When it comes to optimizing my clients' product messaging, there's one hugely underrated & extremely cost-effective tool I consistently rely on for conversion-critical gains:
When it comes to surveys, I am a broken record. Believe me, I know.
I mention surveys in my talks, in my ebook, in my course, and in my other blog posts. Surveys are the foundation of virtually ALL of my copy-focused optimization efforts (even more so than customer & stakeholder interviews, the go-to research tools of most copywriters).
"But why?" you ask. "Surveys are so boring & messy! Spreadsheets full of disorganized opinions, ewww ..."
Because by sending out just one or two well-designed surveys — to the right audiences, in the right way — I can easily generate:
- Clear, evidence-based value propositions (following a process that actually wins tests & generates sales)
- Dozens of purchase objections, perceived risks, and friction points that I can neutralize with surgical precision
- Scores of long-tail, low-cost keywords to start targeting via PPC ads
- Endless split-test hypotheses to test at the TOFU, BOFU and ... uh, MOFU (that's a term, right?) level
Almost every time I deploy surveys for a new client, it's like cranking open a rusty faucet they've completely forgotten about. A torrent of emotionally-charged feedback gushes forth, settling into a steady conveyor belt of conversion issues I can calmly triage & tackle, one after another — with clear, evidence-backed tactics for how to fix them.
And yet almost every time I propose surveys as part of my research, I have to assuage the same two client objections first:
Objection #1: "A popup survey will lower our conversions/irritate our users"
There's usually at least one person in the business who HATES popups with the fire of a thousand suns.
They're convinced a popup survey will have catastrophic consequences on their bottom line.
Customers will run screaming into the arms of greedy competitors ... Users will flood the support channels, rage-typing complaints ... Years of hard-earned brand loyalty and trust will be obliterated in a matter of days!
Okay, I sympathize, I do. But at the same time ...
Sure, surveys can be a little annoying.
But when executed purposefully and respectfully, they are at most a passing irritation, on par with being asked if you'd like to try a free sample at Costco.
If a user doesn't want to engage with your survey, they'll click away and promptly forget about it: no harm done.
[There is one big exception to this, in my experience: ice-cold, mobile-device traffic. Wrong time, wrong place for a pop-up survey. Just my opinion.]
... And the conversion-boosting insights you get from those who DO engage with your survey? They make it all so, so worth it.
Which brings me to the next client objection I bump up against ...
Objection #2: "We've sent out surveys before. The feedback was worthless."
If you have healthy site traffic (more than 500 visitors per day) and a sizeable, reasonably active mailing list (say, more than 2500 paying customers) but have never gotten actionable, testable business insights from a survey ... you're doing them wrong.
The good news is you're not alone — most marketers fail to treat surveys for what they really are: A conversion-optimization challenge of a different stripe.
The objective is the same: Squeeze more value out of your target market. It's just that your KPIs are different. Instead of trying to maximize sales, you're trying to maximize sales-critical information & insight.
In other words, the precursors to maximizing those sweet, sweet dollars.
Thankfully, with just a handful of adjustments to the design & copy of your surveys, you can see massive improvements in the volume, quality, and bottom-line impact of your voice-of-customer survey responses.
[And with the right analysis, you can quickly turn those responses into conversion tests for your sales funnel. Which I will share in an upcoming Part II post.]
So: How do you optimize surveys for high response rate and quality?
Here are just a few tried-and-true principles I use to generate conversion-critical customer feedback from client to client, regardless of industry ....
A Few Simple Rules For Getting Higher-Quality Survey Responses
Rule #1: For the love of god, think of your recipient as a human being, even a friend — someone you actually know, who has a name / job / family / life.
This is honestly the root problem with 99% of the customer surveys I see.
I don't know why, but most marketing surveys are filled with the same peppy, generic, thoughtless boilerplate that companies have been churning out since surveys were invented.
You know the cheery, exclamation-point-riddled drek I'm talking about. "Tell us what you think! Did you enjoy your recent experience with FACELESS CORPORATION? Let us know by filling out this survey. We value your feedback!"
Now, we would never inflict this kind of empty-headed form-letter copy on a personal acquaintance. We KNOW better. We all know — instinctively — that using generic boilerplate in a social context is a terrible idea.
(Paste form-letter copy into a online dating response or a job application and you can kiss that date or job interview goodbye.)
Think about that for a second:
We instinctively recognize that stale, recycled, "Dear Sir/Madam"-style copy is damaging to our 1:1 relationships.
So why the *^%$ do we keep using it in our 1:1000+ business relationships?!
If you want to get better survey response rates (and better email engagement in general) the #1 thing you need to stop doing is thinking of your customers as a "list" (or a moron, as David Ogilvy famously put it).
See them for who they actually are:
Real people who hate poorly-written spam polluting their inbox as much as your spouse, parents, and friends do. Real people who appreciate when othera (ahem, you) treat them respectfully and value their time.
Pro tip: How to sound like a human in your marketing emails
The next time you plan on sending out a survey, DON'T draft the invite copy in your marketing campaign editor.
Open up your personal email client, stick your own personal email address in the To field, and draft the request copy there. Imagine you're sending this copy to someone you know. Send it to yourself, then read it on your phone.
Is this copy something you'd feel OK sending to a group of people you know in real life? Does it ask humbly and concisely for a quick favour (briefly explaining why) like a normal, respectful human being?
Or ... does it sound like some kind of uncanny-valley marketing android _trying to pass_ as a person?
Give it careful consideration, edit accordingly, *then* stick the copy into your campaign editor and hit 'SEND.'
Rule #2: Stop using the dreaded "S-word" in your subject lines & invite copy
From a business's perspective, surveys are an extremely valuable way to find out what customers care about.
Unfortunately, from the customer's perspective, surveys are one of the lowest-priority emails you can get, ranking somewhere between 10%-off deals and GDPR policy updates.
After all, surveys have nothing to do with anyone your customer knows, they generally don't confer any tangible benefit or entertainment value, and they aren't time-sensitive.
There's no way to get around it: Surveys matter to your business, but they don't matter to your customer, and never will.
This is why referring to your survey as a survey flat-out kills email engagement. The instant your customer sees the dreaded S-word in your subject line or invite copy, they're going to dismiss it as low-priority and hit 'Delete.'
Pro tip: How to get more people to engage with your survey
If social media has proven anything about human beings, it's that no matter how lazy, tired, or distracted we are, we cannot resist giving our opinion on things we feel strongly about (whether we're qualified to or not!).
Ask a stranger on the street if you can "talk to them for a minute" and they'll scurry away faster than a pickpocket caught redhanded, but ask them "what they think about [TOPIC]" and you can be sure a good portion of them will stop what they're doing and let you know.
So instead of using a word like "survey" in your invite copy (which conveys a sense of tedious, meaningless busywork), try using words that pique our deep-seated, hardwired desire to speak our mind (and set a conversational tone to your inquiry). Words like:
"your two cents"
You get the picture. All of the above focus on imparting an opinion ...
... instead of filling out a long-ass, boring form.
Rule #3: When possible, transform dull surveys into fun & useful quizzes
Pop Quiz: What are military generals, parents of picky children, and really good brand strategists & copywriters incredibly good at?
... They're masters of the Art of Disguise.
Whether we're talking about hiding armies in wooden horses or zucchini in muffins, knowing how to make unappealing things seem appealing is a powerful skill that every marketer should have.
With the emergence of easy-to-implement, easy-to-integrate quiz-building tools, there's no reason not to turn at least some of your surveys into engaging, informative self-discovery challenges & diagnostic tools for your prospects.
That being said, not all surveys should transformed into "fun" quizzes.
You especially don't want to be using quizzes when what you need is rich, open-ended survey responses to help you draft better sales copy.
Personally, I rarely find that paying, active customers require additional incentives or disguises to get a healthy proportion of them — between 5-10+% — to complete a survey of up to 10 open-ended questions.
But loyal, paying customers are one thing. Prospects — especially ice-cold prospects who have NO idea who you are or what you're offering — are a completely different beast.
Cold prospects are a notoriously difficult audience to crack. As a rule, you can expect them to be way less willing to answer your questions ... and way more likely to resent you for asking.
This is where surveys disguised as quizzes really shine.
In the past few years Buzzfeed-style, "what kind of X are you"-style quizzes have become hugely popular. We enjoy them in the same way we enjoy horoscopes: We know they're unscientific and silly, but since they're invariably positive, easy, and all about me-me-me, we just can't resist 'em.
However, a lot of quiz tutorials out there focus almost entirely on creating entertaining, flattering quizzes to maximize lead-gen rates — lead quality be damned.
This is relatively harmless if you're targeting an organic (aka free) traffic. But definitely think twice about using a "Buzzfeed-style" format if you're paying for those clicks — after all, you don't want to waste money collecting the contact information of people who just wanted to waste 3 minutes finding out which Game of Thrones character they are.
You want qualified leads, people who are actually in the market to buy from you.
Pro tip: How to build an effective survey-quiz for a freezing-cold audience
In a nutshell, help them "Choose the perfect X" that just so happens to be closely related to your product space, and draft a quiz around that goal.
For example: If you sell scuba diving gear, you could have a quiz that helps your customer _choose the perfect destination for their next diving trip_.
If you sell dog food, you could have a quiz that helps your customer _choose the right diet for their dog_.
You get the picture.
The key to this approach is to choose a "critical unknown" that is highly correlated with buying your product, but still has 1-2 degrees of separation from what you're actually selling.
A fantastic example of this is ThirdLove's bra-size quiz:
In a highly saturated women's underwear market, ThirdLove's value prop isn't the sexiest bra, or most invisible/seamless bra — they're selling the best-fitting bra.
But even though they sell great-fitting bras, you'll notice that their quiz does NOT challenge the user to "Find The Perfect-Fitting Bra" — the quiz sets its sights just one degree off the bull's eye, encouraging the user to _find their perfect fit_, instead.
Why, you might ask?
Because a "find the perfect fitting bra" quiz is clearly a sales tactic, one that
a) can't be trusted, since it was created by a bra seller, and
b) focuses entirely on the product, which the user doesn't care about (yet)
But a "find your perfect fit" quiz isn't technically selling anything.
Instead, it ...
a) lets the user take advantage of ThirdLove's expertise in a no-pressure way
b) focuses entirely on the user, scratching that "me-me-me" itch we all have
Best of all, it specifically targets people who suspect they have ill-fitting bras — ThirdLove's ideal customer — AND gives ThirdLove the opportunity to collect product-specific details about each user's unique neds, which they can then use to create hyper-targeted, highly relevant sales campaigns & product messaging later via email.
And the user? They get an enlightening & highly-informed recommendation about their bra sizing from a true expert.
This is a shortlist of tactics, but there are SO many other things you can do to make surveys that are genuinely engaging, insightful, and valuable to both you AND your user.
Seriously: Your surveys don't have to suck. Put just a smidgen of thoughtful strategy & care into making them, and they will uncork a staggering influx of conversion-critical insight and rich, raw copy you can use to progressively optimize your sales funnels long into the future.
In my next Part II post, I'll break down my favorite survey questions to use to build a rock-solid, customer-tailored messaging flow for virtually any online conversion funnel.
P.S. Do YOU struggle to get voice-of-customer data you can actually use & analyze? What's the #1 thing getting in the way of turning your customers' input into needle-moving product design & marketing initiatives?