person Guy Potter access_time May 7, 2019
Online Surveys vs Traditional Research

In today’s world time waits for no one. The need for accurate, up-to-date business information is crucial for business survival. This information includes customer research. Businesses need research fast, to stay ahead of the competition. Online research allows businesses to stay ahead of the curve, so is there still a need for “traditional” research methods any more?

Today there are more options than ever for companies who want to carry out research. “Traditional” methods include focus groups, phone and face-to-face interviewing and street interviewing. Online methods include dissemination by email, social media and web together with social media polls.

Why are online surveys so popular?

The biggest and most obvious advantage of online surveys is speed.

Trends in societal attitudes are changing faster than ever fuelled in part by 24-hour news coverage and our continual exposure to social media.

Movements such as #metoo (19 million uses on social media by Oct 2018) demonstrate how rapidly societal attitudes can change. Attitudes and trends can change in a day.
Online surveying leverages the power of the web and social media to crowdsource research into attitudes and trends.

Real-time research

Being able to receive results in real-time allows businesses to analyse the feedback and respond immediately to any issues or concerns. Online surveys can be completed in a fraction of the time of traditional research methods.

The advent of online dashboards leads to them being extremely cost effective compared to traditional research methods as they negate the need to spend money on researchers to conduct the analysis of the survey.

Responses are processed automatically without the need for someone to input all the collected information into a database. This automation results in a high level of accuracy as the risk of human error is limited to the person completing the survey (i.e. the respondent).

One of the biggest advantages of using online surveys is the number of people you can survey. You can send a survey to thousands of people as quickly as you can send a survey to one participant. If you’re conducting international research, you can send surveys across the globe and create questionnaires in a variety of languages.

The vast majority of participants prefer to answer a survey online rather than via a telephone call or postal survey. The ability to complete the survey at their leisure leads to participants giving longer and more detailed answers. By designing and sending relevant and targeted surveys results in a higher response rate respond with more honest answers.

The flexibility and ease of designing online surveys is another big selling point. Organisations can quickly develop a variety of customised surveys, tailored to their target audience. The order of the questions in an online survey can also be changed, or questions can be skipped altogether, depending on the answer to a previous question. This way, a survey can be tailored to each participant as he or she proceeds.

An online survey also gives businesses the opportunity to imprint their brand in the participant’s mind.

It’s also very important to make sure your survey is mobile-friendly. Over half of all website traffic is now generated through mobile phones. Giving participants the ability to complete the survey wherever they are, even if that means from the comfort of their own bed, makes it less of a chore and this again helps with response-rate and the quality of answers.

Is there a place for traditional research methods today?

The reason traditional research methods have been used for so long is because they work best in certain situations.

While online surveys have been around for some time, the technology is still relatively new. Traditional research by comparison has decades of success to fall back on. Those in the industry can also tailor the survey based on years of experience to ensure a higher response rate. This also results in better benchmarks for surveys.

We should not forget that online audiences are also skewed towards the young and digitally engaged. Although around 89% of UK adults have internet access, only 41% of adults over 75 are regular internet users. If your survey requires the participation of an older demographic then the penetration of digital surveying methods should be taken into account.

The key message here is that online surveying tools should be used where fast, accurate quantitative data is required. But traditional methods are sometimes better suited to situations where the data being gathered is more nuanced, requires explanation or more thought.

Guy Potter is maru / usurv's head of research and clients.