Thought Piece

Higher Survey Completion Rates

How to get the Highest Survey Completion Rates

Surveys are one of the easiest and most effective ways to find out more about your consumer and their relationship with your product or service. Surveys are quick to develop and even faster to deliver.

The challenge is getting enough people to complete the survey so that you can get the unbiased results you need. Typical completion rates range from 5% to 30%. Higher completion rates are less likely to be biased, yield  more predictive data regarding future consumer behavior, and increase credibility when reporting results. “A survey response rate of 50% or higher should be considered excellent in most circumstances.” [1]

Getting higher survey completion results involves multiple factors. But it can be summed up in three simple statements.

  • Hear Your Audience.
  • Know Your Audience.
  • Reach Your Audience.

Hear your audience

Most people are bombarded with information and requests for their time and attention thousands of times per day. Between email, regular mail, work, home, and social media, most people don’t have the bandwidth (or the desire) to answer survey questions. Four of the best ways to keep people engaged until they complete the survey is to make it short, know who you’re addressing, wait until the end to collect the demographics, and offer an incentive.

Make it short

Let’s face it, between tax forms, insurance forms, school forms, and medical forms, almost every adult cringes when presented with surveys that extend on and on, page after page or screen after screen. According to Meghan Lockwood, at Acorio, “No matter how much you want to learn (or how many additions you get from the outside), the fewer questions you ask, the more responses you will get…any survey that takes longer than 5 – 10 minutes you watch a dramatic drop-off in response rates.” [2]

Consider your own behavior when presented with a long survey. How long does it take for you to set it aside? How many times are you interrupted trying to finish it? How many times do you ask yourself if it’s worth it? “Survey response rate is directly correlated to survey length and duration, we’ve seen on average a 17% drop in response rate when a survey has more than 12 questions or takes longer than 5 minutes to complete.” [3]

Keep it tight if you want your respondents to get through to the end.

Know who you're talking to

It goes without saying that you should target your respondents based on a specific set of criteria before you create and send a survey. Surveying adult males about middle school fashion trends will not net the best results for future business insights. “The better you target your surveys, the more usable insights you will glean.” [4]

There are multiple ways that insight teams can build their email lists to have an in-house group of customers to survey; for example, getting information from email subscribers, gleaning information from website visitors, or using social media platforms to send out your survey.

Collect demographic material at the end of your survey

Although you might be using those highly specific targeted audiences for your surveys, you still should collect some basic demographic and behavioral information. “More data on these respondents provides a more accurate picture of how this target demographic segment thinks, acts and responds. This helps provide you with reliable conclusions you can act upon with confidence.” [5]

The best way to do that is to simply tack on a few questions at the end that will help you sort your survey results into more specific groupings. Finishing up your survey with some quick, multiple choice options is easy and fast.

Report back some of your results

Many times, respondents will want some kind of return for their time. You can offer incentives, such as a discount for your product or service or a free gift like a gift card. However, it is sometimes just as effective to simply share pieces of information that you have gathered. As an incentive, “considering sharing the survey results with your survey takers after you’ve collected all of your responses as the incentive (e.g. See how you compare to your peers.)” [6]

Providing tidbits of information gives your respondents a return on their time in some interesting or useful information and at the same time provides a sense of goodwill.

Know Your Audience


We talked about making your survey short. But sometimes short surveys can be just as difficult to complete as long ones with complex questions that ask for detailed, qualitative answers. If your survey questions take too much time for the respondent to think through, they won’t continue, leaving you with low completion rates and incomplete data.

The best way to keep your surveys easy and inviting for people to respond is to use plenty of images, format your questions for quick response times, and keep your survey relevant to the current technological time frame.

Graphics & Visuals

Easy surveys are ones that don’t take a lot of time to complete. If someone can complete a survey in the time it takes to stand in line at a coffee shop, you will have much higher completion rates.

Using images and visuals as part of your question speeds up the survey and makes it more inviting and engaging. In an article by Marcel Just and Melissa Ludtke, they found that humans are able to understand concepts faster when they are presented with images instead of text.  “Visuals summarize content into smaller, and easier to process chunks, and when you select the right visuals, they offer more comprehensibility than text-based explanations or only audios.” [7]

Research shows that humans are hard-wired to process images faster than words. In fact, “a team of neuroscientists from MIT has found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds — the first evidence of such rapid processing speed.” [8]

Respondents can make a decision about a question based on an image faster and more instinctually leading to quick results and higher response rates.

Additionally, using photos, images, and visuals makes the survey seem shorter and easier to complete. [9] “A lot of printed words are there to describe things that occur spatially. In many cases a picture is worth a thousand words. Now we can generate these pictures and graphics and we can convey them to other people very easily.” [10]

Image rich surveys will engage survey respondents, make your survey appear even shorter, and allow your survey respondents to answer faster, all leading to higher survey completion rates.

Use the best question format for fast results

The best way to get quantitative results is to use questions that have a choice that the respondent simply selects from. There are three primary question formats to use in your survey that will provide you with higher responses; Yes/No polling questions, Ranking scale questions, and Multiple Choice questions.

Hit of miss

A yes or no/hit or miss question format is most effective for fast, quantitative analysis.[11] This type of question is simple to answer with the push of a button and is particularly effective for pinpointing specific changes that need to be made in your product, service, or organization.

Slider Bar (Ranking Scale question)

A ranking scale is also easy for your survey audience to use. They are given more choices (usually five to seven) but those choices are also easier to turn into images. Think of the satisfaction ratings that Google Maps uses at the end of your route, five simple face emojis that indicate how well the app performed.

Multiple Choice

One of the best ways to increase your survey response rates is to use multiple choice questions. [12] Multiple choice questions can be used in two ways; with multiple allowable answers (choose all that apply) or with only one possible option.

Either way, having options that your respondent can simply click on, will provide better completion results. It is easy and fast.

That being said, to keep your respondents in your survey, always create an option for people who don’t fit into one of those multiple choice boxes. Having a box marked Other or Does Not Apply, keeps your respondents in your survey. And adding a text box for them to explain their answer will also provide you with some qualitative analysis to help you make better insight decisions.

Keep Your Survey Relevant

There are certain technologies that people use today that can make your survey more engaging, exciting, fast, and easy to use. The top two are the Swipe Technology made popular by the Tinder app and the use of vivid imagery.

Swipe Right. Swipe Left.

“According to recent research…people tap, swipe, and click an average of 2,617 times per day.” [13] People’s relationships with their devices have become second nature; used for both work and play. And the swipe technology, that quick sweeping action to open or close something, or to choose between two items, has become second nature to everyone who has a device that uses the functionality. In fact, Jonathon Badeen, the co-founder of Tinder, states that, “swipe is, in many ways, the textbook example of an intuitive user experience.” [14]

Incorporating that quick decision making, second nature skill into your surveys will add to your response rates and to your data.


We live in a graphic-rich world, surrounded by pictures and images that tell stories and convey information. As mentioned above, humans process these images in seconds, faster than they process words or sounds.

Using vivid, memorable images in your surveys will keep your respondents interested all the way through to completion. Not only are they faster for your survey audience to process and respond to, but also, photos, videos, graphics, memes, and gifs are everywhere your respondents are. “It’s inevitable that visual media are going to become more important in conveying ideas.” [15]

Reach Your Audience

Just about everyone owns a computer, a laptop, or a tablet. Even more people own a phone. Actually, “The vast majority of Americans – 96% – now own a cellphone of some kind. The share of Americans that own smartphones is now 81%.” [16]

To get your best, most relevant data results, you need to send your surveys to where your audience spends the most time---their devices.

You can use email or web-based apps to distribute your surveys to your targeted audience. But you should also spread your reach by using social media outlets. While people do spend a lot of their time on their phones, accessing social media is one of the leading mobile activities in the United States. Facebook, Instagram, FB Messenger, Twitter, and Pinterest are the top five most used social media channels. [17]

Having a survey tool that can optimize your reach in a mobile-friendly method is the best way to go. And since most people have a mobile phone with them all the time and are actively checking their phones upwards of 2,000 times per day, sending your surveys using mobile-friendly tools is the most effective way to get higher response rates.

Get Those Higher Completion Rates

While there are many factors you can add to create a survey that will keep your respondents interested and answering your questions to the very end, if you use these three simple guiding statements, you are sure to get results to skyrocket your completion rates and provide you with detailed insight data.

Simply put,

  • Hear Your Audience.
  • Know Your Audience.
  • Reach Your Audience.

Swytchback offers engaging, visually driven, easy-to-use surveys that are mobile-first and will get you the data you’re looking for. Reach out to us today and see how Swytchback can support your success. Schedule a demo today to see it for yourself.


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[9] National Research Council. 2013. Nonresponse in Social Science Surveys: A Research Agenda. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. p 67



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