engaged audience at a rock concert

Last month, you may have seen Copyblogger’s 2015 Cost of Online Business Report that analyzed the results of a survey we conducted on the blog.

The report explores the cost of doing business online, so you can accurately evaluate your current strategies and tactics — and their associated costs — to help you see if there are ways you can improve your online business revenue.

Since publishing your own research creates authority in your space while providing numerous opportunities to present your findings to a wider audience, I recently decided to conduct my own informal online research survey.

And while I am no Nate Silver, I hope to show you today how easy and inexpensive it is to create and publish your own online survey.

Selecting the right survey platform

To select the best survey platform for my needs, I first reviewed the features and costs of two survey systems: Google Consumer Surveys and SurveyMonkey.

Google Consumer Surveys was less expensive and easier to use. The on-screen guide walks you through every step, from choosing an audience to setting the question format.

GoogleConsumerSurveys-PickAudience

GoogleConsumerSurveys-QuestionFormat

It also has a straightforward tool that helps you write the questions for your survey.

GoogleConsumerSurveys-WriteQuestions

And once you’ve created your survey, Google provides a very simple way to review the cost of the survey and then publish it.

GoogleConsumerSurveys-Confirm

But while Google is simple and cost-efficient, it does have its limitations.

Specifically, the ability to publish a survey to a highly targeted group of respondents is very limited.

If your needs extend beyond its limited selection criteria, then you may not have any statistically significant results to report.

SurveyMonkey, on the other hand, offers the most complete survey system I have ever experienced online, but at a steep price.

The power of SurveyMonkey is the ability to design a complex survey and deliver it to a specific, targeted audience.

SurveyMonkey-TargetedAudience

As the screenshot above shows, SurveyMonkey provides a large selection of audience criteria that allows you to focus on very specific attributes.

Not only can you fine-tune your audience demographic, you also have the ability to create sophisticated survey forms with a wide selection of question options and logic flow, allowing you to tailor the survey based on the responses you receive.

SurveyMonkey-TailorQuestions

As a general guide, using Google Consumer Surveys is a great way to capture lots of responses from a wide audience.

But when you need to focus on a specific audience, and/or have a fairly complex survey, then SurveyMonkey will serve your needs better if you are willing to pay the price.

My podcast survey experiment

For my survey, I decided to use Google, primarily because the cost of generating a quick survey was only $150 and my survey question was very simple: “How do you listen to a podcast?”

For my target audience, I selected the “General Population” option.

Granted, this was a fairly broad group. If I had needed to ask my question to a specific group of people, then SurveyMonkey would have been the better choice.

Also, given my self-imposed cost and time constraints, I thought the “General Population” audience selection would serve my purpose.

So, in less than 10 minutes, I created my survey and opted to finance 1,500 potential responses at $0.10 apiece. I paid $150, and my survey was ready to be taken.

But it wasn’t available to the public just because I completed the purchase. Both Google Consumer Surveys and SurveyMonkey stipulate that prior to publishing they must review and approve all surveys created.

Since my survey’s scope was limited, the approval process took less than a few hours, and I started to receive responses within minutes of publication by Google.

Who are these survey participants?

The audience for your survey will vary greatly based on the platform you select.

Google displays your survey to its vast network of third-party content sites and/or as a gateway question that viewers must answer prior to accessing content. As their site explains:

We show your questions across a network of premium online news, reference and entertainment sites, where it gets embedded directly into content, as well as through our mobile app. On the web, people answer questions in exchange for access to that content, an alternative to subscribing or upgrading.

SurveyMonkey recruits its respondents from people who completed a survey from one of their existing customers. This audience is screened and vetted by SurveyMonkey, and the participants are rewarded with charitable donations and sweepstakes entries.

More details on their audience screening process can be found here.

Both platforms draw on substantial groups of participants, with Google representing a much larger pool of the general online population while SurveyMonkey taps into a smaller and more targeted audience.

It’s important to note that there are also simple ways to survey your own audience. You can ask a question on your blog and collect results via email or in your blog’s comment section.

Copyblogger used the WordPress plugin Gravity Forms to conduct the surveys for both The 2015 Cost of Online Business Report and The 2014 State of Native Advertising Report.

What did the results of my podcast survey look like?

After a few days, my Google survey had obtained the requested 1,500 responses — and this is where the fun begins.

Both SurveyMonkey and Google Consumer Surveys provide an amazing toolset to analyze and dissect responses.

The primary difference is that SurveyMonkey allows you to inspect individual respondents and Google provides stronger globally predefined demographic filters.

For my simple survey, it turns out that 38.4 percent of the respondents listen to podcasts in a variety of ways.

PodcastSurvey-Results

Using the preset demographic information, I can further dissect the data by Gender, Income, or Location, to name a few.

PodcastSurvey-Results1

PodcastSurvey-Results2

One feature in Google I particularly like is the Insight tab that displays correlations based on the demographics of the respondents. For my survey, Google provided five different Insights into my data.

PodcastSurvey-Insights

For online marketers, these types of correlations can serve as a gold mine of data for your content marketing efforts.

The true power of research

While creating a survey and generating results is fairly easy, the time and effort spent promoting your results is how you can engage and grow your audience.

Besides posting the results on your site, consider a few of these options to extend the reach of your research:

  • Create a white paper or ebook that readers can download from your site’s membership area.
  • Turn the white paper into an infographic and post it on social media sites like Pinterest.
  • Conduct a webinar to showcase your results and invite your audience to listen and participate.
  • Create a slide deck and upload it to SlideShare.
  • Go one step further with your slide deck and provide a narrated version you can post on YouTube.
  • Convert the narration of the survey results into a podcast for publishing in iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.
  • Find speaking opportunities where you can publicly share your research.
  • Reach out to other websites and offer to write a guest post that discusses the research and how it impacts that site’s audience.
  • Publish a press release detailing your findings.

As you can see, there are numerous ways to reuse and repurpose the results of the survey as research.

More importantly, by finding unique ways to share your results — outside the scope of your site — you can build credibility as an authority in your market space.

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”

Mark Twain explained it best in Chapters from My Autobiography:

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.’

While there are many ways your research can benefit your online marketing, here are five important best practices to keep in mind.

1. Don’t write leading questions
Leading questions are those that will skew the results to a particular conclusion.

When creating your questions, remain as objective as possible and use the survey to gain insights — not to prove a preconception.

2. Thoughtfully select your audience
While Google Consumer Surveys helps you access a broad segment of the online population, you may find that SurveyMonkey will help you reach a more targeted group of respondents whose opinions are more relevant to your particular topic.

And if you’re looking for ways to better serve your readers, customers, or clients, you may want to go directly to them via a survey on your website.

3. Monitor your sample size
If you utilize sites like Google Consumer Surveys and SurveyMonkey to get responses, pay attention to the number of respondents you select. Too few, and the results are meaningless. Too many, and you may be wasting money.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for 1,000–1,500 responses from the target audience you select.

4. Remember correlation does not imply causation
As Sara Silverstein points out on Business Insider, just because there is a correlation between states with shorter commutes and male-owned businesses, it does not mean that you’ll have a shorter commute to the office if you work for a male-owned business!

Avoid drawing definitive conclusions from your data. Instead, use it as a way to share additional insight into the way that responses share a relationship with each other.

5. Brutally edit your survey questions
Ask as few questions as you can to get the data you need. If you use Google Consumer Surveys or SurveyMonkey, they each have demographics details built into them, so you don’t need to ask pre-qualifying questions.

Remember, you are competing for time and attention from survey respondents and the more concise your questions, the higher the probability of getting results.

[source : copyblogger.com]