Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Surveys

Creating and analyzing online surveys is something I have come to love as someone who graduated with a degree in Advertising from the University of Florida. I conducted a few online surveys through Qualtrics in a few of my classes, analyzed the responses, and created an advertising campaign and marketing strategy from the results. Without these surveys, I don’t think I really would have had a clear vision of the campaign, or even understand my target market.

My final semester at UF I had to create a campaign for Brevard Community College as they transformed into a four-year state college, Eastern Florida State College. My group and I began by conducting secondary research to see truly understand what the college and its competitors currently do. But, we couldn’t stop there – from personal interviews to focus groups to ethnographic studies to online surveys. Each one of these methods of primary research had its advantages and disadvantages. But, online the online study provided us with quantifiable data.

The online survey was created and distributed in a timely and cost-effective manner, especially when comparing it to the other methods of research used. First of all, an online survey has global reach. However it is distributed, whether it is a simple link via email or appears while visiting a website, anyone has the ability to take the survey. Along with that, online surveys have a pre-screener built in. When I conducted the survey for Eastern Florida we only viewed and analyzed the results of the participants who met our needs. This in itself saved us time. We were able to control the order of the questions based on a respondent’s previous answer and target a person more specifically. None of these things would have been possible otherwise.

While there are many advantages we did find some disadvantages. Some people just didn’t want to take the time to complete the survey, making the response rate lower than the ideal. It was also difficult to control who took the survey. It was impossible to ensure we had an equal amount of males and females and a good distribution of ages that took the survey.

Since I have conducted surveys on my own I am probably more likely to take an online survey, or one in general, than someone else. But, I still am guilty of refusing to take them sometimes.

Questions:

  1. Have you ever conducted an online survey? If so, describe your experience.
  2. Do you think the results of online surveys are more or less valid than those conducted in person?
  3. What persuades you to participate in an online survey?
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9 thoughts on “Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Surveys

  1. After reading about the process, I can appreciate the time and care companies put into surveys. I may think twice before I dismiss the next one.

    I can definitely see the advantages of an online survey. It’s quick, cheaper, and you can cover a huge demographic. One problem attached is that you really don’t have control over your sample selection. People who take the survey are mostly likely interested in the topic. They are still valuable and valid. However, you need to be careful if you are looking for an unbiased audience.

    The only “surveys” I have taken recently are the teacher evaluations.

    • That’s a great point that sample selection is difficult. I find that people who respond are those who either love the company/product or hate it. People who are indifferent are less likely to go out of their way to share their opinion, and that could be the opinions a company wants most. Not only that, but ensuring you get an even sample. There is no way to make sure you have the correct demographics taking to survey.

  2. I have conducted an online survey for LinkedIn. The process was very simple. I was sent an email with a personalized survey and told that they want to incorporate new tools into their product, but they wanted feedback on what those should be. Defining their goal in the pitch is what encouraged me to complete it. The survey itself was only about 10 minutes long as asked my priorities in Sales. Overall, it was engaging and made me think about the best tools I use on a daily basis.

    I think with online surveys you need to focus on statistical outliers more closely, so I think it does have slightly less legitimacy if comparing similar sample sizes. Overall though, you have a much better chance to get a larger sample size online, so that evens out the situation.

    A good pitch or giveaway convinces me to do an online survey. The value to me needs to be clearly stated in the email or online site that’s asking for the survey.

    • I have, surprisingly, never taken or conducted a survey via LinkedIn. I am interested to do so now and compare it with other experiences. I agree that you do have the ability to give a larger sample size with online surveys, but it can definitely be difficult to get people to take the survey and control who takes it. But, every way you conduct research has its pros and cons and you just have to see what will be best for your specific situation.

      • Yeah, they send out an email to different segmentations to see what new tools they can incorporate. Since I’m in Sales and have a premium membership, they asked how I liked their current tools and what new ones they can add. I appreciate it because it will make my life easier and also encourage me to keep paying every month.

  3. That sounds like a great experience Michelle! It also sounds like you and your team were able to really guide and focus Brevard while they were making this move. How long did the whole transition take? Did you see it through from beginning to end or were you just a part of a larger process?

    I have not conducted a survey…well, I did just create one and posted it on my blog last week but I don’t think it counts, haha

    I do think that the results of an online survey can be just as valid as those conducted in person. It really all depends on the questions that are asked and how they are presented. I think you’d have to be more careful with the kinds of questions that are asked via online surveys because there isn’t really someone there to help you along or explain a question for you…you’re just kind of on your own.

    I usually take online surveys for companies that I know and like and where I feel my responses will actually benefit them/me in some way.

    • The whole campaign for Brevard was a semester-long project. Our group competed against seven others in the class and then presented it to the institution. I can proudly say that my group one best creative and that was mainly because of the large amount of research conducted. Analyzing our online survey gave us so many necessary insights of our audience, which led to our success. This experience gave me a greater understanding of the importance of market research. I think it would definitely be great for you to try to analyze any of the results you get from the survey you made on your blog. I’ll take it just so you have more results!

  4. I think online surveys, even more so than mail, telephone or in-person surveys, benefit greatly from pre-testing, pre-testing, pre-testing. As Richard mentioned, it is impossible somebody to make a comment or ask a question during an online survey like it is during a telephone or in-person one. Even during written surveys, it is quite common for respondents to explain or qualify a response in the margins of the document, allowing researchers to better understand their response and determine its validity. It would be really unfortunate for a researcher to draw conclusions from a digital survey when one or more of the questions were misinterpreted.

    • Misinterpreting questions is a large disadvantage for online surveys because of its impersonal nature. Because of this, it is essential the researcher careful words questions and organizes the question flow very carefully.

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