Online Surveys vs Offline Surveys: Common Pitfalls

Online Surveys vs Offline Surveys: Common Pitfalls

SURVEY MYTHS DEBUNKED - Anyone Who Has Conducted Offline Surveys Can Conduct Perfect Online Surveys

It sounds logical: if someone has been doing offline surveys, conducting an online survey should be a breeze. After all, isn’t it one of the favorite lines of online survey sites that conducting an online survey is simpler than, say, conducting a phone or a face-to-face interview? There is no loss of money or time on things as transport, document handling, or the studying of Google maps to figure out where your respondents’ home or office actually is. You can even conduct them in your pajamas.

Actually, this is the one myth about online surveys that is almost true. Doing an online survey is not very difficult if you have been doing offline surveys. It’s just that in the much-fabled simplicity of online surveys, there are a few hazards – call them tricks of the game – that are not found in offline surveys. So beware.

Not knowing these pitfalls can make all your knowledge and experience in the four key stages of performing a survey close to worthless, if you don’t pay attention.

Pitfall #1: the Survey Software

The first thing about surveys that is quite unique to online surveys is the vast choice of survey software. Of course, there are multiple software options for offline surveys too, but those still leave you with the task of conducting some crucial parts of your survey, like picking up a phone and calling someone. But not here. Not on the Internet. Here, you will be confronted with survey software that promises to do everything for you - from planning your survey to sampling your respondents, from designing your questionnaire to sending it out, and from receiving the responses to analyzing the data.

That automation is part of why online surveys are the emerging favorite survey method for businesses, governments, and almost all amateur survey-enthusiasts across the world. It’s efficient, and it’s more cost effective.

But your choice will influence your survey results in other ways as well. Each of these survey sites has a different pricing model with different packages. In most cases you will be limited on features if you don’t have the most expensive package, which will force you to be creative with how you are going to present your questions and your design. That’s why it is important to really think about what you want, and then go and find a survey site that fits your needs – not the other way round.

Pitfall #2: Styling Of Your Questionnaire

Online surveys are often thought of as more impersonal and more remote, at least when compared to phone or face-to-face interviews. But it is best not to take that point too literary. Online respondents have to decide – often within a few seconds – whether or not a survey is from a respectable or serious source.

In a phone call or in-person survey interview you can use personal presentation, voice intonation, and body language to project authority, professionalism, and credibility. Or, if needed, you can repeat your questions differently or add in a supplementary question. But online, respondents create an own image in their mind of the person asking the questions, since they can’t see or hear them. They, in effect, create a subconscious image of the interviewer, complete with a personality based on what the questionnaire looks like. That, in turn, has an effect on the responses given or even on whether answers are given at all.

What to do with this? The choice and framing of questions plays a big part, so take all the time you need to craft a good questionnaire. But also take time on the ‘small things’, such as the styling. How does your logo look, and where is it placed on the page? What is your color scheme? Do you have a background photo and, if so, does it complement your questionnaire as opposed to distract from your questions?

Pitfall #3: the Fatigue Factor

Another problem with online surveys is that you do not get to monitor your respondents as they answer the questions. There is no voice tone for you to listen to and no body language to warn you when you are slipping off the track. This can negatively impact your survey results. Part of the reason is that the natural approach to browsing the Internet or checking an email inbox is, well, to browse, and not read everything. People simply get bored or tired and move on.


Here at Super Simple Survey we understand these pitfalls, and while we can't solve them all, we're doing our hardest to try to help. With all features available on the free package and a super simple pricing structure, why not give us a try and sign up for your own lifetime account?

Is there something about surveys that you think is confusing or often done wrong? Give us a shout and we will do our best to help clear it up!

Photo credit: Nintendo (thanks, Nintendo)

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Jonah Njonge
Feb 14, 2014
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