When Visitor Surveys Can Damage Your Brand

A buzz word in the world of digital analytics is “Voice of Customer” or VOC for short. This is the presenting of a survey to your visitors asking them to respond to questions that can be used to ascertain how they feel about the web experience they are having.

Surveying your customers is obviously a good thing, BUT the key to obtaining a good participation rate and accurate results, is the timing and mechanism of your survey. Unfortunately these are so often forgotten. The result is poor quality data masquerading as “feedback” that can also be damaging for your brand…!

Obviously Customer Surveys Are useful…

Analytics tools and methodologies are great for telling you the “what” and the “when”. That is, WHAT happened (a goal conversion event, a transaction, a specific pageview or a combination of pageviews etc. or any kind of engagement on your site) and WHEN it happened (time/date, do they repeat the same thing over again and at what frequency etc.). This is quantitative data that is invaluable for identifying poor performing pages and poorly targeted marketing campaigns.

However, the missing link is the qualitative data – the WHY. For example, why did 30% of visitors leave your web site on that particular page; only view one page (bounce); not convert; not buy; not contact you; stay for less than 10 seconds etc.? The only way to obtain such information is to ask them via a customer survey.

Without asking your visitors, understanding qualitative information is often guess work. For example, following a site redesign, why has your time on site metric increased? Is it because users are more engaged with your content, or is it because they are lost in your new navigation layout? Allowing visitors to provide their feedback bridges the gap between anonymous, aggregate web data (traffic) and the views of your visitors (personalised responses from individuals).

But… Customer Surveys Can Also Damage Your Brand And Skew Results

With so much to benefit from deploying a customer survey, what can possibly be bad…? In two words, “poor deployment”.

Example unsolicited survey pop-upWhat I find quite astounding is the trend to use an unsolicited “pop-up” window as the method of survey deployment – and to do so on the visitor’s landing page i.e. the visitor’s very first contact with your website. Unsolicited means a pop-up window interrupting the visitor’s intent by overlaying a window on top of the content they are reading without any action taken by your visitor i.e. they did not click on anything for this to happen. The following screenshot is an example.

A silent brand killer…

Unsolicited pop-ups are one of the oldest and most annoying forms of interruption marketing on the web. In fact so annoying they sparked the creation of a whole industry of anti-popup and ad blocking software.

Unsolicited pop-ups are similar to email spam – despised by users for the following reasons:

  • They are unsolicited – the user did not ask for this!
  • They interrupt the user and prevent them from reading the content they searched for.
  • They delay the user in a digital world where saving time (literally seconds) is considered precious.
  • They often load on the landing page – the very first page a user sees, preventing the user from identifying if they are on the correct website, let alone read any content.
  • They repeat load to the same visitor returning – even if previously the survey was completed.

These reasons are damaging to your brand. However, as very few people bother to take the trouble to tell you your interruption pop-up stinks, you wouldn’t realise the irritation you are building up! General website irritation flies very low below the data radar…

Skewed results…

Consider the following visitor scenario:

A visitor to your site enjoying their current user experience becomes irritated with an unsolicited pop-up requesting their feedback and blocking the content they were about to read – double the annoyance level if that visitor completed the survey on a previous visit. They then either:

A) Leave your web site for a competitor

B) Provide negative survey feedback because of the annoyance

Scenario A) artificially reduces the survey participation rate (they may have completed the survey if left to their own devices) and will impact other web metrics such as bounce rate, time on site etc.

Scenario B) is important to avoid otherwise you encounter the “squeaky wheels” syndrome. That is, unhappy users being over exposed in your survey results as visitors that are unhappy with their experience are more likely to submit their views. These visitors may have been happy with their experience prior to the annoyance.

Of course, it is possible the visitor welcomes being interrupted before they have read your content, or built any kind of relationship with you(!). However, the reality is that the en masse damage to your brand caused by the interruption, will far out-weigh the small proportion of feedback gained.

Check List For Best Practise Survey Deployment

  1. Avoid pop-ups – allow users to provide their feedback using an easy to find standard text link, or button
  2. Keep it simple – use transparent language for requesting participation
  3. Add your survey request close to the page’s call-to-action you wish to gain feedback on
  4. Keep participation anonymous – or keep personal information optional
  5. Avoid selective participation – provide ALL your visitors with the option to send their feedback.
  6. Deploy continuously – as with web analytics data, a continuous and ongoing survey system provides you with much greater insight than running a survey for a single campaign, or set time period.
  7. Integrate survey results with web analytics data (i.e. the rest of your visitor’s journey)

When is a pop-up justified?

The special case of a user abandoning your website (or shopping cart) is acceptable for requesting feedback via an unsolicited pop-up. You are about to lose the customer/visitor anyhow, so why not? Visitors may also appreciate this opportunity presented to them at the correct time.

Also, the decision to abandon has already been made by the user. Hence, the use of a survey at this point of the visitor journey will not influence the results.

How-to Increase Survey Participation Without Damaging Your Brand

Here are some great examples I have come across at soliciting feedback from your visitors WITHOUT the use of an unsolicited pop-up.

Travel example Retail example How Google do it
BBC Social network This site (old version)

I like these approaches because they aim to get as many engaged visitors to take part in the survey as possible. Engaged can be a positive or negative user experience – that’s the point, both types should be equally encouraged to provide feedback in a quick and efficient manner.

A higher participation greatly increases the likelihood of obtaining a statistically accurate outcome i.e. balanced and representative of ALL your visitors.

Accuracy Note:
If you have 10,000 visitors, you need survey results from 370 visitors to be 95% confident in your results to a level of +/- 5%. That’s a participation rate of 3.7% (try this excellent guide on survey statistics).

I wrote the original version of this post in 2008 and decided to update and repost as nothing has changed in 8 years!

What are your thoughts on unsolicited pop-up surveys and feedback forms – good or bad for the user experience?

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