Online surveys
November 27, 2001

I've been working on a couple online surveys lately. I've been doing some research into how best to present online surveys. Here are some guidelines, tips and resources that I have been able to in the course of researching, executing and analysing the responses.

A good place to start:


Here's Jakob's 2 cents.


There are numerous sites out there that offer FREE online survey tools. Here are two that seem to be pretty popular.


Both offer fully customizable forms, and useful result pages. SurveyMonkey seems to have slight edge over Zoomerang in that they offer the options to distribute the survey over a couple of pages, so that you can even have one question per page which may be useful. However the pages don't show which or how many pages there are, which may lead to users bailing mid-way through the survey.

Yes, they both have absolutely awful graphics.


Here's a couple of things I learned from developing online surveys for the two projects:

1. Give users a heads up: Tell them that they will be seeing a survey on the site. Ask for their participation. If you can, provide incentives for participation.
2. Make it short: Users take about 1/10 second determining whether a survey is worth their while. Long surveys are a no-brainer. Click - close window.
3. Don't make the users think: Ask questions that users will have immediate responses to. Word it carefully so that they can immediately respond - without thinking about what the question means and how they should answer it.
4. Avoid blurry multiple choice questions: Questions like: "how useful is this site to you?" - Answer: a. Very, b. Somewhat, c. Not at all - especially in a long list. I for one will click "Somewhat" all the time because I don't want to be too harsh, but I still want some change on the site. Sometime "yes/no" questions are more effective in situations like this, or make the questions more specific.
5. Similarly, if you are going to use multiple choice questions, try not to provide a "middle ground." Get the user to state whether they feel positive or negative about the question, with choices that are: "very satisfied; somewhat satisfied; somewhat dissatisfied; very dissatisfied."
6. Take results with a grain of salt: In general, if you get a 50/50 negative to positive response from users, this spells good news! Why? Because frustrated users are more likely to respond to feedback. Of course it hasn't been proven but for every satisfied user there are 2 - 3 dissatisfied users. This doesn't mean forget about the complaints, just don't think your site a failure because you are getting equal amount of complaints per praise.
7. Following up on point 6 - there will be those who will purposefully provide erroneous information or provide information from what they think the answer should be rather than what they actually do.

Survey responses are not absolute, but provide a good indication as to user expectations and behavior.


We've found that in a small dedicated site, popup surveys are quite effective, despite all web usability gurus denouncing them left and right. Here are some popup survey guidelines:

- As mentioned above, provide users with a heads up. Mention upcoming popup survey in email newsletter or announcement section.
- Have a static survey page as backup just in case there are user who have closed the survey by accident.
- Make it short. About 8 questions max.
- Use Javascript/cookies to make survey pop up only once per user.

Email surveys (surveys included in body of an email) are, in my experience (asking student for 9 semesters to fill them out at the beginning and end of course) not very effective. I tend to think that it's better to make surveys links to webpages in emails wrapped up in a little candy (incentives).

Webpage surveys (surveys in the form of one or multiple webpages), all the rules mentioned above apply. Especially, keep surveys short. If you have a captive audience (that have been "encouraged" by higher ups), surveys can be longer, but still take the initial list of questions and cut it in half. Then make the survey one page. There is a certain gratification in completing a survey that's one page. If it is going to be multiple pages let the users know before hand how many pages and questions there will be and show which page they are on (e.g. page 1 of 3.)


Here's a website for online survey creation that is VERY easy to use and allows you to choose the appearance from available backgrounds OR upload your own as well as a logo. The surveys you create are also SSL secure!

Posted by: John Jetter on June 18, 2002 05:19 PM


I would like to have an online survey (on one of my webpages would be my preference) with approximately 6 multiple choice questions (5 possible answers), and a space for comments. I am
hoping to have several hundred responses about airline travel to dog shows, and since it is not only non-profit, but not a group(!), I am looking for a free survey and results option. What would you recommend to meet my needs?

thanks very much!
Sandra Reiley-Lince

Posted by: Sandra on October 17, 2002 07:22 PM

Just wanted to tell you about our own web surveying tool, We offer the opportunity to send out free surveys, which I think your site visitors would benefit from. The tool allows users to create, send and collate surveys either by email or by placing them on a web site, and is used by both the academic fraternity and businesses alike. It's wizard approach makes it very easy to use, yet it is an extremely powerful tool the more you get to know it.

If you'd like to know more then either check out or email me on

Have fun!

Posted by: Jamie on January 22, 2003 12:03 PM

We've just released an online survey tool that your readers may find useful at

It provides an extremely powerful authoring environment, and have recently greatly enhanced the reporting options.

As well as traditional question based surveys we also have the option of doing reviews and rankings.

Feel free to try it out, registration and small surveys are free.

Posted by: Mick Barry on August 7, 2003 04:49 AM

There is also another good survey tool called Easyresearch. Check it out. A demo of the tool is also available. Easy to use and powerful.

Posted by: Peter on August 29, 2003 05:53 AM

Ive just finished using web online surveys. They are so easy to use its not even funny. The allow pictures, graphics everything to be included in the surveys. The only problem is that is not free - but its not too expensive. Just thought i would leave my two cents worth.



Posted by: Sarah on September 3, 2003 11:56 PM


Posted by: Anthony on October 16, 2003 08:02 PM

At SuperSurvey we provide professional online survey tools. We have a variety of plans both free and paid. Check us out at

Posted by: Donald Richardson on December 19, 2003 12:56 PM

Key Survey provides online survey software solutions and professional research services to business. We provide our customers with immediate online survey capability at a reasonable cost and offer them the option to outsource their projects.

Posted by: Georgiy Butenko on February 26, 2004 06:41 AM

If you are looking at survey software to create surveys over the Internet, here are some things to consider:

Survey software can be offered as a hosted ASP solution,
You can install and host it on your own server,
You can install it as a traditional desktop survey application.
Key Survey can be employed in the first two ways: as an ASP solution or as survey software installed on your company’s server.

The main advantages to choosing survey software as an ASP solution are as follows:

There is no software to install, no versions to upgrade or keep track of, no IT system compatibility problems. It is just sign up and go.

Hosting survey software offers more user flexibility. Anyone with a web connection can access this survey tool and begin to create a survey immediately.

Find more at

Posted by: Key Survey on February 26, 2004 06:43 AM

I am trying to find a free online paid survey that doesn't use cookies if you one please tell

Posted by: JJ on May 8, 2005 09:10 PM

ZapSurvey is a powerful online service to quickly create and deploy surveys using just a web browser. Easy to use tools let you create, deploy, manage and analyze even the most complex surveys in just minutes.

Posted by: Zap Survey on August 30, 2005 02:21 AM
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