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GuidesSurveysSurvey response rates 101

Survey response rates 101

Last updated

8 May 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Tanya Williams

Surveys are a great tool to assess customer satisfaction and discover what your consumers think about your products or services, or to determine employee engagement and happiness in your organization.

However, surveys can be a large investment; most marketing teams spend a lot of time designing and creating them. Therefore, it’s critical to gauge how your survey is performing and how many people have submitted feedback. You can do this by calculating the survey response rate.

In this guide, you’ll find out what a survey response rate is, how to calculate it, the factors that affect it, and how to improve it.

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What is a survey response rate?

The response rate of a survey is the percentage of completed survey responses out of everyone who received the survey. A survey response is the feedback someone provides through your survey.

The success of any survey depends on the feedback it receives from respondents. The survey response rate will determine if your survey has successfully engaged your target audience.

Response rate vs. completion rate – what's the difference?

Surveyors and marketers often use the terms response rate and completion rate.

  • Response rate: percentage of survey recipients who completed the survey out of everyone who was sent the survey

  • Completion rate: percentage of survey respondents who completed a survey (answer all required questions) out of everyone who started it

The response rate is only calculated when the sample group is defined; it indicates the accuracy of the data from the survey.

The completion rate does not involve all people contacted; it strictly relies on their interaction with your survey. It only includes the respondents who participated (answered at least one question). The more respondents who complete the entire survey, the higher your completion rate.

What a low completion rate means

  • Incomplete data: your respondents aren’t providing all the information you’re asking for. This means questions with a lower response rate will have a lower sample size, so the data will be less reliable than for others.

  • Your survey isn’t engaging: it may be too long, have personal questions, or need to be more accurate or better designed. It is typical to see some drop-off after each question, so put your most important questions earlier in the survey so they are answered by as many respondents as possible. Making questions compulsory, so they can’t be skipped, will also help with completion rates.

What a low response rate means

  • A high level of errors: the lower the response rate, the smaller the initial sample group becomes. Having a small sample group affects the margin of error and the accuracy of the results.

  • Lack of interest by the sample group: your respondents are not interested in participating in your survey. Find ways to entice them by offering incentives. Ensure that the surveys you send out are correctly branded to increase credibility and trust.

  • Nonresponse bias: this occurs when a specific demographic in the sample group fails to participate in your survey, leading to an inadequate response. This could occur if you send out survey invites during a regional or religious holiday. If a bias goes undetected, it reduces the credibility of the data and leads to incorrect conclusions.

How to calculate response rate

A survey response rate will help you track your survey's statistics. There are only two variables required to calculate it:

  • Number of invites: the total number of people you have sent the survey to. When you invite a portion of your target audience, it is a sample. If you invite your entire target audience, it becomes a census.

  • Number of responses: the total number of completed survey responses you receive from your invites. Incomplete surveys are not included in the survey responses.

Once you know these variables, the calculation is easy. Divide the responses by the total number of people you invited. Multiplying the result by 100 turns the rate into a percentage.

For example, a company sends out a survey to 600 potential respondents. From this sample, 150 people complete the survey. Using the above formula, we find that the survey response rate is 25% (150/600 x 100).

What are the benefits of a high response rate?

A high response rate impacts the amount and quality of data you receive. Creating and hosting surveys is easier than ever, thanks to modern platforms and tools, but these don’t guarantee good results. When designing a survey, your main goal should be to maximize the response rate.

A high response rate has the following benefits:

Higher survey data accuracy

The easier it is for people to respond to your survey, the higher the chances of them providing truthful answers. A badly designed survey will have respondents dropping out early on or answering questions randomly or incorrectly.

Reduced reliance on incentives

An engaging, short, and relevant survey is a rewarding experience for respondents. You don’t have to rely heavily on incentivizing the respondents to get accurate survey data.

A more representative sample

The fewer people who drop out of your survey, the less your data deviates from your target goals. A high response rate means your results provide a comprehensive, accurate overview of your audience.

Better community engagement

Your survey experience should leave a lasting impression on the respondents; don’t scare them off with a long, boring survey. Keeping your survey short is the first step in ensuring your survey is engaging, which will lead to a higher response rate.

What is a good survey response rate?

Surveyors and marketers are always after a good response rate. Although a high survey response rate may be better, if the response rate goes over 85%, the respondents were likely overly incentivized or encouraged to complete the survey. Such a level of survey participation generates skewed results.

A good survey response rate typically ranges between 5% and 25%, depending on industry norms. Anything from 25% to 60% is also acceptable for in-person surveys, which usually attract a larger number of responses.

Survey patterns, services, audiences, and companies vary, affecting a survey's specific elements and the required results. Always consider the sample size you want to survey beforehand to ensure your responses are statistically valid.

Calculate your ideal sample size

What factors affect the survey response rate?

Several factors affect how your target audience reacts to a survey, influencing the response rate. Here are some common factors that affect survey response rates.

Survey purpose

The respondents want to know why they are being asked for feedback and how it will affect their experience. Ensure your survey is concise and clearly explains your goals. Show your respondents upfront that you appreciate their feedback; this can increase survey responses.

Survey length

Always inform the respondents of the survey's length. At the start, give the number of questions and the approximate time required to answer them. If you say the survey takes ten minutes, ensure it does.

Most people will only spend extra time filling out surveys if they are offered a good incentive. Set your expectations from the start and keep your promises.

Survey questions

There are various survey-question formats, such as multiple choice, grid, and rating. Each question type requires a different amount of time to answer. Select your survey questions based on the types of answers you require and keep them simple and precise.

Open-ended questions take more time to answer, so use them carefully. Alternatively, close-ended questions help to narrow down the information needed.

Survey design

How respondents interact with your survey significantly affects its response rate. When customers have a good experience with the survey, they are more likely to complete it. Pay attention to your survey's appearance and ensure it is visually appealing, clear, and readable.

Survey optimization

Before sending out an online survey, check it is compatible with your target audience's devices. Most people use mobile phones for surveys, so design for this platform. Creating surveys optimized for mobile phones will increase the number of responses.

Survey frequency

The frequency with which you send out surveys affects the survey response rate. Regularly surveying your audience has its benefits, as it gives you real-time feedback about customer satisfaction.

However, sending out too many surveys leads to survey fatigue. Recipients lose interest in the surveys, reducing the number of responses.

Why do survey response rates vary so much?

Survey response rates depend on the type of survey and its target audience. The survey response rate will vary depending on factors like:

  • Population size: the size of the sample group you select from your target audience to participate in the survey. This will depend on an area's demographic and the survey's requirements.

  • Margin of error: the degree of uncertainty that your survey results might have. The smaller the margin of error, the more accurate your results.

  • Level of confidence: how strongly you believe the whole target population would choose answers within the range provided in the survey results.

Tips for improving your survey response rates

Slight differences in how you deliver your survey can directly impact the response rate. While you cannot control all factors affecting your survey, here are some ways to increase your survey response rate and completion rate.

Reconsider your survey's trigger

A survey’s trigger is the condition or conditions that determine when the survey is automatically sent to the recipients. This can affect response rate.

Use your customer journey map to work out the best time to send your survey, for example, when customers are likely to be most satisfied with your product or service.

Consider your audience

Write your survey and survey invitation from the respondent's perspective and go through it to understand how the participants will navigate the questions.

This will make the experience more engaging and ensure the survey addresses your objectives.

Shorten your survey

Long surveys can lead to respondent fatigue, which can reduce response rates. Keep your survey focused and short, especially if you aren’t offering incentives.

Write straightforward questions and make your survey visually appealing and easy to navigate.

Change your survey's tone and design

Make your questions understandable and user-friendly to avoid miscommunication. One way of doing this is to use a casual tone when structuring the questions so every respondent can understand them.

Make sure your survey communicates the intended message so that it will produce meaningful responses relevant to your objectives. Respondents can be motivated by knowing their feedback is serving a useful purpose.

Use incentives

Giving rewards or incentives to respondents is a proven way to increase survey participation and completion.

Here are some ways to add incentives to your surveys:

  • Give each respondent a gift card or monetary incentive

  • Send raffle tickets, offering the chance to win something

  • Give complimentary items such as notebooks, pens, tumblers, or umbrellas

  • Issue coupons or discounts on your products or services

  • Provide articles, studies, or white papers

  • Donate to charity on the respondent’s behalf

Use a survey panel

Many surveyors and researchers recruit a research panel—a group of respondents selected to answer surveys.

A survey panel saves time since you don’t need to source new respondents for every project. They are an excellent investment, especially if the nature of your business means you don’t necessarily have a suitable captive audience.

Survey panels are also good for longitudinal studies, where you survey the same group over a certain period.

Make it personal

Personalizing your surveys can dramatically increase their response rates. Create a survey that invites responses by customizing what you know about the respondents, adding a warm human aspect. This could be as simple as including their name in the greeting.

Send a gentle reminder

Send a reminder to recipients who haven’t responded, using fresh copy to avoid repeating the original text.

Phrase your reminders in such a way that they’re not seen as annoying spam.

Providing the respondents with the survey results can also show how much you value their contribution.

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