The Essential Guide to Creating a Survey Your Readers Will Love

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survey monkey

Feedback is one of the most important things your readers can give you. [Tweet this quote]

And one of the best ways to get that feedback is to create an awesome survey that your blog readers actually enjoy filling in.

In this article I’m going to show you:

  • why surveys are so important for your blog’s growth
  • what WordPress plugins you can use to do a basic survey
  • strategies for making sure you get the right answers
  • how you can develop a more in depth and free survey for your mailing list
  • how to use the information properly
  • extra resources to master survey question writing

As always, if you have ever conducted a survey and have some insights to pass on please leave a comment and let us know.

Let’s get started!

Why are surveys are so important?

At some point you really need to stop guessing. When I take a good look at myself I am often really surprised at how much guess work I do around my blog.

Sure, I have a fair idea about what my readers might like based on two years of getting to know them, but the best way to do things is to occasionally ask.

Surveys let you find out things like:

  • who is actually reading your blog (age, sex, location, interests, etc.)
  • what content people would like to see more of
  • what products they might be interested in purchasing down the track
  • what problems they have with your blog
  • any ideas they have for improving your delivery, design or approach

All of this information can help you expand and grow in areas that you might not have even known were problematic or underdeveloped.

How to create a survey for your blog readers

There are a few ways to do this thing so I am going to show you the quick and easy methods first and then get in to something a little more professional and polished.

1. Use your comments area
The first and most basic way to survey your readers is to just ask them in the comments area. This has several advantages:

  • It is familiar
    Readers don’t have to learn anything new so will be often more likely to answer.
  • It is free and easy
    No cost to you and you don’t have to master and new software.
  • Readers can feed off others ideas
    Comments aren’t anonymous so readers will see the other comments and get involved in discussions. This can give birth to new ideas.

However, there is also a few disadvantages to using the comments area like:

  • You can’t limit responses
    With a survey you can limit responses so that you get the correct information out of people. In the comments area people are just free to talk.
  • Public forum might stifle the truth
    What was a plus above might be a negative as well. Some people might not want to express their full opinions in public.

Here is an example of a semi-survey that I did recently where I asked my readers whether they would prefer new comments to appear first or last. It resulted in some really cool ideas and discussion (as always!).

2. Use a simple WordPress polling plugin
Now, some of you might disagree with this but a simple poll that you embed in your sidebar or blog post is also a type of survey.

This can be particularly useful if you do several different polls over a period of months because people will get used the interaction on your blog and look forward to having their say and checking back to see if their is a new poll. Darren used to do this over on ProBlogger quite a lot and I really liked it.

The plugin WP-Polls lets you create single or multiple-answer polls that you can easily whack in your sidebar or post and gather information.

NOTE: Remember, if you want to install a plugin nowadays you just login to your dashboard and go PLUGINS > ADD NEW > SEARCH and locate the one you want. No need to download to your computer anymore.

Choosing answers

The above screenshot shows you how you can use the widget to select different polls that you have created. All of the setting up and monitoring of results is done within your WordPress Dashboard.

Polls with multiple answers

Here we can see an example of a simple multiple-answer poll that you can have present on your site permanently or for a set period of time.

3. Create a professional and powerful survey with Survey Monkey
If you want to get a bit more serious with your polls I highly recommend Survey Monkey which is free for up to 100 responses.

Create a new survey

To get started with Survey Monkey just visit their site, sign up for a free account and then click “Create a Survey”. This will take you to a beautiful survey creator area which is extremely simple to follow.

They even give you little tips along they way to make sure you’ve thought of everything!

survey type

The first really cool thing which you’ll see from the screenshot above is that there are a whole bunch of survey types that you can choose from. These range from simple blank boxes where people can write essays to complicated multiple choice answers that go through a variety of stages.

Generally it is a good idea to keep things simple and separate your questions by topic or the nature of the answer. Never ask more than one question at a time.

edit questions

As you can see, you then get a really cool area where you can edit your questions and look at a preview of how your readers will see the survey. This is a very important step.

editor area

Another really cool feature of Survey Monkey’s is their template creator where you can custom design and build a template that is branded to your own logo and colors. This can often have a positive effect on your survey participation rate because people feel like they are doing something that is a part of your website, not someone elses.

Survey Monkey Stats

Once you have finished with your survey you get access to some really beautiful stats that show you visually how the different aspects of your survey performed. You can turn these in to charts and even download the results into Excel to create spreadsheets for further analysis.

Some of the main advantages of Survey Monkey include:

  • Great support
    If you aren’t sure about something you can just jump on support and get some expert help.
  • A database of questions
    Asking the right questions is extremely hard. Survey Monkey have a huge database of questions written by experts that you can tap into in order to reduce bias, etc.
  • Live results
    There is something really cool about watching the answers come in live. You can read them as you go.
  • Easy interface
    I love it when a complex task like creating surveys is made super easy. Their step-by-step editor is one of the best I have used and beginners and experts will really enjoy it.
  • Email, Facebook and Blog delivery
    These surveys can be sent out to your email list, posted on Facebook or linked on your blog. Once you have that final survey URL you can add it anywhere you like.

This really is a much more powerful and robust way to get information.

How to ask the right questions and get the most from your survey

Over the years I have done quite a few surveys on my different blogs. While I am no where near an expert in the field I can hopefully offer you a few pointers.

1. Define your survey goals
The first step is to come up with some goals for your survey. If you don’t think of these at the beginning your survey might come across as directionless and end up confusing people due to the lack of focus.

It is very important that your readers know what type of information you are after.

Some goals might include:

  • getting feedback on a recent event
  • finding out demographics about your readers
  • discovering levels of interest around an upcoming future event or product
  • etc.

Make sure you have one goal per survey.

2. Keep it short
People get bored really easily and their levels of generosity will drop off quickly. Make sure your survey is really short and takes no more than a minute to fill out.

It is my belief that if you’re survey takes much longer than this you are either asking the wrong questions or need to offer a bigger participation reward. This leads me to my next point.

3. Consider offering a reward
Some bigger events send out surveys and put you in the draw to win a big prize if you fill out the survey. This shows your readers that you are serious and also helps them understand that the data you are collecting is valuable. An Amazon.com Gift Card or some prize related to your blog should be enough.

Do not make the prize too big, however, or you run the risk of getting surveys filled out by people who aren’t really interested in helping – they just want to go in to the draw.

4. Limit response options
There is a marketing rule that says that the more choices you give people the less likely they are to make one. I have found that this applies to surveys quite well. [Tweet this quote]

Limit people’s response options and you will find that the answers are often more accurate and you get more of them. For example, instead of having an option where people can write their own answer give them three pre-defined choices.

This isn’t always possible, of course. Sometimes you need to hear people’s own thoughts.

5. Know your research participants
It might seem simple but it is really important to know who you are asking these questions to.

For example, in my niche I need to know whether I am talking to beginners or experts. I need to have some idea about their level of education and how well they understand the terms that we are talking about.

Try to become familiar with your audience before you send out the survey.

6. Take time crafting your email and subject line
If you are sending out your survey by email to your list you want to spend a good amount of time making sure your email gets attention and helps set up the survey.

For example, if you have a list of 1000 people you might be able to get an open rate of 400 people with a bad title and 600 people with a good title. That makes a big difference to the amount of surveys that you might get back.

The body of the email itself should set up the survey – tell people why you are doing it and let them know how valuable their input is.

And, as always, make sure you say please and thank you.

7. Use simple language with minimal jargon
Closely related to the previous point, you want to make sure you are using language that is easy to understand when just glanced at.

We all know that people don’t spend much time trying to understand or read things deeply on the internet. They skim. And your survey is no different.

Keep the language simple and to the point.

More excellent resources for your surveys

Here are a few more really cool articles, plugins, tutorials and what not that I found when writing this article.

If you know of any others feel free to leave a link in the comments.

What’s your survey experience?

I’m sure not all of you have created a survey but I bet everyone has participated in one. What was your experience? What worked and what didn’t? Please leave a comment and let me know.

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41 Comments... Leave yours.

  • Brad Dalton

    Useful post again. But i want to try it myself and see the results.

    What did you use to send the survey chart at the top of this post?


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Hey Brad.

      That is some of the set-up process from Survey Monkey. Great service.


      1. Brad Dalton

        Last time i sent a survey to 1,000 folks i got 0 replies. I’ll think use some of the questions on your survey and should have more luck. Is that ok?


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          Hey Brad.

          Sure, use anything you want.

          Seems strange you got no replies. What did you use to send?


          1. Brad Dalton

            hahahaha. Really funny you ask because it was Survey Monkey! Can’t stop laughing hahaha

            But it was at the end of a 7 day eCourse where they slowly dropped off to next to nothing.

            Brian from Copyblogger wrote it and let me put in in a autoresponder.

            It was really well written but no feedback. 2nd time lucky. I’ll try sending to my loyal readers and let you know how it goes.


  • Brendan

    I was just thinking about doing this the other day! This is great info because I hate trying to disaggregate data from asking questions like that on social media.

    Thanks a lot for the suggestion about the plugin too. There are a few out there and I was trying to decide.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      No worries Brendan. Let us know how you go.


      1. Brendan

        I will! And since the comments on that page are closed, I wanted to tell you that the comment redirect thing has made a HUGE difference on my subscription rates. I even set it up to its own list so that I can track how many it gets opposed to my normal signups.

        LITERALLY, your site has redefined how I look at blogging. Brilliant work.


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          Thanks so much Brendan. That means a lot.


  • Sean Mysel

    I love all the great ideas that come from this blog, but here’s one question that I have and forgive my ignorance on the subject for it’s a new thing to me. But I ask this in terms of a chicken and egg type scenario.

    Do you need the traffic before you can get the feed back or can you use the feed back to get the traffic or both?

    My blog doesn’t get a lot of comments, but even some of the big boys don’t. Seems like people check your tips out, try them and come back but don’t say much.


    1. Marcus

      Good timing. I just created a survey (but with a Google Docs form) and had a friend fill it out the other week.

      Helpful tips, as always. You nailed the challenge in blogging, you’re writing “blind” until you know your audience intimately.

      Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that “How to ask the right questions” should come before “How to create a survey.” Principles before practice?

      I think the best questions to ask are the ones that uncover your readers’ problems, pain points, and needs. Their answers can give you ideas about:
      -content to create
      -products you can promote as an affiliate
      -products you can create.

      When I got my survey back from my friend, he had an awesome suggestion for a product that hadn’t been on my radar. I looked it up online and found it had a decent affiliate program. Would never have thought to promote that thing on my own.


      1. the Blog Tyrant

        That is a really great outcome. Good stuff as always Marcus.


    2. Marcus

      @Sean One way around the problem of having no traffic is to post a poll in a forum related to your niche. That’s what I did when I was trying to decide on a WordPress theme for a past site I made. The members had some good comments and helped me choose. As a bonus, it was a way of testing the design with my target audience before paying for it.

      I dug up that discussion thread here:
      http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1636052

      Forum polls are pretty limited in functionality, though. They also work best if you only ask one question and put it to a vote. Not the place for essay questions.


      1. Sean Mysel

        Marcus,

        let me take a run at your idea, it’s always helpful to get this kind of input!


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          He’s always good good ideas!


    3. the Blog Tyrant

      Hi Sean.

      Great questions.

      I think it should be both. You need some traffic to get feedback but you can also use the small amounts of traffic one might have to find out what people really like.

      Good luck!


    4. Tho Huynh

      It depends on a number of matters, mostly on your posts. If you write compelling and useful content, the engagement will increase. Moreover, you should ask people to comment or share their experiences.


      1. the Blog Tyrant

        Perfect!


  • Jane

    Oh BT! This is so timely. I just used SurveyMonkey yesterday to create my first blog survey (http://www.lifeonplanetbaby.com/2012/05/would-you-care-to-fill-in-little-survey.html). Would you mind having a quick squizz at it and making any suggestions as to how I could improve it? I’d be so grateful – all tips welcome.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Hi Jane.

      Awesome!

      One thing first, do you have Google Analytics installed?


      1. Jane

        Hi Yes I do.


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          I reckon a few of your questions you could just get from Analytics and thus keep it a bit shorter for your readers.

          Love your post about the survey, works well.

          One other suggestion if you don’t mind. I’d increase your font size of your blog to 16px if I was you. I’m 26 and I have trouble reading it and I imagine that your audience is probably mothers and grandparents which are generally my age and upwards where eye-sight is not at its best.

          Thoughts?


          1. Jane

            That’s so true about GA – I forgot I had that info already ☺. And thanks for the tip about the font size. Someone else mentioned that in their comments and I was surprised as it looks fine for my 41 year old eyes ☺. See, the survey is teaching me things already!


          2. Lisa | Renovating Italy

            I’m in my 40’s and I found the font hard to read. Great to see you already taking action with the survey, I clicked on it and it looked great. I haven’t read your blog so didn’t fill it in. I did like the way you asked your readers to take part, I felt like I already knew you just from that intro. well done, ciao lisa


          3. Jane

            Thanks, Lisa – very kind of you to take the time. Hmm, I must change that font size – time for action!


  • the Blog Tyrant

    Brad, just continuing down here.

    I just wanted to check in case the emails might not have got delivered, or in case you did the survey on a blog with faulty plugins or something.

    Did Brian write the email? I’d love to see it.


    1. Brad Dalton

      Brian produced an ebook which he let me convert into a email series to see how effective it would be to promote one of his new products.

      It wasn’t really focused on my audience however it was very well written

      I didn’t put anytime into the subject line and i used a standard template which wasn’t customized to my subscribers needs.

      From failure comes success i think because i’ve now created a magnificent survey with Survey Monkey and done some research on subject lines.

      Problogger has given me some very good ideas for both questions and important elements which i believe will work this time.

      Really, i simply would like some feedback so i can write about things my readers will benefit from.

      I think they’ll appreciate this survey and understand that in order to help them they need to provide me with answers that i need to help them improve.

      Thanks for you help. Greatly appreciated


      1. the Blog Tyrant

        Good luck. Please let me know how it all goes.


        1. Brad Dalton

          Already got 8 responses in the last 30 mins.

          I’ll be writing a post about what i did and which tips of yours i used which worked after i receive 100 responses

          Love Survey Monkey the second time around.Thanks for your useful tips which have helped me a lot.

          Sorry but don’t know your first name?


        2. Brad Dalton

          I really have to give you a giant thank you because i have learn’t so much from your blog which i have followed since the day Darren Rowse from Problogger fame first mentioned you.

          And, of course i have to thank Darren as well but its difficult to contact him.

          My CTR is 100% for this survey and running at over 90% completion rate.

          Can’t believe it considering my first survey was 0%

          Goes to show that if you get the right advice its GOLD!

          I can now focus on the survey results and write content that my readers have indicated they want to read


          1. the Blog Tyrant

            That is music to my ears! Thanks for thanking me. That means a lot.

            Darren mentioned me?


  • Chris

    The first time I did a surveymonkey survey, I finished my short survey with a few demographic questions; age, number of years working in niche, and gender. I learned a lot about my readers that was surprising, namely; a more even spread of # years experience than I expected.

    Don’t hit your readers will all possible demographic questions but do ask a demographic question that could give you insight into your readers.

    Also, a great way to build an article is from a survey. I did one focused on the best [ABC] product including a ranking based on user feedback. Here it is;
    http://www.behindthemixer.com/content/2009-direct-box-survey-results

    Given what I know now, I would have formatted the article a bit differently but you get the idea.


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Great stuff Chris. You always seem to have a very analytic mind to me.


  • Brad Dalton

    Yeah Darren has mentioned you several times. Its really funny because i watched a video of him talking about surveys and displaying the results.

    He was really fired up and referred to the feedback as GOLD as he had over 10,000 replies from his Digital Photography School blog survey.

    Always had that video in the back of my head but was really dreading failure again by sending another survey.

    I guess that’s it for this post. See you next time


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Whatever Darren does on dPS is an example of how to do it right. That is the biggest photography site in the world and makes him many millions of dollars. It’s way bigger than ProBlogger even.


      1. Brad Dalton

        Yes i know. I know Darren produces excellent photography ebooks, some of which are based on the results from surveys he sends to his dPS blog subscribers.

        One last question please. I need to increase comments on my blog and was wondering if there’s a way to track growth in blog comments?


        1. the Blog Tyrant

          Not that I’m aware of… I’ll keep an eye out.


  • Gregory Ciotti

    This post is the bomb diggity, that is all.

    You’ll noticed I also succumbed to the offering of an opt-in freebie, you were the main influence in that (at least mine is totally boss).


    1. the Blog Tyrant

      Consistently love your work Greg – and the use of the word boss.


  • Nomadic Samuel

    I’ve yet to survey my readers in any capacity. It’s certainly something I will consider in the near future.


  • Nathan Crawley

    I just moved from Survey Monkey to Smart Survey.

    For anyone who’s creating surveys often, have a look if you’ve got time. I found it easier to use and more creative.

    I’m a skintflint researcher so I only ever use the free plans! Their free plan is very reasonable compared to other companies, in particular unlimited questions and surveys.

    http://www.smart-survey.co.uk


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