user surveys

Tips for creating effective user surveys

Reading time: about 6 min


  • Customer experience

When you’re creating a great user experience, there are dozens of tools that will provide feedback from your users. From A/B testing to user interviews, you’re never left completely in the dark. But sometimes the best way to get data about your users is to conduct user surveys so you can test, develop, and improve online experiences.

While conducting user research may seem to be straightforward, it’s anything but. In fact, surveys can go south quickly without the right strategy. Here’s how to create great user surveys to help guide UX designers and CX researchers, with tips, tricks, and traps to avoid. 

The basics of user surveys

A user survey is simply a way of gathering information. A survey consists of a series of questions to gather feedback on your product, website, feature, or solution. UX surveys have two types of questions:

1. Closed questions: These questions have pre-selected answers from which the respondent can select. Responses can be quickly tallied and visually represented by a graphic. 

Example: What new feature would you like to see in the Patty’s Pies app?

user surveys

2. Open questions: These questions are more qualitative in nature and can reveal more about the way a customer perceives a problem or solution. 

Example: What recommendation do you have to improve the Patty’s Pies app?

Answer: I’d really like a pie counter to see how many pies I’ve eaten in the past three weeks. I think it may be close to two dozen, but with a pie counter, I could know for certain.

You’ve probably been asked to take surveys dozens of times—perhaps you’ve purchased a product online and received an email asking you to take a survey of how well you liked the product or, if you utilized customer service, how you would rank your experience. But if you’re thinking to yourself, “Yeah, but I never take those surveys, so how can I possibly expect my users to take my survey?” here’s the good news: you don’t need all your users to respond to your user survey. You just need enough of them.

For instance, if you have 50,000 customers and only 5,000 of those customers respond to your survey, that’s totally fine—you can apply the feedback from the survey to your entire customer base. 

Why are user surveys important in UX research?

The most important thing about creating magnificent UX is understanding your audience. And that’s very difficult to do without getting direct input from that audience. User surveys are a valuable tool to help you gather meaningful data. A well-conducted user survey can help you determine:

  • How your users feel about a product or pilot
  • Who your users are and what they want
  • What your users are most likely to purchase
  • Why your users visit a website and how they feel about their experience
  • What your users currently own
  • How your users perceive your brand
  • Where else your users shop
  • What improvements your users want to see

After you have this information, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of how to improve your product or design. If you’re about to launch a product or site, you can also predict the success of your launch based on user survey data. 

And when you approach stakeholders for buy-in, you can use data instead of conjecture to back up a proposal. Stakeholders are much more likely to feel confident about a decision if they have risk-mitigating information to justify their choice.

10 best practices for creating user surveys

Ready to jump in and start surveying your users to create a better UX? Not so fast. Here are the best tips to create surveys that will gather the results you really want.

1. Know what you want

Asking questions just to ask questions is a waste of time. Before you begin, know exactly what your needs are and what you’re trying to get out of the project. Consider what your business and project objectives are, how you’ll use the answers, and what answers are imperative to have. 

2. Make your questions sequential

Ok, this sounds obvious: clearly your questions will be numbered in order. But your flow of questions should be somewhat logical and grouped according to topic. Don’t begin asking about your user’s favorite body lotion and then immediately jump to how they liked your checkout flow. There needs to be a logical approach to the ordering of your questions.

3. Write your questions for 8th graders

If you ask confusing questions, you’ll get nonsensical answers. Make sure your questions use clear, simple language and that they are easily understood. Write your questions so they can be understood at an 8th-grade reading level so they don’t alienate any of your users. 

4. Don’t assume

You already know certain things about your audience, so you need to ask questions they’ll be able to answer. Don’t, for instance, ask an audience of skincare enthusiasts how they feel about the security of cloud storage. Don’t assume your audience knows the same things you do: they’re likely not UX experts.

5. Don’t ask leading questions

It’s difficult to ask non-biased questions, but it’s vital that you try to ask questions that are as neutral as possible. Instead of asking which type of macaroni your audience prefers, you could instead ask which type of noodles your users like to eat best (though you also need to include an option for people who don’t like noodles). 

6. Be transparent

It’s especially important for your audience to understand how the data you’re gathering will be used. You must keep answers anonymized and disclose whether or not you’ll be selling the data you gather. If you’re unsure of what is required, consult the privacy laws relevant in your own state.

7. Keep it short

Attention spans are at an all-time low, so don’t make your users fill out a 50-question survey. Keep it short, sweet, and simple.

8. Provide incentives

Sometimes people are willing to fill out surveys for free, but it’s rare. You may need to offer discounts, gift cards, or other incentives to gather the number of responses you need.

9. Use “other”

Get comfortable with your multiple-choice answers not being applicable to some users. Make use of the “other” option to allow all your respondents to answer every question and provide space for them to enter in details about what that “other” is.

10. Gameify it

A progress bar is a great way to encourage people to keep filling out survey questions, and it also gives them hope that the end is near. Finding other ways to gameify the experience (like animated responses throughout the survey) is another way to keep respondents engaged.

Use the above ten steps as great tips to conduct a meaningful user survey that will allow you to get into the heads of your users and create a better experience. Start off knowing what kind of data you’re trying to gather, then conduct a short, purposeful survey that is satisfying to complete and respects every respondent. You’ll improve the perception of your brand, have better user stories, and ultimately have happier and more loyal customers.

user surveys

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