How to Boost Response Rates for Online Surveys
One of the surprises of multi-mode research is that offering people a choice of how they want to complete a survey (online, by mail, by phone, etc.) does not necessarily boost response rates. An article in the most recent issue of Public Opinion Quarterly provides new evidence of this. The study showed that even in a population with full access to both mail and Internet options (and full literacy in both modes), a full mail survey achieves a higher response rate than a web-based survey. It also achieves a higher response rate than a choice of either mail or web. So much for our recent article on The Myth of Too Many Choices!
But the study went further to explore some ways of sequentially deploying multiple survey options and multiple modes of information that can substantially boost web-based survey response rates. Here are some key takeaways from the research:
- A pre-notification postcard sent by mail will significantly improve response rates to your online survey
- Offering a token cash incentive (a couple dollars) sent by mail in advance will significantly improve response rates to your online survey
- As a final step, offering a mail survey to non-respondents will boost response rates even further
So why even bother with online surveys, you may wonder? Indeed, even with all this, response rates are no better than conducting a mail-only survey. The answer is that online surveys have a number of advantages worth keeping. Programmed skip logic and constraints ensure no missing data or misinterpretation of skip patterns. Data are entered into a database real-time, eliminating errors from manual data entry or optical scanning. The process is faster, more efficient, and usually less expensive.
While many people overestimate the importance of response rates on a survey’s validity, there is no doubt that higher response rates are better in terms of cost, efficiency, and feasibility. So if you are thinking about deploying an online survey to your customers or members, it is probably worth investing in some old fashioned mail-based outreach.
Need help? We can be reached by phone (312-348-6089), or Internet, or mail (919 Forest Ave, Evanston, IL 60202). Whichever way you contact us, you’ll get a 100% response rate within a few hours.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.