The Complete Survey Response Rate Guide

In a survey, the survey response rate is a unit used to measure the accuracy of the data that you collected, making it an important factor to consider when interpreting survey results. After taking the time to plan and create a survey, a low response rate can be very disappointing. 

Even worse, a low response rate may result in the incorrect interpretation of survey data, leading to a major misstep in business planning. 

When planning and creating a survey, you should aim to maximize the survey response rate by paying attention to factors that may hinder respondents from starting or completing your survey. 

This guide will help you understand why the survey response rate matters and what you can do to improve the response rate of the surveys you create. 

Understanding the survey response rate

Also referred to as the completion rate, return rate, or simply the response rate, this unit is crucial to survey research. The survey response rate and its affiliated monikers are used to indicate the percentage of people who completed a survey compared to the total sample size (people who received the survey).

For example, if you sent out 1,000 surveys and received 150 completed surveys, your response rate would be 15%. When looking at the response rate for a survey you conducted, you will need to assess whether the response rate is poor, average, or good. 

There is not a standard “good” survey response rate because it varies greatly based on several components, such as the industry, survey type, and the method of distribution (e.g. phone, in-person,  email, live site or app).  

Why the survey response rate matters

Calculating the survey response rate is straightforward, but interpreting its effect on survey data is more nuanced. As such, it is vital that you carefully consider this metric when analyzing survey data. 

A low response rate usually increases the likelihood of sampling bias. Sampling bias is the term used when the results of a survey do not return random results. The lower your response rate, the more likely it is that you will experience sampling bias. 

An example of potential sampling bias due to a low response rate:

Let’s say that a company wants to know what incentives are most appealing to their employees. They decide to focus on softer incentives like free lunches, happy hours, and other team-building activities. They send the survey out to 200 employees and receive 32 responses, giving them a 16% response rate

When examining the data, the HR team noted that 94% of these respondents expressed great satisfaction with the team-building incentives. With such a positive response, the team could be tempted to assume that these incentives are a valuable asset to current and prospective employees.

Fortunately, knowing that the survey had a low response rate that could result in sampling bias, the team decides to look closer at the results before drawing conclusions. 

While reviewing the data, the HR team sees that most respondents were in the 22 – 28 age group, leaving them with new questions. Were younger people more likely to respond because they like these activities and want them to continue? Does this age group have more interest in voicing their opinions? 

With more questions than answers, the HR team decides to revisit their survey and try to improve the response rate before making changes to their incentive program. 

5 ways to improve your survey response rate

Here is the most important part of this guide. Since the response rate is an indication of survey quality and can improve the accuracy of results, you should do everything you can to promote a higher response rate

Here are our top tips for creating a survey to improve your response rate: 

#1: Understand and state the purpose of your survey

Before you create screening criteria or questions, think deeply about the purpose of your survey. What do you hope to learn by conducting this survey? What are the top questions you want to answer for your business? Revisit your purpose before, during, and after your survey development to ensure you stay on target.

For even better results, share some of this information with your respondents. Instead of asking someone to “answer a few questions,” you may get a better response when your respondents understand why they are being asked to participate.  

#2: Design your survey well 

A well-designed survey offers a better user experience (UX) for respondents and increases the likelihood that they will complete the survey. Survey design covers both the physical aspect of the survey as well as the questions within the survey. 

Some best practices for survey design include:

  • Create a visually appealing survey. Questions should be laid out nicely and responses should be easy to select. Include images if necessary. 
  • Make sure the language of the survey appeals to your target audience. Use language that is clear and appropriate for the audience. The questions should be easy to understand with responses that make sense within the contact of the question. 
  • Since many people will complete an online survey on a mobile device, verify that the survey works as well on phones and tablets as it does on a computer. 
  • Personalize your survey to your target market. Further audience segmentation will help organize your user base.
  • Add advanced skip logic so that respondents are routed only to relevant questions based on their answers.   
  • Use a variety of question types. Varying your question types between multiple-choice, rating, and open-ended can help increase your survey response rate. 

#3: Keep it short

Long surveys are less likely to be completed, making survey length one of the primary factors in survey response rate. Ideally, you will keep your survey short and focused – a survey that takes longer than 5 minutes to complete will not perform as well as one that takes 3 minutes. 

Of equal importance, let your respondents know how long it will take them to complete the survey – and make sure your estimate is accurate or you may notice that respondents start the survey and do not finish it. 

#4: Reach the right audience

In order to increase the number of people who complete your survey, you need to reach them and offer them a survey that they can complete on their own terms. A professional survey platform can help you reach a bigger, more relevant audience, thereby increasing the odds you will find the right people to complete your survey.

With a larger number of prospects, it is also important to carefully consider your screening questions to filter out those who are not in your target market, area of study or are less likely to complete the survey. A good survey platform will make it easy for you to screen users before they begin taking your survey. 

#5: Choose the right incentive

While some people truly enjoy filling out a survey, the vast majority of respondents are reluctant to spend valuable time answering a survey without some type of incentive. There is no “one size fits all incentive” – the type of incentive you offer must be attractive to your specific survey group. 

B2B customers are more likely to be motivated by intrinsic incentives, such as eventually receiving the results of your research or understanding that their response will help you improve their experience.

Other survey audiences are better motivated by extrinsic rewards, such as discounts and coupons. If you have an online shop, offering a 10% discount on a subsequent purchase can help dramatically improve your survey response rate. 

An appealing introduction:

In our scenario above, the HR team could encourage responses from a wider demographic if someone explains the importance of the survey during a company-wide meeting and again when distributing the survey. 

Here is an example of an introduction that could improve the survey’s response rate:

“Hi Sam. We know that incentives are a powerful tool to retain employees and attract the best talent to join our team. We want to understand if the incentives we currently offer are appealing to all of our employees. 

The survey will only take 3 minutes to complete. Your responses will help us update our incentive program to ensure that our incentives are relevant to all of our employees.”

Improve your survey rate, improve your market research 

In many cases, using a survey platform will make it easier to maximize your survey response rate. For example, the platform should make it easy to add an attractive visual design that works well on any device. 

It should also come with a call-out (a button or banner that prompts users to take the survey). Additionally,  the platform should give you advanced tools to select your desired target audience by way of demographics options.

Another important benefit of a professional survey platform is that you can understand your survey’s response rate in real time, allowing you to respond quickly to correct a survey with a low response rate. The ability to course correct can save you time, money, and provide higher accuracy of results, so you can be confident about making business changes based on the outcome of your survey.