It can be difficult to predict the level of survey participation you will receive; survey response rates vary widely and a wide variety of factors can impact them. But if you investigate these factors you can take steps to improve your response rates, giving you more statistically relevant data and better ROI on your survey project.
Here we’ll dive into the benchmark response rates for common survey types, the factors that often affect response rates, and how you can take steps to get more responses.
Want to Improve Your Survey Response Rates?
Download our Guide to Great Survey Design and learn how to craft compelling questions that get the responses you need.
Typical Response Rates for Common Survey Types
Generally speaking, it’s preferable to get a high response rate (80% or higher) from a small, random sample rather than a low response rate from a larger pool of potential respondents. But even this general guideline breaks down when we look at the differences between survey audiences.
Surveys that you distribute internally (i.e. to employees) generally have a much higher response rate than those distributed to external audiences (i.e. customers).
Internal surveys will generally receive a 30-40% response rate (or more) on average, compared to an average 10-15% response rate for external surveys.
The different motivation levels of these two audiences has a lot to do with the big swing in response rates.
Your survey to employees is likely very well targeted (hopefully you designed it with the employees in mind), and they probably have a good reasons to fill it out (because the business should be making decisions based on their responses).
External surveys, even to well-segmented groups of customers, won’t be often be able to reach just the right type of respondents. And no matter what incentive you choose it won’t appeal to everyone who receives your survey.
Response rates can soar past 85% (about 43 responses for every 50 invitations sent) when the respondent population is motivated and the survey is well-executed. Response rates can also fall below 2% (about 1 response for every 50 invitations sent) when the respondent population is less-targeted, when contact information is unreliable, or where there is less incentive or little motivation to respond.
Factors that Affect Survey Response Rates
Response rates can be influenced by everything from the mode of distribution (email vs. in person) to the incentive provided (chance to win a gift card vs. right to view results). Some of the most common things that will impact response rates are:
- Customer Loyalty: Do the respondents feel a connection to the brand conducting the survey? A high level of loyalty will lead to a higher number of responses.
- Brand Recognition: A survey distributed by a well-known brand gets more responses than one coming from an unknown source.
- Perceived Benefit: Whether it’s getting early access to results or being entered into a raffle, most respondents need to clearly understand the benefit of completing a survey.
- Demographics: Some sections of the population are simply more likely to response to survey invitations than others.
- Survey Distribution: If your audience consists mostly of digital natives, sending out links via social media will net you some good response rates. If you’re surveying retirees, you may want to choose an alternative distribution method.
An important participation incentive to survey respondents is that their opinions will be heard and that action will be taken based on their feedback. If respondents believe that participating in a survey will result in real improvements response rates may increase, as will the quality of the feedback.
3 Ways to Improve Your Survey Response Rates
To help improve your survey response rate keep these key factors in mind:
1. Survey Design: Research has shown that surveys should take 5 minutes or less to complete. Although 6 – 10 minutes is acceptable, those that take longer than 11 minutes will likely result in lower response rates. On average, respondents can complete 5 closed-ended questions per minute and 2 open-ended questions per minute.
2. Provide Clear Value: Offer a copy of the final results to all those who complete the survey, and, if appropriate, consider offering an incentive. If you plan to take action based on the results of your survey, make those clear in your survey invitation. Remember, people will be more likely to respond if they understand how that time will be spent.
3. Send Reminders: As the close of your survey approaches, gently nudge those who haven’t finished yet. Limit yourself to no more than two reminder emails, changing the time of day and the day of the week that you send them out so that you can reach as many different respondents as possible.
Ready to start collecting responses?