From average to great: How to raise your survey response rate in five simple steps

Amy Breese



March 2023

From average to great: How to raise your survey response rate in five simple steps

Amy Breese



March 2023

A survey is your window into your audience’s thought processes, behaviors, and preferences — but if you don’t get enough responses, you can’t unlock those insights.

Improve your survey response rate by tailoring both your survey description and your survey content to your audience. While it's impossible to get everyone to complete their surveys, there are tried and tested methods that help increase engagement and responses.

1. Set benchmarks based on average survey response rates

To improve your survey response rate, you first need to understand what a strong response rate looks like. Response rates will vary based on your industry, the type of survey you’re conducting, and your target audience.

Response rate is calculated by dividing the number of people who respond to your survey into the total number of potential respondents. If you mail your survey out to 1,000 people and 650 respond, you’d have a response rate of 65%.

But the response rate will jump around depending on the field of your survey. A meta-analysis of online surveys in published education-related research found that the average response rate was 44.1%. However, this value was specific to education-related academic research, and response rates for non-academic or non-education research may be different. 

Based on the type of research you’re conducting and the audience you’re trying to reach, set a benchmark for your own survey response rate.

2. Offer the right survey incentives

Sometimes, you have to give a little to get a little. Your audience will be looking for fair compensation in exchange for taking your survey. Here at Prolific, we firmly believe in paying our participants fairly, so all studies published on Prolific must have some kind of monetary compensation.

These kinds of survey incentives can provide an immediate boost in response rates. A World Trade Center longitudinal health study saw an 18% increase in response rate when offering a $10 monetary incentive, for instance.

Incentives like these are also important because they ensure you’re paying participants a fair wage for their time. If you aren’t, some people may disregard your study entirely. A decent wage is much more likely to incentivize those people, net you more responses, and help respondents feel like they’re being compensated fairly for their efforts and thoughtfulness. That’s why Prolific recommends aiming for monetary incentives that reflect a fair hourly wage.

3. Advertise your study well

The first thing that potential participants will see when introduced to your study is the opening description and ‘advert’ for your research. It may seem obvious, but there are a few steps you can take to ensure that your advertisement is working in the best way for you.

Write a clear and concise summary of your survey so that participants can instantly and easily see what you’re asking them to do. This is the main point where participants decide if they want to take part in your survey so try and make it sound as exciting as possible while also being informative.

Be wary of including too much detail though. Even though you may be tempted to specify your required participant demographics in your study description, this can in fact lead to bad actors being able to fake who they are to get into your study! So try not to be too specific about who you are looking for. If you are using a platform like Prolific then you don't need to worry about this as all of our screening is done up front.

4. Make your survey more concise

Surveys with a long list of questions and paragraph blocks can be overwhelming and demotivating for your audience members to fill out. To increase responses, keep your survey short and sweet by focusing on the most important questions.

You can get all of the quality insights you need from a shorter survey while netting more responses. One study found that shorter surveys given to research participants produced higher response and completion rates and still produced reliable data. Another found that response rates to an alumni questionnaire increased substantially when the survey was cut down from hundreds of questions.

We’ve observed similar trends across surveys launched using Prolific’s platform. Surveys that take under 10 minutes to complete have a response rate of 90%. But surveys that take more than 10 minutes to complete see a 10% drop in response rate — they’re only completed about 80% of the time.

To come up with a concise list of questions, narrow in on your topic and what you really need to know about the audience and their thinking. Keep each question focused and clear so that there’s no overlap. With this approach, you can maintain a razor-sharp focus without overwhelming participants.

5. Ensure you use a high quality online sampling platform

Continue testing and optimizing until you hit your benchmark for survey response rate. Run and compare different versions of a study with new titles, differing language and length of your questions, and new task descriptions to see what works best for your audience.

Consider using an online sampling platform like Prolific to launch your survey and raise your response rates. Prolific uses engaged, trusted participants and fair compensation to keep response rates and data quality high for all types of surveys, including academic and industry research.

Above all, focus on gaining deeper insight and meaningful takeaways as you optimize your survey collection methods. Response rate is important for generating quality data, but it’s only one factor.

If you’re having trouble finding enough participants after optimizing your survey, offload the job to Prolific. Through our platform, you can quickly find high-quality respondents in minutes, no matter how niche. Get started now.

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