Qualtrics vs SurveyMonkey vs Prolific: which one helps you get higher quality data?

Jane Hillman



October 2023

Qualtrics vs SurveyMonkey vs Prolific: which one helps you get higher quality data?

Jane Hillman



October 2023

Whether it’s for academic or market research, professionals in need of data have a steadily increasing number of online platforms to choose from. Frankly, that’s fantastic. Unfortunately, more potential platforms mean more confusion over which platform best suits your needs.

Meme showing a man struggling to pick between "we help you do research and surveys online" and "we help you do research and surveys online"

So, when comparing platforms like Qualtrics vs. SurveyMonkey vs. Prolific, which platform is right for you?

Let’s find out...

Qualtrics: survey software for the business-minded

A screenshot of Qualtrics homepage

Qualtrics XM is a customer experience management (CXM) platform with six distinct products. Together, these products help businesses collect, organize, and analyze information about their customers and employees. Qualtrics offers online survey software as part of its Core XM functionality.

However, users must provide their own research participants when using this part of the CXM platform for business-specific research, like gathering customer experience scores or measuring employee engagement.

Qualtrics also offers Online Sample, its online research and panels service, through which Qualtrics handles the sourcing and management of survey participants on the user’s behalf.

No matter which platform you use for your research, you need to know how to get the best data from your survey participants. Take a moment and learn how to recruit high quality survey participants.

Research usability

Qualtrics XM Basecamp offers video tutorials to guide users through configuring, customizing, and sharing research projects via the Core XM survey software. Qualtrics also provides information on data collection, analysis, and reporting.

The online survey tool includes a variety of customizable survey templates. And Qualtrics also allows survey questions to be customized based on over 20 targeting variables.

Once complete, users can host Qualtrics surveys using customer relationship management (CRM) software on their own site. Alternatively, distribution through email, text, and other messaging apps is also supported.

While Qualtrics does not directly offer a survey estimation tool, it provides guidance on how to estimate survey completion time and a sample size calculator.

At this time, only users with an academic license have access to Qualtrics Online Sample, which is available through their Research Services team. With access to Online Sample, users can:

  • Select the basic demographic breakdown of their desired panel
  • Choose between one-time and wave-based distribution
  • Manage online panel distributions

Data quality

Qualtrics works to ensure high data quality (i.e., response quality) through its ExpertReview system as part of its survey platform. While a survey is active, ExpertReview provides a combination of features:

  • Measuring survey completion time
  • Bot detection
  • Identifying duplicate survey responses
  • Monitoring for optimal participant response time
  • Measuring completion rates
  • Flagging potentially sensitive responses or data
  • Scanning for ambiguous text
  • Identifying patterns of unanswered questions and/or straightlining

When ExpertReview detects anomalies that might affect data quality, it automatically flags issues, presents them to the survey owners, and provides suggestions on how to correct or solve them.

Qualtrics pricing

Qualtrics does not directly provide pricing information on its website and, instead, encourages potential users to request a demo.

SurveyMonkey: accessible survey creation for everyone

Surveymonkey's homepage, which asks "Are my employees happy at work?"

SurveyMonkey is a cloud-based survey platform. Its primary functions revolve around helping users create, send, and analyze responses for their own surveys.

Broadly, SurveyMonkey bisects its solutions into two main categories, people-powered data for business (i.e., customers, employees, and markets) and solutions for teams (customer experience, human resources, marketing, and education).

Like Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey’s survey builder does not include access to potential participants, but for research that requires participant information, users can leverage Audience, SurveyMonkey’s global consumer panel.

Research usability

SurveyMonkey offers users a help center on its website. Topics covered include survey creation basics, such as how to distribute surveys, collect responses, and conduct analysis and reporting.

In addition to helping users build simple surveys and online forms and providing numerous survey templates, the SurveyMonkey platform gives users the ability to distribute their surveys and analyze results with custom reporting, cross-tabbing, and filters.

Users who use the Audience consumer panel have access to a free survey estimation tool. The tool does include browsable, pre-existing audience profiles. For custom audiences, the estimation tool allows users to explore the 50+ targeting features available, including:

  • Basic demographics
  • Firmographics
  • Employment status
  • Hobbies
SurveyMonkey's Discover Audience page

With SurveyMonkey’s research estimation tool, users can explore pre-existing audience profiles and tiers of research quality. These tiers accommodate user needs that range from informal, ad hoc feedback to statistically significant projects that require a low margin of error.

Data quality

Starting December 2015 and running through February 2016, SurveyMonkey began testing the data quality of Audience. Sending the same survey out repeatedly, it collected responses. It looked at three things: evidence of straightlining (when participants provide identical or nearly identical responses), response validity, and participant attention.

Altogether, only 3% of the Audience participants straightlined while answering, 97% gave valid responses, and 94% answered the attention check question correctly. Based on these results, SurveyMonkey concluded that Audience was a source of quality, thoughtful responses.

Since then, it has re-run this quality check periodically, with the last set of results dating to 2019. Additionally, SurveyMonkey refreshes its audience profiling regularly to ensure it’s always relevant to users.

Other platform features designed to maximize data quality include:

  • A charitable incentive model for U.S.-based Audience participants
  • Respondent quality monitoring
  • Bot and fraud detection
  • A double-opt-in system for participants
  • Regular survey panel calibration
  • User tools to help detect response issues
  • Response filtering and deletion

SurveyMonkey pricing

In addition to the free version of its platform, SurveyMonkey offers monthly subscriptions for team, individual, and enterprise users. While team subscriptions start at $25 per team member and $16 for the individual plan, users seeking an enterprise subscription are encouraged to contact SurveyMonkey directly.

Prolific: academic quality, researcher-centric

Prolific's homepage saying "Quickly find research participants you can trust"

Prolific is a research platform built around its network of 130,000+ active participants. Unlike Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey, Prolific does not offer a survey creation tools as part of its platform. Instead, the Prolific platform helps researchers find their desired participants and manage the collection of their data.

As part of Prolific’s research process, users can utilize surveys created by whichever survey tool they prefer, including (but not limited to) Google and Microsoft Forms, Gorilla, Typeform, Qualtrics, and SurveyMonkey. With this unique focus on remaining a format-agnostic platform, users from more roles and industries can leverage Prolific and do so in a wider variety of ways. 

In April of 2022, Prolific announced it was raising the minimum pay allowed on its platform to £6.00/$8.00 per hour. This change reflects the Prolific team's belief that participant compensation is fundamental for providing high-quality, first-party data online. But it's also a practical move, helping ensure their participant compensation rates track with costs of living increases over time.

Prolific participants still receive 100% of the compensation researchers set for them when using the platform, to which Prolific adds a flat 30% service fee. However, to support underfunded research, individuals working in academia and non-profit sectors are eligible for a discounted service fee of 25%.

Research usability

The Prolific website includes a help center that supports everything from research basics, like avoiding common forms of bias and managing participants, to more advanced topics, like running longitudinal studies and using Prolific’s advanced features.

These advanced features include access to 250+ demographic screening options designed to support an exhaustive variety of research topics, including:

  • Gender identity and sexual orientation
  • Mono/multiculturalism
  • Experiences with chronic disease or substance abuse
  • COVID-19 vaccination status
  • Cognitive conditions or neurotypicality
  • Technological literacy
  • Financial interests and expertise, including cryptocurrency and investing
Prolific's audience picker tool

Researchers can benefit from 1:1 feedback and support directly from the Prolific support team, live through their consultancy service, and connect with other like-minded professionals through Prolific's online researcher community.

Cloud and experiment integrations include options like Otree, Inquisit, Pavlovia, Testable, Heroku, and Labvanced. And researchers can connect study, submission, and bonus APIs to Prolific through an accessible developer platform

Data quality

Unlike Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey, Prolific is upfront with its intention to help participants receive an equitable wage for participating in research. According to Prolific, this is due to its respect for ethical research standards and the simple fact that compensation directly affects response quality

Since Prolific's process actively fosters participant motivation and engagement, researchers receive responses quickly compared to other platforms. In fact, the average study on Prolific takes just two hours, or less, to complete.

Prolific also provides extensive resources to help users proactively maximize data quality through their survey design and research workflows. This guidance includes helping users employ standard research practices like attention check questions (ACQs) and gauging the survey comprehension of their respondents.

Like Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey, Prolific also offers users a comprehensive set of features and participant requirements that work to ensure high data quality and prevent low quality responses. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Requiring non-VOIP phone numbers and IDs to verify participant accounts
  • Verifying participant IP/ISP quality
  • Ensuring each participant has a unique payment account (i.e., Paypal, Circle)
  • Bot detection
  • Real-time monitoring of participant usage patterns

Prolific pricing

Users must create a free account in order to receive a comprehensive estimate of how much their survey will cost to run through Prolific. However, pricing basics are accessible on the website without the need for an account if users wish to get a sense of Prolific’s pricing methodology.

Prolific's pricing calculator

Qualtrics vs. SurveyMonkey vs. Prolific: which one is right for your research?

Again, more options regarding online research platforms mean more chances for users to find the right “fit” for their research. Are you part of a large corporation and looking to improve both the customer and employee experience? Qualtrics is worth exploring. New to online research but hoping to survey your peers as part of an advanced college course? SurveyMonkey could have everything you need.

Or perhaps you work in academia or business and need access to high-quality data, on various topics, from a variety of different audiences. Prolific could be your new go-to, even if you’ve already invested in another survey tool, like Qualtrics or SurveyMonkey. If that’s the case, don’t worry. If you’ve created a survey on another platform, you can still use Prolific to benefit from its high-quality pool of participants and quick response turnaround times.

Point being, make sure your own goals guide you as you determine which research platform is the best fit for you. And once you’ve settled on the right platform for your research, the next step involves making sure you can get the highest-quality data from your audience.

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