The response rate is one of the greatest challenges for marketers doing surveys. A good response rate is one of the prerequisites for reliable results that can help you devise a marketing or product development plan. Put simply, response rate is the number of people who completed the survey divided by the number of people in the survey sample, usually expressed as a percentage.
The first question a marketer is going to ask is which response rate is considered good. Sure, we would all love to have a 100% response rate, but that is close to impossible. In this article, we will try to solve some of your dilemmas as we will explore whether more answers necessarily mean greater reliability, which is the ideal response rate for your industry, and how to get as many answers in your survey as possible.
Does response rate affect the validity of results?
Since surveys are one of the most important research tools in social studies, many scientists focused on the relationship between response rate and survey results’ accuracy. Some of these studies showed unexpected findings – for example, that surveys with response rates of 20% yielded more accurate results than surveys with response rates near 60 or 70%.
Another study compared results of a 5-day survey with a 25% response rate with results from a survey conducted over a longer period of time with a response rate of 50%. In 77 out of 84 individual results, the differences were almost non-existent.
One study on consumers attempted to assess whether excluding uncooperative respondents would affect final results. They excluded people who initially refused to fill out the survey or it took several calls to persuade them to do so. The results remained pretty much the same.
However, other studies pointed out that lower response rates contributed to decreased demographic representation within the survey sample. This can be a serious issue if you are trying to research a larger target group.
Also, the results can sometimes be skewed if you are looking to draw conclusions about a larger population from a hyper-engaged targeted survey sample. For example, in one study, response rate to a questionnaire about health issues was significantly higher among people who already had an existing medical condition.
So what is the conclusion? Despite these findings, you should aim for as high response rate as possible, especially if your survey sample needs to be representative of a larger population. Since we are focusing on response rates in this article, I strongly recommend that you explore this guide to different methods of survey sampling before you proceed.
What is a good response rate?
Response rate depends on many factors including:
1. Type of distribution
The highest response rate still comes from in-person surveys. It stands around 57%, but it comes with significant logistical and financial planning. Old-school mail surveys in paper form also have a high response rate of 50%, and just like in-person surveys, they require time, resources and money.
An average response rate for email surveys is around 30%. This is the simplest and cheapest form of research, but don’t fret. As many studies have shown, smaller response rate doesn’t mean your results are unreliable. Moreover, with a few tricks, you can boost your email survey response rate.
Depending on the type of survey and your brand and industry, some demographics are more inclined to take part in your research.
Surveys take some time and effort from respondents, so filling out a survey has to come with a certain incentive. This incentive doesn’t have to be material. Some businesses offer discounts and coupons to survey respondents.
Some customers are prompted to fill them out because they feel their feedback will improve a product or service they are using. For example, internal surveys (such as employee satisfaction surveys) have a higher response rate because they are aimed at a particular audience, with a palpable, common goal.
4. Brand recognition and loyalty
Finally, this factor ties into the factor of incentive. If customers are loyal to your product or service, they are likely to feel appreciated and they are more likely to share their opinions and attitudes with you. This is particularly true with established brands – so branding is an important part of your business development.
Since we are in a sphere of digital marketing, further on we will focus on the online surveys.
The response rate of 30% is, however, not a final number to rely on. Several survey platforms have their own varying data.
For example, according to FluidSurveys, the average response rate for email surveys was 24.8%.
According to Genroe, customer feedback surveys receive between 10% and 30% response rate – and here, anything above 20% is a good score. Genroe devised this number from the report published by CustomerGauge, which came to the conclusion that more than half of businesses receive a response rate of 20% or higher on their email surveys.
What makes a valid response rate?
If you want highly reliable survey results, you have to determine the right sample size and the right method of sampling.
You will calculate the right sample size by determining the target population size, confidence level, and margin of error (also called confidence interval).
Population size is the total number of people in the group you are researching. For example, if you are surveying your target market, for example, women in the age bracket 18-24, their population size in the U.S. is 15,010,455 people.
Confidence level refers to the percentage of different survey samples that would repeat the result of your survey. For example, let’s imagine you created 10 separate samples and gave them the same survey. If 9 out of 10 times it produces the same result, you have a 90% confidence level. The usual confidence level in research is 95%.
The margin of error shows how much the answers of the population could deviate from your survey results. For example, if your survey results show that 60% of your young women prefer skinny jeans, a 2% margin of error implies that the actual percentage of satisfied people among all of your subscribers is between 58% and 62%.
Since calculating these values takes some time and math and statistics knowledge, the quickest way to get these numbers is to use a calculator specifically designed for this purpose.
This calculator is a pretty neat solution that takes into account the expected response rate.
You can even use it to calculate the margin of error after your survey is done.
Another important component of receiving a valid response rate is proper sampling. There are two types of sampling. Non-probability sampling means you will survey people on your email list, or catch respondents on social media – based on their willingness and availability. It is a time and cost-effective way to initiate your target market research or get feedback from your existing customers. In that case, you should not waste too much time on nailing down the margin of error or sample size.
On the other hand, if you use random sampling, you will be able to accurately and quantifiably reflect the attitudes of a larger target market. This type of survey is useful for larger businesses who want to research consumer’s opinions on certain products, competitors in the industry, etc.
How to improve response rate
1. Keep it short, neat and pretty
Nobody wants to spend hours getting lost in the maze of endless questions. According to SurveyGizmo, surveys should ideally take 5 minutes or less to complete, while 6 to 10 minutes is acceptable. Anything longer than that will require a serious incentive or brand loyalty from the respondent.
FluidSurveys also found that confusing, effort-inducing questions and bad survey design can result in dropout rate of around 21%. This means that even though you had a certain response rate, the completion rate is lower. If you notice such a significant dropout rate, you should consider making changes to your survey.
Keep your survey short, and make sure that most of the questions are close-ended, meaning they offer several pre-defined answers. While open-ended questions can be a useful source of feedback, it is better to move them towards the end of the survey. For 10 questions, 2-3 can be open-ended.
In one of the earlier sections, we mentioned that incentivizing responses is a good way to boost the response rate. This requires an engaging copy if you are sending a survey via email or promoting it on social networks. If this is a customer survey, you can always offer discounts, coupons or freebies in exchange for answers.
Take time to explain how this information will be used. After all, even without the material incentive, if people feel that their opinions are appreciated and heard and will result in positive changes, they will be more likely to respond. For example, you can mention which way the last survey contributed to improvements to your product or service.
3. Nudge non-respondents
Your survey email campaign doesn’t have to consist of only one message. You can automate the campaign to send reminders to those who didn’t open their emails, or did not click on the survey. Furthermore, you can send an email with an additional offer for those who dropped out in the middle of a survey.
Don’t get too pushy – 2 reminders will suffice. Anything more could result in losing a subscriber.
4. Keep the S-word out of the subject
Sending surveys to your email list may be easy, but walking around the spam filters is not. In the early 2000s, many marketers abused the blessing of a big email list, and spam filters blacklisted plenty of buzz-inducing words, including the survey. So, try to be creative in your subject line – not only will it keep the spam filters off, but it will also inspire curiosity among potential respondents.
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