Online Market Research Mistakes

1. Lack of Experience

It’s easy to do online surveys these days. Too easy. It may be so cheap and easy that you do it without understanding the basics and end up with misleading answers. These misleading answers can send your business down the wrong path. This is worse than never doing any research in the first place. Spend a little time and get to know what you don’t know about market research.

A basic review of the following topics is a great start.

1.      Sampling and sampling error

2.      Quantitative vs. qualitative research

3.      Question bias / question design

4.      Response rates / confidence levels

5.      Questionnaire coding

6.      Why people take surveys (social contract)

2. Not Eliminating Sampling Errors

Now that you know what sampling error is you can understand why it is important to know before conducting meaningful market research. Many of the online surveys you see today are full of potential sampling errors. Don’t be one of them. Take the time to develop a good sample and then make sure you get as many of those people as possible to your survey. This is probably the biggest difference between professional market research and do-it-yourself research. The pros take the time and money to develop good samples to make sure that they get good response rates. You can too if you put in the effort.

Things to keep in mind:

1.      Always use a random sample

2.      Track your respondents (PINs)

3.      Program the survey to cut duplicates and respondents with bad intentions

4.      Check the data for oddities (clean the data of illegitimate records)

5.      Use incentives (does not have to be monetary, see social contract)

3. Making Decisions with Inaccurate Information

Your data can potentially mess up important business decisions. Making decisions with inaccurate information is worse than taking a guess.

4. Writing Bad Questionnaires

You might get everything else right and then go and write a bad questionnaire. Lots of online surveys have at least one bad question.

What is a bad question? It’s any of the following:

1.      Biased questions

2.      Unanswerable questions (impossible to know the answer)

3.      Questions with two meanings

4.      Hard to understand questions (too long, confusing word usage)

5.      Dumb questions (asking about something the researcher should already know or has already asked)

5. Programming a Survey that is Hard to Take

After you have spent all that time creating a good sample and writing great questions don’t ruin it by programming a hard to use survey. Do not force respondents to complete every answer! This is either going to get you a contrived answer or the respondent leaving.

Items to Remember:

1.     Don’t force non-critical questions

2.     Don’t have non-standard buttons

3.     Don’t use non-standard technologies

6. Going Cheap

The good thing about online market research is that it can be much less expensive to do than a mail or phone survey. But, the unfortunate side of this is it is now easier to also conduct flawed market research. Many of the above items cost time and money. (sampling, questionnaire design, etc.) Spend the time and money to do it right. Even better, hire a quality market research firm to do it for you. Either way, you will save money in the long run by conducting quality market research.

7. Confusing Social Networking with Quantitative Market Research

Discussing ideas and concepts with people online can help you gain valuable qualitative information, but it is not quantitative market research. The difference is qualitative information rarely represents your whole audience. It gives you individual opinions and ideas. Quantitative research is designed to represent all of your audience and gives you answers that reflect your customers. Using social networks to get research can be useful but understand their limitations.

8. Overcomplicating Your Survey Tool

Your market research is meant to gather meaningful information about your target audience. You do not need to impress them with all the high technology you can master. Keep your survey technology as simple as possible to reduce excluding respondents that are not up to speed with the latest and greatest.

Things to keep in mind:

1.      Keep Flash and JavaScript to a minimum (use them but not in critical areas, always provide alternatives.)

2.      Use tried and true web technologies

9. Relying On Only One Source of Information

Market research is a snapshot of opinions at a certain time. If your research results in wildly different answers than you were anticipating it is wise to confirm these conclusions with more data. You can do this by conducting another survey, or by looking for corroborating data.

10. Ignoring Your Market Research

If you go to all the trouble to conduct a good study then have a plan to do something with that information. Too many organizations will conduct market research and sit on their data. Before you conduct any online research have a plan for how it will be used.

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