Web-enabled survey approaches have resulted in some dramatic changes in how surveys are executed. The impact on research deliverables is mixed—some positive and some negative. Overall, web-based data collection generates uniquely high quality and consistent responses. However, so-called “web-based” or online surveys are often considered synonymous with “email surveys” which frequently result in respondent samples of questionable or unknown quality. The highest quality responses from the wrong respondents can’t provide useful insights.
For any quantitative study (web or not) there are two primary elements to consider when identifying the best or preferred approach:
- The process used to select and recruit respondents (email, telephone, postal mail, in-person, et al.)
- The method used to administer the survey and collect data (online, computer-aided telephone, paper, face-to-face interviewer, etc.)
If the quality and consistency of response data is the primary consideration, online surveys perform well compared to most other survey administration methods. Strengths include:
- Ability to use rating scales that provide both numeric and verbal descriptors
- ability to rate multiple offerings simultaneously so that ratings reflect both the absolute performance of each offering as well as relative differences between offerings
- Capable of including video, images, and audio elements in surveys to garner a more accurate understanding of brand perceptions
- Compared to telephone surveys (verbal administration) the written and graphical depictions in online surveys are more efficient—up to 30% more content can be collected in the same amount of respondent time
- For administration of choice-based question approaches or trade-off exercises, options can be longer and more complex because the respondent can see and compare the descriptions rather than having to remember the options presented
- Self-administration by respondents avoids the possibility of an interviewer impacting outcomes or results
In the end, web-based surveys (appropriately designed) can generate excellent data. The data are valuable when respondents are recruited in a manner that limits self-selection or the data can be modified (weighted) so that the respondent demographics are essentially the same as population demographics.