How to encourage participants to take your survey

This article gives you some tips for both attracting participants to your survey, and encouraging participants to complete the whole survey. We suggest you:

  • offer incentives to participants
  • use positive, action-focused language in your promotion
  • make it easy for participants to complete your survey
  • hold their interest for the whole survey
  • keep them honest (well, at least keep your results honest!)

Offer participants an incentive to complete the survey

An incentive to entice people to give up their time. This incentive doesn't need to be large (or monetary) but it will need to be attractive to your desired audience. A voucher to a Star Trek convention is not going to appeal to everyone and those Trekkies are unlikely to accurately represent your website audience, which could bias your survey results.

Sometimes simply appealing to people's good nature is enough, especially if you have an active community who values what you do and would benefit from you doing it better. Other times you'll want to offer good-as-cash-vouchers or a chance to win the latest device.

Use positive, action-focused language in your promotion

When you ask people to complete your survey, be positive and give people a good reason to do so. Start by clearly explaining how participants will be helping, and include a clear call to action.

'Help make our website easier for you to use — take our survey now!'

Make it easy for participants to complete your survey

Once participants have clicked on your link, get straight into it. Get them started on your survey while they are still hot for it. Most people will be turned off by complicated instructions, so keep it simple. Let them know how much time you think the survey will take, and how their contribution will help improve your website. If you want to ask demographic questions, asking them at the end will save people having to do it before starting the survey.

We include simple and effective default messages and instructions in your surveys. So if in doubt, keep the default text or model your text on them.

Hold participants' interest for the whole survey

Respondents are smart, get bored easily, and are time poor. Keep the test short and sweet. Here's some tips for each kind of survey.

Treejack

Aim for a maximum of 8 to 10 tasks per participant which can be completed in 6 to 15 minutes. Write clear tasks that are easy to understand and act on.

Chalkmark

Also aim for a maximum of 8 to 10 tasks per participant which can be completed in 6 to 15 minutes. Include simple, clean graphics, and write clear tasks that are easy to understand and act on.

OptimalSort

Holding participant interest in a card sort is a little different — it matters more how long you can hold their attention than how many cards you give them to sort.  Some cards are much easier to sort than others so you might get away with 80 or 90 of those (for example, a closed card sort for brand values into three groups: 'We are', 'We're not', 'We should be' is easy).

But if the concepts are more difficult to grasp or group then you might want to keep it down to around 40 cards.

Keep participants honest (well, your results at least)

We can't really keep people honest, but you can delete the responses of people who don't take your survey seriously. There will always be respondents who have completed the survey just to get a shot at the prize.When you analyse the results their answers are usually easy to spot. Often they've completed the test rapidly and their answers don't make sense, and are radically different from other responses. Delete their data and discount them from the prize pool.

Even the most dazzling survey about the most exciting topic will have some respondents drop off before they've completed your survey, but if you are seeing a drop off rate greater than half then you need to look into it. A high skip rate per task in a tree test could be telling of the test difficulty and a sign of confusing website architecture. Keep going you're doing the right thing by testing.

Create an Optimal Workshop survey that your participants will love!