Let’s face it. Being an original isn’t easy. This is especially true in the world of marketing. If you do a Google search on any industry topic, most of the results will be rehashes of the same common wisdom, the same news, the same research.
The problem with this is that it’s hard to be a thought leader or, even simpler, to offer a unique view this way. This speaks to what should be a very real concern for any marketer: Why should people keep coming back to you if they can get the same insight elsewhere?
So, how do you break out of this unbearable sameness? Well, you need to master the art of survey creation for original research.
The Benefits of Original Research
Before we get to the art of crafting the perfect survey, let’s start with why you need it in the first place—original research.
As we noted recently, most marketers aren’t doing their own research. An original study (see how we’re citing it!) by BuzzSumo and Mantis Research found that, on average, only 47 percent of marketing teams are doing original research. Of the marketers producing original research, only 56 percent felt their efforts met or exceeded their expectations.
Although, their findings are interesting considering that the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs annual research showed that 37 percent of B2B marketers and 20 percent of B2C marketers were using original research reports in 2018.
The most obvious benefit of this research is that no one else has it. It’s yours, and yours alone. That makes it valuable. By promoting your original research, suddenly you become a source of information and expertise for others in the industry. This is probably the best way to build backlinks to your website, which is one of the key factors in building page authority and improving Google search rankings.
Furthermore, by delving into your research and analyzing it, you can start to develop insights and a unique point of view. These insights will then provide your team with fresh topics to fill your editorial calendar. In turn, the articles and blog posts that come from these insights will continue to drive citations and backlinks by others in the industry.
Ultimately, it’s these sort of pieces that will set your brand apart from the pack and build authoritative content—material that provides a unique, informed perspective on a subject, offering value to prospects and potential customers.
To be a true thought leader in your industry, you need this authoritative content. Now, let’s find out how you can start building it with the perfect survey.
How to Create an Effective Survey
Original research doesn’t happen on its own, though. There are several paths to developing it, but surveys are the most cost-effective way to garner information from a large number of people and/or organizations.
However, if you don’t design, write and distribute questions correctly, you won’t get the information necessary to complete your research. It might seem easy, but there’s more to creating an effective survey than settling on what you want to know.
Here’s how you can get started.
Determine the Purpose of the Data
It’s important to keep the end result of the survey in mind when you’re creating it. How you’ll use the data largely informs what information you need and how you’ll design the survey.
For instance, the question formatting can vary depending on what the data will be used for. If you’re planning to release a report or white paper that will be heavy on infographics, the questions need to be close-ended so you can note specific numbers and/or percentages.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in specific feedback on a product or service, open-ended questions are a better choice. They’ll allow you to cultivate customer quotes that you can highlight later.
Decide on Frequency
Another thing you’ll want to consider is the frequency of the survey. It’s perfectly fine if you’re creating a one-off survey. That means you can ask very specific questions about the subject you’re tackling.
However, some organizations like to conduct surveys annually. This is especially useful if you want to track changes in your industry. The Content Marketing Institute—whose research we cited earlier—does this with their annual Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report.
Regular research such as this should include many of the same questions asked previously. This makes it easier to track trends and gather comparative data to see how and where a particular industry is changing over time. To ensure this information is accurate, you must ask, at the very least, a selection of the same questions repeatedly.
Make It a Team Effort
Now that you know what data you’re after and the frequency of the survey, make sure everyone in your organization is on board. Sure, it’s the marketing department who will initially draft it and deploy it, but the results are important for the whole organization.
Make sure internal stakeholders have a chance to provide their input. Let other departments weigh in on it. They might be able to identify problems with the survey the marketing department missed or suggest relevant questions.
Write Effective Questions
Writing great, valid questions is at the heart of a quality survey. There are several things you need to take into consideration to do that, though.
Your questions need to be written with neutral language if you want data that truly reflects the actions and beliefs of your respondents. In other words, try to refrain from asking “leading questions.”
Putting an opinion or value judgment in the question can cause (or lead) people to answer questions in a way that doesn’t reflect their actual feelings.
Balance Your Answer Choices
Another way you can “lead” the people taking your survey is through biased answer choices. If the answer choices you provide aren’t balanced, people won’t be able to provide honest answers. And without honest answers, your survey is actually pretty useless.
So what do we mean by balanced answers? Well, you need to account for a broad range of feelings. If you’re soliciting feedback about your product or service and the only answers provided are “A. Extremely good,” “B. Very Good” and “C. Good,” that skews the data.
You need to also provide answers for people who may feel negatively or neutrally. It can be difficult to get that kind of feedback, but in the end, it’s much more helpful.
Keep It Simple
In addition to keeping your language neutral, you should also keep it simple. This reduces friction for respondents and makes questions easier to answer.
To do this, save the $10 words. Your respondents shouldn’t need a dictionary to complete a survey. Also, depending on your business and the type of research you’re conducting, you might be talking to average people—not industry insiders. If that’s the case, make sure to keep buzzwords to a minimum. Try to keep industry jargon and colloquialisms out of the questions, too.
The people taking your survey need to be confident in the questions they’re answering. Confusing questions will make the survey more difficult for respondents, and they will also skew your data.
One of the most common sources for confusion on a survey is a “double-barreled” question. Essentially, it means you’re asking people about two things in one question. For instance, “How would you rate the quality of your in-store shopping experience and your online shopping experience?”
You’re really asking for feedback on two entirely different experiences. Instead, it’s better to ask two separate questions.
Eliminate Survey Fatigue
Survey fatigue is when respondents become bored, tired or uninterested in your survey and start to perform at a substandard level.
There are a couple of ways in which you can design your questions to fight against this. First, make sure all of your questions are truly different from each other. When questions are too similar, people feel like they’re answering the same thing over and over.
It can lead to boredom, causing people to quit the survey or “straightlining.” This is when people choose the same answer option repeatedly to get through the survey. That might be even worse than quitting it because it lowers the quality of your data.
So make sure to vary your question topics and if you absolutely have to ask similar questions, space them out so they’re not back-to-back.
Another way you can fight survey fatigue is by making the majority of your questions optional to answer. That might sound counterintuitive, but research from Survey Monkey indicates it leads to a better experience for respondents—and subsequently better data for you.
According to the research, 27 percent of people surveyed said not being able to skip a question is enough to make them quit the survey completely. Additionally, 25 percent said they’ll provide a random answer just to continue. That means you could be losing a quarter of the data you would have otherwise, and another quarter of your data will be insincere.
Some people might not know how to answer certain questions. Others could be uncomfortable with certain questions. Either way, when you’re not quite sure if a question should be mandatory or optional, hedge your bets and make it optional.
Order Your Questions Correctly
We’ve already noted that you want to keep similar questions apart from each other. But there are a few other general guidelines you’ll want to adhere to while ordering your questions.
You should put any demographic questions at the start of the survey, and make those questions mandatory. That information is incredibly useful, and you’ll want to make sure that people provide it.
You also want to create a proper “flow” for the survey. The best way to do this is to start with more general questions earlier on and then gradually introduce more specific questions. It creates a logical progression that will give people time to get adjusted to the survey.
Once you’ve created your questions, don’t be afraid to edit them.
Do a Final Edit
After you’ve developed your questions, don’t be afraid to edit the survey and cut questions. The survey should be manageable for respondents. They don’t have hours and hours of time to devote to it.
Survey Monkey found that 60 percent of people don’t want to take a survey that takes longer than 10 minutes. People are even more averse to a survey for longer than 10 minutes. Survey Monkey also found that 87 percent of people don’t want to take a survey takes longer than 20 minutes.
Shoot for your survey to take no longer than 10 minutes. That’s around 40 questions in total.
Now that you’ve finalized your survey, you have to distribute it.
Pick a Distribution Method
There are several ways to send out your survey, but the best method depends on who you’re trying to reach.
An email list—perhaps from your newsletter or people who attended your presentation at a conference—is a great place to start if you have one. You can send an email invitation to your list, and depending on what tools or software you’re using, you can track the survey.
Most survey tools will allow you to monitor response rates, identify who hasn’t responded and send follow-up emails to those who haven’t responded. There are some tricks to boost your response rate:
- Personalize the invite: A customized approach will help foster a connection with recipients and make them feel valued. This has been shown to boost engagement.
- State your intent: Let your recipients know explicitly that you’re conducting a survey and why you want their input.
- Offer an incentive: You can show your gratitude by offering a small incentive such as a discount, an exclusive perk or a free downloadable.
- Display one question: Show your recipients what they’re in for, so they have a better sense of whether they want to take the whole survey. This will cut down the bounce rate.
However, you might be more interested in surveying people visiting your website. This could be to get data on user experience or your eCommerce experience. Either way, there are several options to reach these people.
If you have a relatively short survey, a popup survey could be appropriate. Just remember to make sure it can be answered quickly, as not to disrupt the user experience. For more in-depth surveys, a pop-up invitation will give people the option to participate and appropriately set expectations. Similarly, an embedded survey also gives people the option to participate.
Alternatively, you could want information from a very specific demographic. Buying a targeted audience is often the most effective way to do this. Many companies offer this functionality, including Survey Monkey, MySurveyLab and Pollfish. However, in many cases, segmenting an organic list—like newsletter subscribers—will yield better results.
The art of crafting a quality survey requires thinking critically about the questions you’re asking and how you present those questions to your respondents. It also requires making the process of taking the survey as easy as possible. As you learn this art, you’ll collect better data—the first step to creating original, authoritative content.
Have you successfully conducted original research in the past? Let us know!
For more information on how to build the best content for your brand, download “The Intelligent Content Playbook” for free.