuracy and relevancy of the data that you find. Ideally, you should deliver your survey in its final format to a small but representative subset of the survey’s intended respondents. This will help ensure that your results are most reflective of what you are likely to see in the broader roll-out. It is important to note that this can be a time-consuming process, so while you can sacrifice pre-testing by either not doing it or doing a modified approach (e.g., only pre-testing with a small group or using a group not necessarily reflective of the ultimate population), it will ultimately impact the results of the survey, and how much you are able to extrapolate from them, so tread carefully!

Ultimately, developing a survey is a very iterative process. If determining your objective is the most important consideration to survey development, then identifying how you want to be able to use the results is the second most important. And because the survey’s results can be extremely valuable for learning more about your digital audience and how they may respond to a campaign, for it to be truly effective, then you are likely going to have to revise your survey several times, as well as make some key compromises to boost response rates. Building in the time to make these adjustments will make your results better and you’ll be thankful in the end.