Think of surveys as advertising. A new approach to online surveys

Article written by Claudiu Murariu

Most surveys are boring and bring very little value to the people who fill them. At worst, they sound like methods to get free data to help optimize and increase revenue with no consideration for the time of the people who fill them up (other than occasional prizes that have nothing to do with the goal of the survey).

Surveys don’t have to be like this!

Why do companies do surveys? To better understand the audience in order to provide better products and services. What does the audience want: better products and services.

So, why won’t people enthusiastically fill in your surveys?

To start with, because you design surveys to be about you and not about them. Secondly, because surveys look so ugly that they scare people away.

The third reason and probably the most important is because surveys only ask for info from people but they rarely explain why that data is needed and how it is going to be used to the benefit of those who take the time to fill in the data.

A different approach to surveys

With the right design, surveys can be a great way to educate users or share new information about your product with the benefit of getting instant feedback from your users. I heard this idea first from Avinash Kaushik in his book Web Analytics: An Hour a Day and from that day on, I never again designed a survey that did not look appealing to users.

Surveys as advertising? Are you mad (I hear you say)? According to a recent Forbes article, Google Consumer Surveys (a powerful survey platform for the US market) pays publishers just as advertising is paid: RPM (revenue per 1 000 impressions). Here is what the publisher shared:

Now, when we run advertisements from ad networks our average RPMs (revenue per 1,000 impressions) are around $2. According to Google, the average RPM of publishers running surveys is around $20. You can see the potential, right? We haven’t reached that number yet, but we’re already seeing RPMs over $10.

5 to 10 times better payments because of the engagement of surveys. It’s almost counter-intuitive to say that requiring interaction would bring better results than just asking (forcing) users to just look at an image would work better, but it does.

I believe that Google Consumer Surveys are the ultimate proof that surveys have much more power than just being ugly/boring methods of getting feedback.

Re-designing surveys

Here are a few principles I follow when doing surveys on which I expect high completion rates without promising any iPads, iPhones or other iPrizes.

Start with the “Why”

If I want people to give me data, I don’t want to keep them in the dark. I let them know why I need them to participate and how it will benefit them.

Some time ago we noticed that some of our users were abandoning their PadiAct accounts and we did not understand why. After looking into the web analytics tool, we came up with a few scenarios and decided to ask them what lacked from our product:


Don’t ask people to fill in surveys. I ask them to Vote or Pick!

Forms are ugly and are terrible at providing great user experiences, especially if the interaction starts with a form.

I never ask people to fill in surveys. I never even mention the word survey. I get to the point and I ask them to vote or pick. These are words that have much greater meaning to users and imply that their voice matters.



Each option that the people vote for gives them information and generates expectations. It’s a great way to advertise new features or options to users.

Seeing the options, users learn about them in an interactive way. Being able to select one tells them that they can shape it.

Show them at least one option that is of interest for them and they will click/select without second thoughts or without feeling that their time is being wasted.

Keep it short

I never ask for data that is just nice to have. If it is important and will help my users, I will ask for it. If it will only help me, I’ll find other ways to get it.

I also like to start with a closed question as it helps me get very good results for the open question in the second step, where users are able to fill in data with their own words (priceless).

How well does it work?

Here are some stats for the most recent survey we did:

  • 574 opened the survey
  • 120 answered the first question (the most important question)
  • 59 answered the open questions (valuable data)

There was no prior interaction between us and the responders  The reason they were picked was that they have created a free account of one of our products at some point in the past.

We did not offer any prizes or similar incentives for participating. The quality of the open question answers was amazing. Some people wrote more than 100 words with valuable feedback (on average 20 words).

What I am doing wrong

I am not asking people for their contact details and I plan to change this in the future.

No, I am not going to just ask for their email address or phone number as part of the survey but if they want me to get back to them regarding a specific question/answer in the survey, I plan to give them this opportunity.

It will be just another way to show them that we value each answer and we take time to evaluate and better understand each one.

Your turn

Have you ever considered surveys as being an effective advertising method? How do you use surveys and with what results so far?

Think of surveys as advertising. A new approach to online surveys by

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