Response optimization in online surveys

September 26, 2019

Response optimization

Clear questions, clear answers and a precisely defined target group ensure that nothing can go wrong in a survey. Or can it? Why is it that some surveys have a surprisingly low response rate? We provide answers and ten tips on how to optimize the response rate in an online survey.

Quantity and quality

The significance of survey results depends primarily on the number of participants. The more people take part in a survey, the closer one gets to the statistical truth. But it does not only depend on the highest possible number of respondents.

Recruit now suitable participants for your online surveys

The quality of the answers has to be right, too. A survey can only lead to the desired result if the sample is as accurate and straightforward as possible.

Three steps to achieve a perfect survey design

In order to create a perfect survey that guarantees a high response rate, you have to take three steps to heart:

1. What do you want to know?

Before creating a questionnaire, you must clearly define the objectives. What are the results you want the survey to deliver? This determines which questions need to be asked – and which questions would unnecessarily increase the length of the questionnaire. Too many questions signify a considerable additional effort for the respondents. This can lead to a low response rate.

2. Put the questions in order

The demographic questions that are decisive for the later evaluation are essential. That is why they belong at the beginning. The questions are then arranged according to topics and importance. The most important questions come first; this ensures that you obtain some answers in the case of abandonment. On the other hand, putting questions regarding more sensitive data at the end of the survey may help prevent drop-outs.

3. The logical structure

Remove any unnecessary questions from your survey. A logical structure will help achieve this goal. If the question “Are you a football fan?” is answered with a “No”, then it is unnecessary to ask a series of questions about favorite clubs and football accessories. Instead, the respondent can jump straight to the next topic or be excluded from the further survey. An illogically framed questionnaire leads to less reliable results and unwanted abandonments.

Open, closed, suggestive? The nature of the question

How you ask the questions will determine the answers. In the case of online surveys this means that the quality of the answers depends on the quality of the questions. A suggestive question influences the respondent simply by how it is phrased. It provides the answer and blocks spontaneous and straightforward reactions.

For example:

  • “Are you fond of product X because it tastes so sweet?” (suggestive question)
  • This phrasing is better: “Why are you fond of product X?” (open question)

But this is where the next problem comes into play: Too many open questions overtax the respondent because he has to formulate and type in the answers himself. This is a frequent cause of high abandonment rates. Closed questions that are formulated openly but have a choice of answers are a good compromise, for instance:

  • “Why are you fond of product X?
    A: Because it tastes sweet, B: Because it has an edge to it, C: Because it’s trendy, D: Other reason.” (closed question)

These multiple-choice questions have proven successful in surveys and are popular with participants. Anyone who selects “other reason” should also be given the option to explain it in more detail.

Discretion? Not at all self-evident

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has made Internet users more sensitive to the subject of data protection. In order to create trust, it is therefore very important to point out the confidentiality of personal data at the very beginning. A survey that does not inform the user about his rights makes an unreliable impression. Three points are particularly important in this context:

  1. The data protection declaration must inform the participant about the scope, purpose and form of the survey.
  2. This declaration must also inform the participant about his rights (information, revocation, deletion and similar).
  3. The participant must declare that he has taken note of the information and has given his consent.

10 tips for increasing the response rate

How can you improve the response rate for online surveys? For example, by observing the following ten tips. Many of these tips are self-evident. But all too often, in the hectic pace of business, one forgets the obvious. It is therefore helpful to go through this checklist before publishing a survey:

  1. Test your survey in advance to find out if there are any mistakes – perhaps with two or three colleagues.
  2. Before starting the survey, the participants should be given an accurate estimate of the expected completion time. A progress bar during the survey is another way to build trust.
  3. Limit your target group right from the start. This can help you avoid abandonment.
  4. The Internet is mobile – this also applies to online surveys. Therefore, be sure to use responsive design when designing the questionnaire – otherwise you will lose up to 50 percent of the participants. Because today more than half of all surfers are mobile.
  5. Keep it short and simple. Internet users have a limited amount of time. Therefore, an online survey should not last forever. And the more comprehensible the question, the higher the likelihood of correct answers.
  6. Divide the questionnaire into several pages, each of which must be confirmed. If respondents abandon, you will at least obtain intermediate results and you will immediately know which questions lead to a higher than average abandonment rate.
  7. Too many questions with largely identical content fatigue the respondent. The number of questions should therefore be limited to those that are absolutely essential. Less is more – also in online surveys.
  8. Straightforward and clearly phrased questions deliver the most honest and informative answers. Closed questions work better than open questions.
  9. Incorporate attention checks. For instance: There are several possible answers, but the question asks the respondent to select a specific answer or no answer at all. This shows which respondents do not read the questions at all.
  10. User-friendly design of the questionnaires. A no-go, for example, is the need to download special software in order to participate in the survey.

Best practices for increasing the circulation ratio also include providing advance information, which is linked to a personal form of address and indicates the relevance of the topic. However, when disclosing the background of the survey, you must keep in mind that this preliminary information can falsify the result. It should therefore be formulated in a very general manner.

Last but not least: Rewards always work. A small raffle among the respondents encourages the willingness to complete a questionnaire. Small payments for processing the questionnaires are even more effective. The low costs incurred are more than compensated by good results.

The use of the crowd for online surveys leads to particularly high response rates. In addition, it ensures a quick supply of participants who are selected for specific target groups.

Summary on response optimization for online surveys

Whether scientific studies, market research or product optimization – online surveys are a popular way to get answers quickly and effectively. In order to increase the response rate, the quality and user-friendliness of the survey are of paramount importance. By following the most important points you can count on a high response rate.


Dieser Artikel wurde am 26.September 2019 von Jan Knupper geschrieben.


Jan Knupper

Ein Kommentar

Writer 27.09.2019, 15:56:47 Uhr


I actually never thought that online surveys can and should be optimized. Thank your for this informative article.