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Data is everything in this day and age, and any business looking for a competitive edge needs to be collecting, and analysing its own rich pool of information.

That’s why any serious brand needs to conduct its own surveys. Surveys enable businesses to run market research, collect feedback, and ultimately form big data pictures which inform big picture strategy.

Conducting your survey online instead of offline gives you multiple advantages. Besides from reaching a wider audience, conducting a survey online gives you more control over the quality of data that you receive, and more insight into that data via reporting tools.

You can conduct online surveys on survey dedicated applications and platforms, or you can pair up your survey with other digital marketing channels by using a multi-use marketing automation platform (like ours at Swift Digital).

Any good online survey builder and publisher will give you access to building tools which allow you to really hone the data you’re looking to collect.

Data is only useful if it’s of good quality, and surveys only help you reach your goals if you ask the right questions in the right way. Your survey’s results will only be valuable to your brand if your survey is reliable, and built to garner the right information.

Let’s take a look at 5 ways you can make your online survey more reliable.

1.  Choose: anonymous or not?

As silly as it may sound, it’s not uncommon for a survey to collect completely unusable submissions solely because they were meant to be identifiable (or not).

If you’re collecting data that will be used for competition entries for example, then not collecting someone’s full name, and contact details is a huge mistake.

If you’re collecting submissions from staff about their employee satisfaction, with the promise that their data will be collected anonymously – then you’ve made an equally huge mistake if you’ve included a mandatory ‘full name’ field by habit.

Whether your survey is anonymous, or not, you should know so beforehand and ensure that your survey’s questions and structure reflect that decision.

It may seem like a non-issue for most surveys, but the reliability of your submissions depends on whether identifying information supplements or discredits the data. Make your decision wisely.

2. If data is necessary, then make it mandatory.

Let’s go back to one of the above examples: you’re running a competition and collecting entries via a survey. If the applicant’s phone number is absolutely essential for contacting the lucky winner, then making the phone number field in your survey mandatory is a no-brainer.

It’s easy enough to forget to consider whether certain questions should be mandatory or not, but such consideration can make or break the usefulness of your survey data, and in some cases may affect the volume of data you receive.

For example, you may mistakenly (or without much forethought) make a ‘home address’ field mandatory in a survey that’s just meant to be collect product feedback. This sort of demand for personal information will turn some people off, losing you valuable submissions.

Take care when deciding which questions should be mandatory to answer in your surveys, the reliability of the resulting data depends on it!

3. Ensure your data is useful for reporting.

It pays to think about how you’re going to analyse your collected data. What kind of reporting visuals or analytic formats are going to be most useful when it comes to achieving your survey’s goals?

For example, if your survey’s purpose is to collect a wide range of data in order to inform some big-picture strategy, then asking questions with limited answers will help you gain more accurate insight.

What does that mean? Well, if your questions are concise, and have only limited, multi-choice answers to choose from, the data will be easier sequenced, analysed, and reported on. This is the type of reporting that is most useful for seeing larger trends.

On the other hand, if your survey is trying to gain subjective insight based on just a few individuals – then asking long-form questions, which require thoughtfully written essay responses, or other text responses, will be more useful. In cases like these, you can avoid multi-choice question formats, and forgo the type of data that is easily displayed through pie charts or line graphs.

Once again, you have to have a very clear idea of what you’re using the survey form. Your survey’s goals should inform the type of data reporting you need to aim for.

4. If you need data from specific contacts, lock your survey.

Are your survey’s results only reliable if they come from the right people?

Some surveys require submissions only from a select contact list. For example, employee or client feedback, event feedback, or targeted demographic surveys.

In these cases, you’ll want to ensure that no one is submitting your survey who is outside of the target group. Online surveys often have public URL addresses, meaning they are vulnerable to data ‘muddying’ if any outsiders make submissions.

To avoid this you’ll want to put measures in place to stop unapproved participants from accessing or engaging in your survey.

Hopefully, your survey platform gives you gatekeeping tools to use.

For example, the Swift Digital platform allows you to lock surveys to ‘recipients only’. This means that only those contacts who received your invite to complete the survey will be able to make a submission.

You can also gatekeep the survey by requiring identifying details such as an email address, and employing a mechanism which confirms that the email address has been pre-approved for submission.

5. If your results are time sensitive, then give your survey an end date.

Some survey results only make sense if the data was submitted within the right time frame. For example, you may hold a survey on customer support satisfaction before employing a new customer support application at your business. Gathering data like this before a big change in your business will help to paint a ‘before’ picture which you can later compare to when collecting data on how successful the change has been.

In cases like the above situation, you’re going to need to ‘unpublish’ your survey on a specific date, so as to keep the data ‘clean’ and reliable. After all, you wouldn’t want customers who were already trying out your new customer support strategy to muddy the data of a survey which sole purpose was to form a ‘before’ image (not before, and kind of afterwards as well).

Most reliable survey publishing platforms give you the option to pre-define an end date for your survey, so as to prevent any further submissions past your predetermined time and date. Make sure to use scheduled unpublishing tools like these if your survey’s results are only relevant within a specific date range.

Make Your Online Surveys Reliable By Thinking Before Publishing

The common thread that runs through all of the above suggestions is this: think about the data you need to collect, and what you need to do with it, before taking any steps to build, or publish your survey.

It is the end result – the submissions and the data – that matter most of all when it comes to running surveys, so it is the end desired result that you should work backwards from in order to determine what a ‘reliable online survey’ looks like.

Building your online survey will be a breezy no-brainer as long as you wholly understand your data requirements. Online surveys are most reliable when they’re reverse engineered – so start from the end, and work towards the beginning.

Want to run online surveys and collect valuable data? Want to boost your survey efforts using automated marketing strategies across multiple channels? Swift Digital can help. If you want to find out more about our Marketing Automation platform, complete with a Survey builder, then contact our helpful Australian based team on 02 9929 7001.