How to Increase Survey Response Rates

How to Increase Survey Response Rates

Marketers and market researchers ought to keep a watchful eye on their survey response rates. These indicate the percentage of online users who have seen and completed a survey.

If you’ve launched a survey and nobody responded to it, then have you launched one at all? Or, perhaps you’ve set one in motion,  but unfortunately, it received low response rates. These are the realities market researchers face when running surveys in the wild jungle known as the Internet.

As crucial as it is to form a thorough and well-rounded survey, it is equally important that it receives the intended amount of responses. Moreover, it is crucial that these responses come from your target market and all those you target in your market research campaign. 

This article covers survey response rates so that your research receives the proper amount, allowing you to draw statistical and qualitative conclusions key to help your business scale. 

Defining Survey Response Rates

Survey response rates identify how many of your respondents completed their surveys. These can change from campaign to campaign and from one survey launch to the next. In any case, they all point to a specific metric that illustrates the success of your survey participation.

There are two types of survey response rates. Both use the same formula but with slightly different variables. They include the following:

The first method involves measuring the percentage of respondents who completed their survey in comparison to the number of those who viewed or started the survey. These survey response rates calculate how successful your surveys were in engaging their target audience. This method is apt for market researchers who distribute their surveys to a preset sampling pool size (usually online).  

Survey response rates can also be generated by comparing survey completes to the total sampling group. This approach is used when market researchers invite specific people (as opposed to all who fit their target survey audience) to take a survey. For example, some researchers may personally reach out to their sampling pool via email, text message, social media or even a phone call to request their survey participation.

How to Calculate Survey Response Rates

As aforementioned, both approaches to discovering survey response rates use the same formula, with only mildly differing variables. The formula provides a quick and practical way to calculate survey response rates. 

Use the following formulas for the two approaches: 

  • For the First Approach: 
  • Divide the number of completed responses by the number of people who either viewed or started the survey. Then multiply the quotient (the result of the division by 100). 
  • For example: if 300 people viewed your survey, while 170 people completed it, the calculation would be derived as follows: 170/300 = 0.566  0.566 x 100 = 56.6%
  • 56.6% = the response rate


  • For the Second Approach
  • Divide the number of respondents who completed the survey by those who have been invited to take part in the survey. Multiple the quotient by 100 to get the percentage.
  • For example: If 400 people were invited to take the survey and 190 of them completed it, the calculation for the rate would be: 190/400 = 0.475   0.475 x 100 = 47.5%
  • 47.5% = the response rate

Standard Survey Response Rates & Which to Aim For

When you endeavor to find your survey response rates, it is key to have a reference point of comparison. This way, you’ll understand how your rates measure up with standard industry rates. Additionally, comparing your response rates with benchmark rates will help you determine if they can be categorized as good or bad.

Most online survey platforms report average survey responses well below 50%. For example, PeoplePulse found that the median survey response rate of online surveys is 26.45%, while the average rate for surveys with under 1,000 participants is 41.21%. Genroe reported that a good rate is any above 25%.

This makes sense, given that most organizations report external surveys hovering around the 20% mark. Internal surveys, such as an employee satisfaction survey, generate higher survey response rates, typically between 30-40%. This is unsurprising, given that employers urge their workers to complete these surveys — and workers take heed. 

Businesses and research organizations should aim for response rates that surpass 25%. Since large invitation lists are associated with lower survey response rates, it is key to keep these lists on the shorter end of the scale, with the possibility of iterating the surveys in one campaign. 

The Consequences of Low Survey Response Rates

Low survey response rates have a number of consequences that businesses and research organizations ought to steer clear of. Here are a few of the negative results these rates can incur: 

  1. Inconclusive results: When too few people take part in a survey, the results do not bear statistical relevance. This means you cannot use them for quantitative studies, which make up a large bulk of survey research. Low response rates may reap critical qualitative studies, but, when the rates are too low, the research cannot be considered conclusive. 
  2. Uninterested survey pool: Low rates point to an uninterested group of survey respondents. This is worrisome as it requires changing minds so that would-be respondents do an about-face and complete the survey. Additionally, it is troubling as this group can be all the contacts businesses possess in an email list.
  3. High error levels: Surveys with low response rates fall victim to a higher margin of error. This critically undermines the accuracy of the surveys’ findings. An unfathomably high rate of 100% bears the industry brunt of a 5% margin of error. As such, this error is far higher among lower response rates, especially those that barely hit the one-third mark.
  4. Nonresponse bias: Low response rates often signify nonresponse bias, which takes precedence when one or more demographics in your study don’t complete a survey. This bias creeps up in a number of settings: it can be due to a lack of interest in the survey topic, your email being labeled a scam, or if you send the survey at an inappropriate time (think religious holidays)
  5. Repackaging of surveys: Oftentimes, to remedy low response rates, researchers have to return to already launched surveys and reiterate the survey campaign. While this can generate more results, including surveys with higher response rates, it takes more time and effort, which instead could have been spent on other survey campaigns or on the analysis portion of a survey study. 

How to Increase Survey Response Rates

Now that we’ve covered the various crucial aspects of survey response rates, it is time to adopt certain best practices to preempt low survey response rates or increase low rates if you already have them. Here are a few methods to increase response rates so that you collect as much data as necessary. 

  1. Shorten your surveys: No one wants to spend a significant portion of their precious time filling out surveys. As such, keep surveys, short, sweet and to the point. As such, create surveys that take no longer than 5 minutes to complete. A good rule of thumb is to keep questions at 12 and under. If, however, your survey research requires more questions, consider breaking up one survey into several.
  2. Add incentives: Survey incentives motivate people to take surveys, as they’ll be rewarded for their time. No one likes to do anything for free, especially the demographics that are known for being time-poor (parents, workers of more than 1 job, etc.). Researchers can get creative with their incentive offerings, as these do not necessarily have to be cash. 
  3. Implement engaging elements: A plain survey design with text only won’t trigger anyone to take your survey. Instead, consider creating a more lively survey with less text and more visual elements such as images, short videos and GIFs. You should also expand on the types of questions you ask. For example, avoid consecutive matrix-scale or Likert-scale questions.
  4. Create an enticing call to action: Also known as call-outs in the context of surveys, these elements are what triggers people to take a survey (if you’re sending them via an online survey tool). These are often short and are located on a button or element which opens up or transports users to your survey. If you offer an incentive, it’s key to mention it upfront, aka, in the call-out.
  5. Offer the surveys across channels: Don’t settle for one website, no matter how popular it is, to dispense your survey. Instead, distribute your survey across various websites and on mobile apps, as we are living in a mobile-first world, after all. It is unlikely that your target market frequents just one digital property. 

Avoiding Survey Response Rates Altogether

Your survey response rates shed light on your surveys’ performance. As such, it is crucial to maintain healthy rates — otherwise, you’re unintentionally miring your own survey data. This data is already subject to a margin of error, even with high response rates. 

Since surveys are the most potent forms of primary research, it is best to avoid faulty surveys. There is one surefire way to avoid faulty surveys: by avoiding survey response rates altogether

Does this sound impossible? It isn’t with the correct online survey tool in place. Survey software, as alluded to in the first approach, allows you to preset the exact amount of responses your survey requires, including quotas for particular respondents. These settings ensure that you only gather the responses from participants you target. It also means that the survey tool does all the heavy lifting — meaning that you don’t need to check your survey response rates, as the tool is going to run surveys until the set amount of survey completes is reached. Thereby, you avoid the need to check and stress over your survey response rates.

Frequently asked questions

What are survey response rates?

Survey response rates — not to be confused with the survey completion rate — refer to two methods that calculate the percentage of people who completed a given survey.

How are survey response rates calculated?

There are two types of survey response rates. In the first type, the percentage is calculated by comparing the total number of people who completed the survey with the total number who viewed or started the survey. In the second type, the percentage is calculated by comparing the total number of completed surveys with the total number of individuals who were invited to take the survey.

What is the average response rate for online surveys?

For most online surveys, the response rate is typically below 50%.

What is considered a good response rate for online surveys?

A good rate for external surveys is anything above 25%. For internal surveys, such as employee satisfaction surveys, a good rate is anything about 30%.

What are some of the consequences of low survey response rates?

If a survey has a low response rate, the survey is more likely to yield inconclusive results, have higher error levels, and suffer from nonresponse bias.

What are some tactics to improve survey response rates?

Some of the ways to improve survey response rates include: shorten the length of the survey, add an incentive for completing the survey, improve the format of the survey so it is more engaging, and ensure the survey is distributed across a variety of channels.

The Best Survey Incentives to Increase Survey Participation

The Best Survey Incentives to Increase Survey Participation

Survey incentives are invaluable to the online survey experience; market researchers and business owners benefit by implementing them into their surveys to increase participation.

This is largely because taking part in a survey, brief as it may be, is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, survey response rates fall on the lower end of the scale, with online survey response rates totaling to roughly 26%, aka under one third.

It should come as no surprise that many online users simply have no interest in taking a survey, as they are exposed to so many other on-site elements that draw their attention.

In this way, having a survey distributed on a popular website or app can be a drawback, as users’ attention can easily be consumed by the contents of their digital environment.

Survey incentives are proven to increase survey response rates, thereby increasing target market respondents in your survey. Additionally, by adding more appeal to a survey, online survey platforms can accumulate more completes in a quicker time

This article will cover survey incentives, why they matter and the best kinds to use to increase survey participation. 

Defining Survey Incentives

As its name suggests, a survey incentive incites survey participants (or targets) to complete a survey by gifting them with some kind of stimulus. 

Incentives can take various forms, which is where marketers and market researchers can let their creativity take the wheel. This is useful as brands often reveal they are behind a survey when they provide incentives (unless their incentive strategy involves partnering with the publishing websites of their surveys, in which case, the publishers are attributed with the incentive).

Regardless of who gets credit for providing the incentive, it is necessary to draw in interest and truthful responses from online visitors. It is also a valuable way to thank survey respondents, as a thank you note alone will not suffice. 

Monetary Vs Non-Monetary Survey Incentives

Incentivizing respondents is divided into two major forms: monetary incentives and non-monetary incentives. Both are effective drivers of survey engagement and can drive repeat participation, the latter of which is critical for longitudinal studies

The following expounds on both chief incentives.

Monetary Survey Incentives

These are money or currency-based gifts that researchers use to reel in survey respondents. The responders receive the incentives only after completing their surveys. A potent online survey tool ought to be able to distinguish between a fully completed survey and an invalid survey. 

For example, it should be able to mark gibberish answers and identify flatliners and other types of suspicious survey respondents

Here are a few useful monetary incentives to employ, including best practices on when and how to use them. 

  1. Cash (Via direct deposit or a digital payments system, i.e., Paypal).
      1. How much? It depends on the length and audience of the survey. Ex:
        1. A five-minute survey for students should be incentivized by approx. $1-$10.
        2. A 20-minute survey for clinicians, scientists and other professionals should be $30-$100.
  2. Gift cards
      1. Gift cards to your own business will not solely be an incentive but will draw attention to/promote your business. It will also not cost brands any money (as the card is redeemable at their business).
      2. Gift cards to popular retailers within your target market. This requires running primary and secondary market research to understand and segment your target market
      3. The price range should correspond with the time required for the survey. Ex: $5-$15 for a survey taking about 15 minutes.
  3. Coupons
      1. Like gift cards, coupons can be offered to your business, or a popular one among your target market (NOT your competitors’). 
      2. Coupons should offer markdowns and discounts on popular products and services.
      3. The offer should hover around 25% off.
  4. Checks/Money Orders
      1. Will require collecting more personal information from respondents, such as addresses. This can serve as proof of residence in a particular demographic area if you need residents of a specific geographic location.
      2. Keep the price ranges congruent with the amount of time/effort of a survey.
      3. Ex: $5-$15 for surveys taking 10-15 minutes.
  5. Donations to Charity
    1. These are donations you send to charities or causes for the better good when respondents complete a survey.
    2. Brands can give respondents the option of sending the donations on their behalf, i.e., with their names as the donors. 
    3. This involves picking a charity that relates to your niche and is recognizable by your target market. 
    4. The price range can be concrete — $1-$20, or it can be expressed as a percentage, i.e., 10% of profits will go to a charity.

Non-Monetary Survey Incentives

These incentives coax respondents to complete surveys through non-monetary offerings. They still offer something of value to the respondent. This is a more practical use for B2B brands, as small monetary incentives often won’t be enough for, let’s say a SaaS company. This opens the door for more types of incentives.

Below are some of the kinds to employ, along with their best practices.

  1. Product Samples
      1. These allow businesses to save money and resources. Plenty of people may send requests for product samples, but are they actually considering making a purchase? This answer may vary. But when you use samples as an incentive, you are guaranteed to gain something critical in return: customer data.
      2. These samples should correlate with the efforts required for the survey. As such, small surveys should call for small samples (think in terms of both size and type of product).
  2. Trial Subscription
      1. Much like samples, these offer a sampling of a service. If you offer media such as online magazines, news sources, trade publications or video content, consider offering a free or freemium trial.
      2. The trials should run no more than 4 days to a week. 
  3. Loyalty Programs
      1. Both a practical non-monetary incentive and a method for building customer loyalty, this type of program will give respondents a taste of what your top customers gain when earning loyalty points, likely stoking their interest in your business. 
      2. Loyalty programs work by offering points, which help customers earn freebies or other perks. 
      3. Offer 1-2 loyalty rewards at most for survey completion.
  4. Company Literature
      1. Most useful for B2B respondents, who are intent on learning about a particular discipline that your brand offers in its marketing content.
      2. Examples include white papers, industry and consumer reports, webinars and video content.
      3. This is most ideal when studying professionals or hiring survey panels.
  5. Partnership Benefits
    1. This is a mutual incentive for companies that want to partner up for collaborative survey research. (Ideal for both B2C and B2B businesses, including SaaS companies)
    2. How it works: Your business grants small discounts to the partnering company’s customers; the partner business follows suit for your customers.
    3. Partnerships and other business affiliations provide more exposure for your business.

Hybrid Incentives

When brainstorming survey incentives, you need not rely on one of the chief, aforementioned methods. This is because you can merge these approaches by offering multiple incentives. This is especially useful when dividing surveys across market segments, as certain segments may be more receptive to one form of survey incentive over the other.

Additionally, there are methods that allow you to offer either monetary or nonmonetary incentives. Here is the following list of such means:

  1. Sweepstakes
      1. Also called a raffle or a drawing, sweepstakes provide an exciting opportunity for respondents to win a prize, when chosen at random. 
      2. The prize can be monetary or a product, service, experience, etc. 
      3. Every respondent taking part in the survey should have an equal chance of winning.
  1. Giveaways
      1. Similar to sweepstakes, giveaways allow respondents to win something either monetary or nonmonetary via a drawing.
      2. However, giveaways can give all survey respondents the assurance of winning something.
      3. The difference lies in what respondents can receive, not if they will receive something at all, as in with sweepstakes.
        1. Ex: One responder may win a magazine subscription, while the other may win a coupon. 
  1. Games
    1. Following suit with sweepstakes and giveaways, games allow for a more creative way to incentivize respondents. 
    2. Businesses can enter respondents to play a game, granting them the chance to win a prize. 
    3. Only the winners will be sent a prize. This is ideal for those seeking something more than just receiving a reward.

When to Use Survey Incentives

Market researchers and business owners can best benefit from survey incentives to motivate a targeted audience they have less data about. For example, perhaps not all of your quotas on one demographic or psychographic population are being filled. A survey incentive can buttress this obtaining this objective.

Or — perhaps your survey response rates are low. Implementing survey incentives will boost this metric. No one wants to do anything for free, regardless of its simplicity and little timing. 

Then there is the case of supply. Some businesses have plenty of leftover samples from a particular campaign, whether it was sending samples to those who requested them or sending goods to other businesses as part of an ABM campaign used in marketing. Rather than discard these items or let them collect dust, you can repurpose them for survey research.

The Online Survey Tool as the Survey Incentive

A robust online survey platform is a necessity for any marketer or market researcher, even with a steady survey incentive strategy in place. This is because an effective online survey tool won’t stop iterating surveys across a wide online ecosystem of websites and apps until it receives ALL the preset number of survey completions.

However, brands would be remiss to completely disregard the survey incentive approach, even with a strong survey platform in tow. This is because offering incentives will cast your business into the minds of your target market, i.e, the most valuable customers and prospects. 

The experience of gaining something (the incentive) from a brand is far more memorable than simply taking a survey that mentions a brand.  

Thus, by providing customers with a survey on matters relevant to them and offering them an incentive, which can be your company’s product, you are differentiating your brand from that of your competitors

Frequently asked questions

What is a survey incentive?

A survey incentive is anything that encourages individuals to participate in a survey. The incentive itself can come in a wide variety of forms, ranging from discount codes, monetary compensation, content, and more.

What are examples of monetary survey incentives?

Monetary survey incentives can take the form of cash or checks, gift cards, coupons, discount codes, and donations to charity.

What are some examples of non-monetary survey incentives?

Non-monetary survey incentives include product samples, company literature, media, or other forms of content, membership in a loyalty program, and trial subscriptions.

What is a hybrid survey incentive?

Hybrid incentives are those that offer a monetary or non-monetary reward to select recipients. For example, by completing a survey, the participant is entered into a raffle or giveaway.

What are the benefits of offering survey incentives?

Survey incentives are known to increase the response rates of surveys. Incentives can encourage more people to participate in your survey, which improves the response rate, thereby reducing the margin of error since you’re gaining more respondents that represent a target population