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Selecting a Web-based Survey Tool

August 30, 2011

Have you used an online survey system? They often provide quick and easy solutions for gathering data and can be helpful as part of the design and development process to get feedback from testers, students, and instructors. Most of these products offer an intuitive dashboard for creating survey questions with templates and generate a URL that you can send in an email or post on a website to provide direct access to the instrument.

If you are interested in using a web-based survey system there are a few questions to answer first:

  1. What is your budget? Most of the vendors offer free and paid versions. The free versions, as you might expect, are more limited. 
  2. What types of questions do you need to ask? Multiple choice, open-ended, select all, rank order… take a close look at your instrument see if there are special considerations related to item type.
  3. How many (items and participants) do you anticipate? Free versions often have a maximum number of items per survey and/or a maximum number of responses.
  4. Do you have any special requirements? If you need to add branching logic, for example, or randomly present your survey questions, these capabilities and many others are possible with online surveys.
  5. What are you going to do with the data you collect? These systems allow you to export participant responses in multiple formats – do you need something specific for reporting or analysis purposes?
  6. Do you need to customize? Different systems offer different options for creating custom URLs, adding images (e.g. logos), and creating color schemes. These may be more important if you are creating an instrument for distribution outside of your organization that would benefit from branding.

Recently I had the opportunity to review and select a survey tool for a project associated with Inside Online Learning. I had previous experience with SurveyMonkey and QuestionPro, so started with these first. It didn’t take long to see that are a lot more tools to choose from so I asked my Twitter network for suggestions. That request resulted in a nice list of tools to try – some with personal testimonials, others from the survey companies themselves.

My preference with this project was to go with a free version if at all possible – a brief survey with limited release as a pilot. I reviewed the websites of the 7 survey systems that were recommended and created these comparison charts (below) along the way.  These charts include the features I was looking for, but there are many, many more available including social media integration, secure SSL connections, multiple languages, analytics, etc.

FREE* SurveyMonkey SurveyShare SurveyGizmo

Zoomerang

Rational Survey

# of responses 100 per survey 50 per survey 250 per month 100 per survey 1000 total
# of questions 10 per survey 12 per survey Unlimited 12 questions 100 total / 10 surveys
Logic branching no yes limited no no
Random questions no ? yes no ?
Export responses no no CSV no no
PAID* SurveyMonkey SurveyShare SurveyGizmo

Zoomerang

Rational Survey

mid-range option** $299/yr (Gold Plan) $200/yr (Pro Plan) $588/yr (Pro Plan) $199/yr (Pro Plan) $240/yr (Basic Plan)
# of responses Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 500 total
# of questions Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 5000 total / 50 surveys
Logic branching Yes Yes Yes yes yes
Random questions Yes ? yes yes ?
Export responses Excel, CSV, PDF, SPSS, HTML, XML Excel, CSV, SPSS CSV, PDF Excel, CSV, PDF Excel, CSV, PDF

* These charts are based on my interpretation of the information posted on the websites.

** In most cases there are multiple plans to choose from, offering a range of service packages and price points. This chart lists just one of the price categories. There are more and less expensive options for each system.

Also reviewed:

  • Qualtrics: This is an enterprise level system, which was overkill for my current needs with one small survey.
  • JotForm: Interesting! For me, not quite as intuitive as the others, but a customizable interface with emailed responses.

The comparison charts helped me narrow my list down to two: Zoomerang and SurveyGizmo. I then created my survey in those systems.  My final selection was SurveyGizmo –  It gave me the most room to work with in terms of number of questions and responses allowed, and had a (slightly) more intuitive interface for creating and managing my survey. I deployed it with little difficulty and have been pleased with the results. I was able to create a professional looking survey, insert a logo, and set up matrix-type questions. Should I need to upgrade to a paid version in the future, I will complete another comparison. While SurveyGizmo offers a lot of room in the free version, the paid options seem more costly than the other systems.

What additional features and functions should we consider? If you have deployed an online survey and have tips for selection and/or lessons learned, please consider sharing your recommendations here.

Image credit: stock.xchng

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Claude Almansi permalink
    September 2, 2011 3:37 pm

    Hi, Melissa,

    You can also create forms for free with Google Docs: the responses feed an online spreadsheet that can be shared with others or made completely public, and saved as .xls. ods, .csv, .pdf, .html, .tsv files. No limit to the number of questions or of responses.

    They may not offer all the bells and whistles you mention, but they do offer: [short] text, [longer] paragraph text, multiple choice, checkboxes, choose from a list, scale, grid – and 97 “themes” if you go for that kind of things.

    For instance, I made the Universal Subtitles translation: problem strings form with Google Docs: only “paragraph text” fields, but then that was all I needed in that case.

    I wouldn’t use this solution if the data requested were personal/sensitive, though: after a bad experience – see Beware of Privacy and Other Issues When Signing Up for Free Courses – I now refuse to input sensitive data in a Google form, and probably other people share my reluctance for similar reasons.

    Best

    Claude

    • September 2, 2011 4:37 pm

      Hi Claude!

      Your suggestion of Google Docs forms is a great one – no cost, easy and quick to set up. Thanks so much for commenting on this post and linking to your form as an example.

      Your reminder to think about privacy and security issues is an important addition to the list of considerations for survey selection, and really something we should consider with any data collection initiative.

      Thanks again!
      Melissa

  2. May 3, 2012 11:43 am

    As an alternative i want to offer http://www.inqwise.com. It easy to use and professional survey tool.

    Free:
    - 5000 initial Responses
    - Unlimited Questions in Unlimited pages
    - Unlimited collectors with various ways of survey publications (link, email, facebook, twitter, iframe and QR code).

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