The Complete Survey Response Rate Guide

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.


How to Get More Survey Responses: 8 Strategies From Survey Experts

How to Get More Survey Responses: 8 Strategies From Survey Experts

Every market researcher, marketer and business owner seeks to get more survey responses. Some studies claim that the average response rate for surveys is around 30%.

The number sounds intimidating because that means only every third person will participate in a survey. 

Fortunately, there’s a lot of room for improvement. With a carefully planned and executed survey you can double and even triple the number of responses you get.

Our eight tips will help you get as many survey responses as possible without affecting the quality of your results.  

#1. Keep Your Survey Simple

Whether you’re surveying your target market on complex or more general subjects, always strive to keep your survey as simple as possible. Every confusing or wordy question challenges participants’ will to focus and continue. The following includes advice on how to keep your surveys simple and engaging: 

    • Keep it short. Research shows that response rates are lower for longer questionnaires, so keep the number of questions in your survey in check. 
    • Don’t use too many open-ended questions. Asking open-ended survey questions requires more time and energy, so limit their number to maximize response rates. 
  • Eliminate jargon and complicated terminology. Abbreviations and jargon cause extra confusion, especially when you’re dealing with a general audience. 

#2. Improve Your Targeting

It’s far more interesting and engaging to answer questions that speak directly to you rather than generic questions that could be answered by anyone else. 

That’s why enhanced targeting works so well for boosting survey response rates. Suppose you’re asking a group of people about their opinion on the latest baby food product — you’ll get far better response rates when targeting parents rather than more generic sample groups. 

#3. Make It Easy To Participate in Your Survey

The way you distribute your survey plays a major role in the number of respondents that will take part in your survey. 

Compare these two scenarios:

Scenario #1. To participate in your survey, a participant has to open an email message, click the link, open a new website, sign up, confirm their email and then be routed to the survey.

Scenario #2. A survey starts directly in a mobile app that the person is using at the moment. 

The problem with the first scenario is similar to the traditional marketing funnel conversion problem: every additional step lessens the possibility that the participant attempts the desired action. 

The second scenario is rather straightforward and minimizes the number of people who opt out of the survey before it starts. Thus, to make it easy to access your survey, make sure to eliminate as many barriers to it as possible. 

#4. Add Interactive And Visual Elements

Adding visual elements to your questions serves two distinct purposes. 

For starters, visual content makes your survey questions easier to comprehend as 65% of humans are visual learners

Secondly, images make your surveys more engaging research shows that colored visuals increase people’s desire to read content by up to 80%. 

Make sure you accompany your question with visual and interactive elements such as:

  • sliders 
  • graphs. 
  • GIFs
  • Short videos

Despite the engagement levels visuals present, don't overpack your questions with them.; Only use imagery that is relevant to your questions. There is no need for extra stimuli in leu of decorations, especially when you have several questions that feature visual elements. 

#5. Keep The Flow Going

Research shows that it is becoming harder to capture respondents’ attention; over the last two decades, the average attention span decreased from 12 to 8 seconds. With so many distractions around, it’s easier than ever for respondents  to drop your survey in the middle of the process and switch to their social media or web browsing. 

To help you keep the engagement high, treat your survey as a narrative: create a flow where every question leads to the next one or builds around it.

For example, if you’re surveying people about phone gadgets you might start with broader questions about what phones do they use and then gradually introduce more specific questions about their apps or user preferences.

Another effective way to keep the audience engaged is to start with the most engaging and easy questions to encourage completion. 

If your survey contains sensitive or private questions, save them for the middle or the end, otherwise, you risk setting the wrong tone for the whole survey. The same goes for demographic questions — you risk tiring participants by putting too many demographic questions at the beginning. 

#6. Personalize Interviews

Personalization is another great way to boost the number of survey responses  studies show that personalization may increase the survey response rate by at least 8.6%.

There are several ways you can create a personalized survey experience. If you’re surveying people over email, email software allows you to automatically insert people’s names into the subject or body of your message.

And if you target a specific audience, you might greet your participants with a custom message such a “Hello young parents” or something of that nature. 

Try finding ways to personalize your surveys without making the experience artificial or affecting people’s responses.

#7. Provide Incentives

Incentives can get you more survey responses, and research shows that incentives may increase response rates without affecting the quality of answers. 

But there’s a catch: the correlation between is not that direct. In one study there was no noticeable difference in response rates between two surveys that promised $10 and $20 rewards respectively. 

So if you want to get more responses, consider adding incentives, but track your expenses and first apply the advice from other sections in this article. 

#8. Go Mobile

US adults spend almost 3 hours on their smartphones every day, and we’re only talking about active use. 

In reality, our phones are always somewhere near. Which makes mobile surveys one of the most effective and fast ways of reaching out to your target audience. 

Make sure that your participants can fill the survey on their mobile phones and you’ll enjoy a surge in response rates. 

How To Get a 100% Response Rate

There’s a surprisingly easy way to achieve a 100% response rate for your surveys: pay only for completed responses. 

Using Pollfish you can design survey questions, specify the target audience, and then get as many responses as you need. 

We partnered with thousands of providers to ensure that your responses come directly from your true audience.

Check out how our next-generation survey platform helps you get survey insights you can count on.