Email has long been the channel of choice for marketers and service professionals. It’s the best way to reach people and get your message heard. So when it comes to survey distribution, it’s no surprise that email reigns. But there’s a bit more to it than plugging in a survey link and hoping for the best. We’ll cover email survey best practices that help you maximize response rates and get data you can count on.
Why Email Surveys?
Like any other customer communication, survey success depends a lot on the channel. Once upon a time, companies could only distribute surveys by phone or mail. Not only was it costly and slow, but it required a lot of effort on the part of the respondents. Spending 30 minutes on the phone with someone or filling out a mail survey then sending it back… it’s not walk in the park. Needless to say, survey response rates would often suffer, and the quality of the survey data would suffer with them.
Nowadays, the majority of surveys are sent by email, and for good reason. Email is the most dominant communication channel in the world, and the best email service providers offer an array of functionality that helps companies target the right people at the right time. Plus, email adapts well to the many devices we use. As mobile usage has risen, so has the percentage of emails opened on mobile.
Beyond its versatility, email is different from other channels in its unique ability to set expectations. Unlike phone calls or mailers, emails give consumers a preview of what they’re getting. They see the sender name and know a company is contacting them, probably with an offer or request. This quality makes email especially useful for survey invitations, which are ultimately a bit more of an ask.
Lastly, email wins out among survey distribution channels because it can easily combine multiple pieces of content (and multiple purposes) into one. For example, an order confirmation might include the order summary, a link to an FAQ article, a list of other popular purchases, and a survey invitation. In other words, email can include multiple calls to action without repelling recipients.
How Do Email Surveys Work?
We’re all pretty familiar with email as a channel, but there are a two different ways you can send a survey over email, so we’ll cover those quickly before we get into the strategy.
The most basic way to distribute a survey via email is by hyperlinking text to your survey URL. You’ve surely gotten this kind of survey invitation in the past. Usually the call-to-action says something like, “Take the survey” or “Share your feedback” and the link launches a survey in your web browser.
Hyperlink an Image
“Image” is a loose term—you can hyperlink a photo of an elephant to a survey or design a special button that says, “Take the Survey.” It’s totally up to you. Hyperlinked images function just like hyperlinked text, but they tend to make the survey invitation pop a bit more.
Embed a Survey Question
We’ve saved the best for last. If you’re sending an HTML email, you can actually embed the first survey question directly into the email body, giving recipients the option to respond straight from their inboxes. Not only is it pretty, but it also increases survey response rates significantly. We’ll touch on this more below.
Developing an Email Survey Strategy
Like any initiative, email surveys require planning and process. The more you know about your goals and your audience, the better positioned you are to collect valuable feedback and act on it effectively. When thinking through your email survey strategy, consider the 4 Ws (and 1 H).
Identify your audience. The ideal language, structure, and content of your email survey will vary depending on who you’re targeting. As a first step, always identify your audience and consider their preferences. If you think the majority of your recipients will open the email on a mobile device (spoiler: they will), then your email and your survey need to be mobile-optimized. If your audience is pretty specific—say you’re targeting leaders in the financial services industry—then that too will impact your strategy.
Settle on your survey content. What questions will you ask? What order will they appear in? If you just plan to add a survey link to the body of your email, maybe the question order doesn’t matter as much. But if you want to boost response rates by embedding the first survey question into an HTML email, then the order will matter a lot. And beyond that, how will you introduce the survey? This email gives you the chance to state your purpose and make a case for participation.
Determine the distribution details. Will you send the survey manually or automate the process? How will your email service provider, CRM, and survey tool work together? Where will the survey results be stored? Will you segment the recipients? These are all important questions to ask before you distribute. If you plan to analyze the results based on specific segments of respondents (which you should) then you’ll need to feed the results into Salesforce or whichever CRM you use.
Time your delivery. When will you send surveys emails? Consider time of day, transactions, and customer status (such as length of time with you). Many businesses send surveys immediately after purchases or support interactions, but it’s important to consider the average schedule of your recipients. For example, Campaign Monitor found that over half of all emails are opened during standard work hours, between 9am and 5pm.
% Email Opens by Hour
Don’t forget your purpose. Are you hoping to gather consumer data that helps you better sell or market to your audience? Are you measuring the quality of your products or services? Before you can frame your questions, you’ll need to consider why you’re asking them in the first place—and what you hope to gain from the answers. And even more importantly, you should plan how you’ll take action on the feedback you collect. Limiting yourself to no more than 5 questions can help focus your survey and ultimately give you clearer data.
Email Survey Best Practices
Marketers know that sending surveys via email is their best bet, but clicking send doesn’t guarantee success. Here are some tips on smart email surveying.
Embed Survey Questions into Emails
Even if a recipient opens your email, there’s no guarantee they’ll click a link to take a survey. But if they can see the first question of your survey in the email itself—and respond right from their inbox—they’re far more likely to. Rather than just plugging a link into the email body, you can add the first survey question and corresponding answers into the email using a bit of HTML.
When the recipient clicks on an answer in the email, that response is recorded and the full survey opens automatically in their web browser, starting with the second question. From there, they can respond to the rest of the questions. The experience is exactly the same, but response rates increase because you’ve made it easier on your recipients.
We saw 210% higher survey engagement when we embedded a survey question into our Net Promoter Score email. Plus, the embedded NPS question resulted in 66% fewer unsubscribes. Learn more about the experiment.
For more info on embedding survey questions, read our help article: Embedding Surveys in an HTML Email
Write Compelling Survey Email Subject Lines
Email subject lines are arguably more important than the actual content of your emails. They can peak recipients’ curiosity and get them to open emails they’d otherwise ignore. On the other hand, they can also act as red flags, preventing people from opening emails they might actually get value from. In any case, subject lines are important and worth a good think before sending off your email survey. As a rule of thumb, try to keep your subject line below 50 characters and make sure it’s relevant to the email’s content.
Personalization is one of the primary ways to increase open rates and make your messaging more relevant to readers. It can be as simple as adding the recipient’s first name to the subject line or as advanced as tailoring offerings to their preferences, but the subject line is a great place to start. Emails with personalized subject lines see 26% higher open rates than those with unpersonalized subject lines, and personalized emails in general see a 2.5x higher click-through rate.
For more info on email subject line strategies, read our blog post: 5 Subject Line Strategies to Boost Survey Response Rates
Integrate Surveys with Salesforce
Salesforce is the #1 CRM in the world, and for good reason. It helps companies of all sizes market, sell, and support customers and prospects, and consolidate customer data in one place. However, despite its breadth of functionality and integrations, the platform lacks one primary capability: surveys. But you can instantly supercharge both Salesforce and your surveys by uniting the two.
When you integrate surveys with Salesforce, you can distribute, analyze, and act on surveys through the lens of other key customer data. For example, customer service teams can create omnichannel feedback programs using Salesforce-aware surveys and native Salesforce functionality, like workflows and alerts. This allows them to collect customer feedback after every critical interaction without relying on a human to send each survey and analyze the results.
Follow Standard Survey Best Practices
- Refine your survey design. Make the text easy to read, the background images engaging but not too busy, and the color palette on brand.
- Optimize surveys for mobile. Over half of all emails are opened on mobile devices these days. That means recipients will most likely launch your survey on their phones and tablets, and they’ll expect a smooth experience when they do. Mobile-friendly surveys handle just as well on smartphones as they do on desktop computers.
- Keep questions clear and concise. Avoid using double-negatives or overcomplicating wording. It often helps to read questions out loud.
- Limit the number of questions as much as possible. The longer your survey, the lower your completion rate. And as survey completion rates dwindle, so does data quality. To avoid that, try sticking to the essential questions only. You can use survey personalization tools like skip logic to cut down on irrelevant questions and direct survey takers down the right path.
- Keep answer options to a minimum. If you find yourself writing 15 answer choices for one question, it’s probably worth breaking it up into two questions or offering an “Other” option instead of listing each one out.
- Randomize questions and answers when it makes sense. If your questions and answers don’t need to appear in a specific order, you should consider randomizing them to decrease bias. However, as a rule of thumb, you should always put your most important questions first since survey takers will be the most engaged at the beginning.
Getting Started with Email Surveys
There’s no question that email is one of the top channels for capturing insights. It offers more flexibility and visibility than most other channels, and it can combine a variety of content types into one neat message. As you get started with email surveys, think about how you’ll incorporate feedback into your existing email communications. Whether you’re surveying customers after support interactions or asking for feedback on your monthly newsletter, email surveys can deliver essential insights that help you refine your product, processes, and people.
GetFeedback’s email builder makes it simple to design and distribute beautiful, on-brand email surveys. You can customize your email design with drag-and-drop options and start sending in minutes. And the GetFeedback for Salesforce integration gives you the power to automate survey distribution and analysis. This cuts down on manual work and ensures all your essential customer feedback lives in Salesforce, along with the rest of your customer data.