The Marketer's Guide to
Surveying Users

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Chapter One

Introduction

We all understand the importance of analytics as it relates to website optimization. But analytics is only one piece of the complex puzzle—it can let us know there is a problem, but not necessarily what to do in order to diagnose or fix it. To understand what’s really happening on your site you have to—as Steve Blank so famously said—“get out of the building” and talk to your users. While getting out of the building often involves real-life, face-to-face conversations, it’s also possible—and in fact, essential—to talk to your customers even when you can’t actually leave your seat. Let us explain…

For businesses whose customers find and engage with them online what matters isn’t about distancing yourself from the building you’re in, as it is closing the distance between yourself and your customers so that you can learn what it is your customers think, desire, like, and dislike.

This is where user surveys come in.

Though online surveying is just one of many ways you can collect feedback from users, we’ll be spending most of our time dealing with this form of surveys. That’s not to say that other methods don’t have their merits, but for online businesses looking to collect feedback regularly and at scale, online is a cost-effective and efficient way to do so.

You’ve no doubt encountered online user surveys in one capacity or another—whether you’ve been asked to participate as a customer, run them on your site in the past, or are considering implementing them as part of your current website optimization strategy. If you’ve been responsible for gathering insights from a user base or have done any research into the matter—perhaps that’s how you stumbled upon this guide—then you already know that there are various approaches, designs, and attitudes regarding online user surveys, all of which have unique benefits and challenges associated with them.

The question with surveys, as with any other marketing effort, is how do you use surveys to drive the performance of your website, and ultimately, your business?

Knowing your customers is great, but how do you ensure that you’re putting the insight you gather to the best possible use? How do you ensure that you’re gathering the highest-quality insight while generating as little friction as possible for your users? This unique set of challenges led us to create The Marketer’s Guide to Surveying Users. This in-depth handbook is designed to be your field guide to user surveys, giving you the foundational information and practical tools you need to build and implement surveys that drive business results.

We’ll show you how you can use surveys to grow your business by capturing insights that can inform your A/B testing, product development, and marketing strategies. And so that you don’t have to learn the hard way, we’ve also covered the most common pitfalls and sought out the most effective survey questions

But first, let’s ensure that we’re all on the same page about surveying users.

Though businesses and organizations choose to implement surveys at various points in time and for all sorts of reasons, in essence all user surveys seek to achieve a single objective—gaining actionable insights through user feedback.

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All user surveys seek to achieve a single objective—gaining actionable insights through user feedback.  #SURVEYSAYS

Actionable is the key word here. Collecting data for data’s sake is not the end goal of user surveys. Rather, it’s the ability to analyze the responses and find new areas of opportunity to improve the performance of your business that counts. Collection without action is a cardinal sin.

The next chapter is devoted exclusively to the importance of surveys, so we won’t delve too deeply into that here. Instead, let’s review the distinct types of online user surveys.

We’ve broken it down into four main types:

1. Custom Surveys

are typically deployed via email, and they’re a good way to get feedback from your existing user base on a variety of issues. Segmenting your user base before and after sending custom surveys helps you to understand how responses vary by particular customer or user type in order to, for example, better understand which responses correlate with valuable behavior.

2. User Satisfaction and Net Promoter Surveys

are designed to determine how likely someone is to refer you to their network. They let you know what kind of job you’re doing—for example, whether your recent homepage overhaul had a positive or negative affect on customer satisfaction. For this kind of survey to be effective, however, it must be done more than once (both before and after you launch your new homepage) so as to compare changes over time.

3. Product-Market Fit Surveys

are designed to help businesses determine whether the product they’ve built is something that solves a real need for their customers—in other words, whether the product has achieved market fit—by measuring the percentage of respondents who identify the product as must-have (something they can’t live without).

4. On-Site Surveys

are the only type of survey that lets you ask questions “in the moment”—that is, while visitors are engaging with your site. They provide insight into why users are on the page to begin with, how they got there, and whether they’re able to find what they’re looking for. This real time feedback helps you diagnose issues with your conversion funnels and identify opportunities for A/B testing efforts. We’ll focus on this type of survey quite a bit, not only because it’s what we know best, but also because we’ve seen firsthand the positive effects (with minimal effort) that on-site surveys can have.

Which survey type you decide to implement depends on several factors, including what you’re trying to learn and who you’re hoping to learn from. We’ll cover this more thoroughly in Chapter 5. While each type has its strengths and weaknesses, context is really key—there is no universally right or wrong survey, but there’s most definitely a right or wrong survey for a specific job.

It’s also important to keep in mind that while a user survey plan provides almost immediate feedback, it’s most definitely not a quick fix. After you feel you’ve thoroughly addressed one concern, it’s smart to survey users again to determine if you’ve really solved the problem. Once you’re sure you have, you can safely move on to the next problematic or lackluster aspect of your user experience.

Lastly, remember that surveys are completely worthless if you don’t do anything with the data you collect. The only thing worse than not asking for your users’ feedback is to survey them and then not act on what you’ve learned. You need to establish a continual feedback loop by taking the insights you gain and turning them into actionable projects that improve your product or service.

And if you are at all intimidated at the thought of putting surveys into practice, we’ve got some good news: web-based user surveys are much easier than the traditional, long-hand surveys of the big market research firms. Just like other parts of your business, surveys can be agile and lean.

Surveys are core to driving a process of continual improvement in which you accumulate more insights to help you consistently deliver better value and meet a larger portion of your users’ needs. Your surveys will change over time, just like your user base and your business itself. This is a good thing—so long as you’re able to keep up. In this guide, we’re going to show you how to use online surveys to do just that. Now that we’ve got the introducing and defining out of the way, let’s plumb the depths of user surveys.

Note Bene: Our terminology when discussing user surveys will vary throughout this guide. Know that “surveying users,” “user surveys,” and “survey” all refer to the same thing, unless otherwise specified.

Likewise, when we talk about a visitor or user or customer, we use these terms interchangeably (unless otherwise noted) to denote a person who is using your online property.

We’ve taken these liberties to improve the readability of the document and maintain flow. Please know that when the authors land on a word like users they routinely say in their head, “or visitors, or registered users, or…” Thank you for obliging us in this liberty.