posted 3 Nov 2008 in Volume 12 Issue 2
Opinion: So why do you resist those online surveys?
It isn’t about how the question is asked, but where. And the time isn’t right when you have your hands full.
Everybody has one (or more) and most people are eager to give theirs. People will happily go out to their way to make theirs known, calling into radio talk shows or going on national TV in order to tell everyone what they think. Many journalists make good money out of opinion or editorial pieces and the right thinkers influence public and national opinion – for example, reviews of restaurants, shows or political opinion can make or break the subject of that reviewer or reporter.
Yes, the humble opinion is and has always been big news. Organisations spend a lot of time and money trying to get their customers’ opinions and people are happy to tell them what they think – especially if something goes wrong. Bloggers all over the world spend copious amounts of time telling people exactly what they think and online forums are buzzing with activity around millions of topics.
So why, then, do organisations find it difficult to get users of their websites (intranets or internets) to fill in an online survey, opinion poll or a “rate this content” type form? I’m guilty of it myself. I often find that when I’m on a site and a ‘Tell us what you think’ box pops up or I see a ‘Take our survey’ call to action in the content, I find it difficult to make myself do it and then only give in to my own pressure because I am curious about how they have set them up. But this makes no sense! I give my opinion to people all the time in my profession.
All website owners know by now that the best sites position their content in a way that is appealing to users, using the right vocabulary, categorisation and so on. Web usability and user experience design is getting a lot better but it seems little thought or user-led design approaches have been applied to surveys or opinion gathering and I think this is a really important issue.
Most companies who carry out surveys tend to use third parties (or third-party software) to write the questions and implement them on the site. And the questions asked can often be mixed use – varying from gathering opinions about the website itself to questions about products or services on the site. And in many cases, the rules applied to polls or surveys offline are applied to them online, which doesn’t always make sense.
Additionally, I find that user opinions are solicited at the wrong time, as the pop up box or content area asking for this type of engagement comes up when the user is on the home page. People are unlikely to have informed opinions at this time; they haven’t used the site yet and are trying to complete a task and this can be seen as impeding their journey. For me, this is like the online version of those charity people with the clipboards. They always try to stop you when you’re on your way somewhere else. Why don’t they sit in doctor’s waiting rooms or at airports when you actually have time to spend chatting with them?
So what to do about the fact there are lots of users out there who are happy to tell you what they think and there are lots of organisations eager to get this information? I think one solution is to rework where you ask these users to comment. In my last article, I talked about the use of the thank you page on your site as a key piece of page real estate. Users have completed a task of some kind and now is your chance to get their feedback on it! They have reached the end of a journey and they may not mind taking a few minutes to say how it went.
Or perhaps another approach is to make sure the opinions solicited come in context with the site content. I’m not talking about the ‘rate this page’ type convention but a specifically placed question about the publication or product you are on if that’s the type of feedback desired. For example, I would be much more likely to give my opinion when on an online shopping site about product selection when I’m actually on that product page. Something like, “Would you be interested in buying organic apple juice? Please let us know here” instead of asking me if I want to purchase more organic products in a contained survey.
Now I know the technical folks reading this may be thinking this is easier said than done. Most survey software is difficult to implement in this way on a site and have to be done as a self-contained application. But why?
I think it’s time to break with tradition and start gathering feedback using more than just an annual survey. Opinions about the site or the products should be gathered on a regular basis, timed appropriately with users’ journeys and worded in a vocabulary to which they can relate. None of this ‘on a scale of 1-5’ business. And it’s OK to experiment. This is not a clinical drug trial; it’s just a way of getting to know how your users are thinking about things so you can update your site or your content or your products accordingly.
So go on, free yourself from the conventional way of polling and surveying your users and get them giving you information on a regular basis when it’s timed right and contextual to the content they’re on. I’m guessing this will yield more productive data. But that’s just my opinion! ?
As always, I’d love to hear from you on this or any other topic at Lynda@foursquaremedia.net.