Survey School 2: How to maximize survey response rates

Surveys are a treasure trove—if you collect enough responses to derive meaningful insights. To help you boost your response rates, our team dug deep into the data to understand the factors that drive people to complete forms.

If there’s ever been anyone who understood the art of persuading people to answer questions, it was biologist Alfred Kinsey. 

Back in 1943, Kinsey and his team of researchers convinced over 18,000 Americans to answer an exhaustive questionnaire covering every aspect of their sexual lives. People didn’t just answer his questions; they told Kinsey their most intimate secrets. 

When Kinsey published his results, it triggered a public outcry. His findings were denounced by religious leaders and splashed across the covers of Time magazine and The New York Times. This research was controversial but transformative. 

Kinsey’s guide to asking questions is a masterclass in the art of maximizing survey responses. His approach includes: 

  • building a rapport with the interviewee

  • personalizing the interview in response to their answers

  • providing guidance on what information to provide without steering the interview   

Even if we aren’t trying to talk people into sharing their most private stories, there’s a lot we can learn from Kinsey. There's an art and a science to asking questions that people are willing—even eager—to answer.

In this guide, we’ll take a research-backed dive into: 

  • Why surveys should be a cornerstone of your marketing strategy; 

  • How to create surveys that feel like a conversation between friends; 

  • How to use Welcome pages to encourage responses; 

  • The most effective formats to make your survey irresistible.

Surveys and the importance of zero-party data 

The real value of an effective survey is that it allows you to collect invaluable zero-party data. This is the data that someone gives you voluntarily—as opposed to data that you collect from your website or purchase from a third-party source.

Zero-party data has always been incredibly useful to marketers—it’s your direct route to understanding your customer’s needs, wants, and pain points. Today, it’s more necessary than ever because: 

Plus, the information you gather from your survey responses can be a major asset to your marketing strategy. This zero-party data can help you:

  • Create more detailed and nuanced buyer personas

  • Increase trust and build a connection with your prospects and customers

  • Improve your messaging and positioning 

  • Increase your product-market fit 

Want to learn more about using zero-party data to uplevel your marketing approach? Check out our deep-dive guide: How to Build a Competitive Edge with Zero-Party Data.

Surveys and the “conversational customer journey”

Yes, we’ve all heard the term “conversational customer journey” by now. It’s got that lovely, buzzword-y sound to it, doesn’t it?  

But conversational marketing isn’t just about teaching the bots to speak; we’d actually argue it’s the opposite. 

It’s about building your own brand voice. It’s about basing your marketing strategy around your customers’ wants and needs. Most of all, it’s about dropping the monologue and really listening to your customers. See? No bots, no assumptions, just quality attempts to hear what your customers need, want, and experience. 

If you want to engage your prospects in conversation, you’ll need tools that let customers talk back to you—that make it easy, engaging and even fun to share information with you. 

Surveys are the ideal tool for creating a conversational customer experience. By allowing you to ask questions and respond to the answers, you can create a personalized experience at scale. They also help you learn more about your leads and customers while ensuring that everyone who interacts with your brand feels seen as an individual, not a number.

How to maximize survey response rates

Surveys are a treasure trove—if you collect enough responses to derive meaningful insights. To help you boost your response rates, our team dug deep into the data to understand the factors that drive people to complete forms. 

Here’s what we found: 

1. First impressions count

The best thing you can do to maximize survey response rates is get off to a great start. The surveys that received the most responses in our study were those with a well-designed Welcome screen.

Here are a few best practice tips for a compelling Welcome screen:

1. Start with a welcome, not a question 

Your instinct might be to start with a question to get the conversation going. However, our researchers found that typeforms with direct, to-the-point wording on the Welcome Screen (e.g., Join our newsletter) gained 5% more responses than those which started with a question (e.g., ‘Are you interested in our exclusive newsletter?’).  

Wondering how to add a Welcome screen to your typeforms? Here’s a Welcome screen walkthrough

2. Provide an incentive 

Ah, yes, the old “What’s in it for me?” Unsurprisingly, forms that offered people an incentive on the Welcome screen received more responses. This could be a lead magnet (a one-time offer, like a coupon or a discount, for completing the survey) or merely a sense of exclusivity (using words like 'be the first,’ 'exclusive,’ 'one of the,’ 'only available,’ 'members only' or 'subscribers only'). 

3. Be transparent

Today’s consumers are increasingly wary about handing over their data. Being transparent about what you plan to do with the information you collect puts respondents at ease and can increase response rates. For instance: 

  • If you’re sending your survey via email, tell your respondents in the email body exactly how you plan to use their data. 

  • Add some information and context to your typeform’s Welcome Screen.

  • Add a Legal question field: this allows you to set out some terms and ask the respondent to agree or disagree with them.

4. Set expectations and give people an end in sight

Take a leaf out of Kinsey’s playbook and reassure your respondents before they even start. Explain why you’re asking the questions you’re asking and tell them how long the survey should take to complete. You can also follow this up by adding a Progress bar so they can easily see how many more questions are left. This helps reduce survey fatigue and improves your response rates.

2. Create a compelling conversational experience

Once your respondents have agreed to start the survey, it’s your job to keep them answering all the way to the end. Here’s how to make a captivating conversational experience: 

1. Ask for an email first 

Wondering what to ask first? Our research team found that surveys which asked for the respondent’s email first had 9% higher response rates than those that asked for it later. Why is this? Well, it’s possible that once the respondent has shared their email address, they feel like they’ve invested something in the conversation and are more reluctant to drop out. 

2. One question at a time

To create a truly conversational experience, don’t bombard your respondents with questions. After all, nothing is more of a conversational turn-off than someone who peppers you with questions without waiting for the answer. By asking your questions one at a time, you create a more engaging, less overwhelming user experience, thus increasing your response rates.

As for how many questions to ask—our researchers found that surveys with fewer than six questions had a significantly higher response rate. Ideally, your survey should take less than two minutes to complete. 

3. Write great questions 

If you want to be a great conversationalist, then how you ask your questions matters as much as which questions you ask. Excellent survey questions are: 

  • Direct and transparent 

  • Empathetic and reassuring 

  • Unbiased and easy to answer 

To find out more about how to write survey questions that your audience will be happy to answer, check out our Survey School guide: How to learn more about your customers by asking better questions.

4. Personalize with Logic jumps and recall

Back to the notoriously inquisitive Kinsey again. In his interview guide, he cautioned to his team that failing to adapt their questions to the respondents’ answers would be a serious “faux pas” that'd make the respondent feel as though you “weren’t paying attention.” 

Using the Recall feature in Typeform can help you create surveys that mimic this level of polite responsiveness and put your respondents at ease. For instance, you can add Hidden Fields to your Welcome screen and subsequent questions. These hidden fields populate with data you’ve already collected to create a more personalized experience. 

You can also help create a more natural conversational experience with Logic Jumps. This Typeform feature builds a custom path for respondents based on their answers to each question.

For instance, if someone has just told you that they’re not a dog person, then you probably shouldn’t ask them three more questions about dogs. That’s just rude! 

Instead, you can use Logic to jump them automatically to the next non-dog-related question.

3. Design matters 

When it comes to maximizing responses, you’ve got to make the experience of completing the survey as appealing as possible. Focus on creating a survey that's beautiful, unique, and just plain fun to fill in. 

Here are a few best practice tips for better survey design: 

1. Consider readability

Nobody will bother filling in a survey they can barely read. Start by making sure that your surveys are accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. You can find the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) here. Some of the main points you should bear in mind are: 

  • Use alt texts to describe all the images included in the survey 

  • Explain where your hyperlinks go in the main body of the text 

  • Add closed captions to any videos you include in your surveys

  • Make sure your questions, answers, buttons, and background have a color contrast of at least 4.5:1

2. Make it unique 

Don’t be boring! Create a survey that stands out by adding a beautiful, on-brand background image.

Use your brand colors and designs to reassure your respondents that they’re talking to the right person. Keep the design simple and consistent throughout to avoid creating a cluttered or overwhelming impression.

From better answers to better solutions with Typeform 

So, you know how to ask better questions and how to encourage more people to answer your questions. What do you want to do with all this new information? 

  • Get to know your market better, and then design products that meet their needs

  • Attract more qualified leads with conversational quizzes

  • Improve your product offering by listening to what your customers think

  • Fuel your growth by building a connection with your audience 

With better answers, your business can find better solutions. Isn’t it time you started listening? Sign up for free with Typeform today to engage your audience in a great conversation.

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