4 Common Pitfalls in Survey Questions (and How to Avoid Them)

It happens all the time. You work really hard to get your survey just right. The questions are clear, the template is simple, and the audience is spot-on.

So why is it falling flat?

You’d be surprised at how often this happens. A survey that seems so strong on the surface can often result in far fewer responses than anticipated, or in unhelpful feedback that can’t really be used.

We can fix it. Based on our experiences with more than 22 million surveys created by over 180,000 users, we’ve identified four common pitfalls—and the survey best practices you can follow to keep them at bay.

Pitfall 1: Too Many Questions

Best practice: Make your survey shorter

Try as you might, there are always going to be people who are turned off by your survey before they even take it. Usually, it’s for one reason only: They’re strapped for time.

Despite advancements in mobile apps and kiosks that make it easier than ever to answer survey questions, research continues to show just how resistant people are to questionnaires they perceive to be long. For example,one study found that more than half of customers won’t spend more than three minutes providing feedback, and that 80% have abandoned a survey halfway through. And if a survey takes more than 10 minutes to complete, 15% of mobile users will give up midway through.

To get the survey submissions you need, keep your surveys as short and concise as possible. Include only the questions that are essential to your research. And if your survey takes only a few minutes to complete, let people know this in your outreach as an incentive to take it.

Pitfall 2: Confusing Questions

Best practice: Refine and fine-tune your questions

If your survey is short and you’re still seeing high abandonment rates, the phrasing of your questions could be to blame. For example, consider the following:

Do you feel our company provides you with opportunities for advancement, recognition, and flexibility?

What if a survey taker feels the company recognizes hard work and dedication, but falls short when it comes to career development? How would someone answer when they believe they’re getting plenty of opportunities for advancement but need more flexibility with their work schedules? Most survey takers are going to have different opinions about each component of this question. A better approach is to break it up in a way that allows respondents to quickly address each element individually:

Never ask loaded questions in surveys. These can be confusing and lead to inaccurate data collection.

It’s also imperative to use language your audience will understand. Surveys are not the place for industry jargon, buzzwords, acronyms, slang, or anything else that could be confusing. Anything that causes respondents to pause is a reason for them to leave altogether. Even worse, they might select an answer at random just to get through the question. This results in bad data, which you definitely don’t want.

If there’s even a slight inkling that a term might be misunderstood or unknown, don’t use it.

Pitfall 3: Poor Timing

Fix: Find out when your audience is most receptive

Do you have a reliable list of survey tips and best practices that you follow, yet you still experience low rates of survey submissions? It could be a matter of timing.

As we’ve mentioned before, timing is often why surveys fail to garner high response rates. A business professional may be more inclined to click your survey link when checking messages first thing in the morning, but prone to delete one that arrives at the end of a long workday. It’s important to think through the needs of your audience first, then identify the ideal time to catch people. This can vary greatly from one industry to another, so do your research.

Here’s one relatively quick and easy way to do this: Examine the results of your past surveys. Were surveys with higher engagement rates shared on the same days or around the same times? These are great clues into your customers’ schedules and when you can best reach them.

Pitfall 4: Relevance

Fix: Get comfortable with Skip Logic

On the one hand, you probably have a lot of questions that need to be answered. On the other, not every one of those questions is going to be directly relevant to each and every survey taker.

This is where survey Skip Logic comes in really handy. You can use this survey feature to have certain questions appear based on an individual’s answers to previous questions.

For example, let’s say you ask the following question:

Have you purchased this product more than once?

With a static survey setup, you’d have one of two options: Either ask this question, and only this question, without seeking additional feedback from those who answer “yes.” Or you could force every survey taker, including those who answer “no,” to tell you why they decided to buy from you again—even when it means typing in “not applicable” or “I already told you, this is the first time I’ve bought your product.”

Not so with Skip Logic. When a respondent answers “no,” they’ll simply move on to the next question. But for someone who answers “yes,” a follow-up question appears on their screen.

Bottom Line

The amount of surveys people are asked to take has increased tenfold over the last decade. So the easier you can make it on your audience, the better your chances will be of getting both higher response rates and more reliable feedback. These best practices are four of the most effective ways to prevent your surveys from falling flat.

Looking for more tips? See what survey best practices are working well for other companies.

Heather Mueller

Heather Mueller

Heather is a website copywriter and digital content strategist who loves helping brands generate leads through the power of the written word. Connect with Heather on Twitter @heathermueller.