Boosting Response Rates: Crafting the Perfect Survey Invitation Email

Historically mail surveys have better response rates than online surveys. But it doesn’t mean online surveys aren’t useful. In fact, online surveys have the advantage of being more cost-effective and easier to administer than mail surveys. Studies have shown that there are several ways to increase response rates for online surveys. qSample has searched the Internet, scholarly journals, trade publications, and just about everywhere else to compile a thorough list of ways to boost response rates for online surveys.

This new five-part series, will explore the topics of invitation emails, survey incentives, survey design, understanding the data from surveys, and how make decisions based on survey results.


The online survey invitation email is the first contact between survey administrators and respondents. Like the cliché states, first impressions are everything. It takes seconds for the respondent to decide to open an email, ignore it, or delete it. So there is only a few seconds that survey administrators have to convince respondents to open the invitation email.

The process of survey administration begins with the survey invitation. The subject line of the invitation email is the first step in the process. A high open rate of email invitations, leads to a higher click-through-rate, which then leads to high survey page impressions, which, of course, leads to higher survey starts and ultimately high survey completion rates.
The survey invitation consists of the subject line, the message, and the closing of the email. Each of these sections is important, and the respondent can abandon the email at any point.

THE SUBJECT LINE

The first step in creating an effective online survey invitation email that will guarantee high open rates is a great subject line. Crafting the subject line can be difficult. It can’t be too long as more emails are read on smartphones. The best subject line will include the name of the respondent, the name of the company or organization, and the perceived value for the respondent. Here are examples of good and bad subject lines:

BAD: Complete this survey and win a prize!
GOOD: Jennifer, which fall trends we should sell at Francesca’s?

The “bad” example doesn’t state the name of the organization or company, it doesn’t address the respondent by name, and it doesn’t create value for the respondent. Most importantly, the wording of the subject line would trigger email spam filters. See the word cloud below for words and phrases most commonly synonymous with spam.

Words to avoid when crafting survey invitation emails

Words to avoid when crafting survey invitation emails

Let’s look at the “good” example. What makes this a good subject line? For one it’s short, about 50 characters long, which is the general rule for creating subject lines. Using both the company’s name and the name of the respondent has also been shown to increase open-click-rates because it personalizes the email for the respondent. People respond best when seeing their name in the subject line along with a recognizable company.

What this subject line does best of all is great value for the respondent. Assuming the respondent is someone who shops at Francesca’s and is someone who is interested in fashion trends, this subject line would appeal to this respondent. The respondent will value having an opportunity to influence the store’s buying decisions. The ability to have input on what a company decides creates value for the respondent. Before creating the invitation, think about what the respondents’ value most.

Because it takes respondents only a few seconds to decide to open or delete an email, there may be pressure for survey administrators to write creative subject lines that stand out. The subject line doesn’t have to be clever. In fact, a study a few years ago proved that clear subject lines received 54 percent more open-click-rates than a clever one. Respondents will always respond better to clear and concise subject lines.

The importance of the subject line cannot be discussed without discussing the importance of the “from” field. The “from” field is the fastest way to gain the respondent’s trust. Establish trust by making sure the name of the company or the organization the survey is for is stated explicitly in the “from” field. Here are good and bad examples of the “from” field.

BAD: info@francescasdressshop.com
GOOD: Francesca’s Dress Shop “info@francescasdressshop.com

While the respondent may recognize that the “from” field of the bad example is from a trusted company, it’s informal at best. If the respondent doesn’t recognize the sender’s email address, then sender, the survey administrator, may not establish trust. If possible, use an actual person’s name and email address, if the respondent knows the person. For example, Francesca’s could be sending a survey to past customers. Since it’s a small shop, the from field could be “Francesca, <francesca@francescasdressshop.com>.”

Emails must vie for attention. The decision to open an email takes only a few seconds. This is why the subject line and the “from” field of the invitation email are the most important part of the process. If there is a low open rate, go back and tweak the subject line. The survey email invitation is always a work in progress.

Here is an example of how a successful email invitation should appear in the respondent’s inbox on their smartphone:

Jennifer, Francesca’s Dress Shop needs your opinion on fall trends
Francesca’s Dress Shop
First Line of Email Message Goes Here

THE EMAIL MESSAGE

If the respondent has opened the email, then the subject line completed its objective. Convincing the respondent to open the survey link is the next objective.

In order to accomplish this objective, the email message must be addressed to the respondent, if possible. Remember personalization is always the key because respondents responding positively to seeing email addressed to themselves.

Next, the email should explain the purpose of the email, the purpose of the survey, and how the results of the survey will be used. Be compelling. Don’t worry about being creative. Respondents respond better to clear and concise writing. For example, the message for Francesca’s Dress Shop could begin like this:

Dear Jennifer,

You are a valued customer of Francesca’s Dress Shop. As such, we need your help in determining which fall trends we should sell in our shop. Below is a link to our five-minute survey.

Those three short sentences convey why the respondent received the email (she’s a customer), explains the purpose of the survey (determine which trends the store should sell), and how the results would be used (which trends the store will sell). These three sentences also convey the value for the respondent. First, the email acknowledges that she is valued. Second, she has the opportunity to influence what the store will buy and sell.

It’s also important to remind the respondent that they may have agreed to be contacted. Here is an example of how the above example could be tweaked to include this information:

Dear Jennifer,

As a valued customer of Francesca’s Dress Shop, you stated that we could contact you about company news, surveys and product news. Today, we need your help in determining which fall trends we should sell in our shop. Please complete our five-minute survey.

Now that the email established value, the purpose of the survey, and how the survey results will be used, it’s time to address the actual survey. It’s important to state how long the respondent should expect the survey to take. This could be the approximate time it takes to complete the survey or the number of questions asked. Respect the respondents time by being honest. If it is a long survey, let them know. If there are any special requirements, tell them. Here’s an example:

Dear Jennifer,

As a valued customer of Francesca’s Dress Shop, you stated that we could contact you about company news, surveys, and product news. Today, we need your help in determining which fall trends we should sell in our shop. Please click on the link below to complete our five-minute survey by October 31, 2014.

The message now tells the respondents how long the survey will take and provides a deadline. Since the respondents of the survey are customers of the store, helping the store determine what to sell could be enough of an incentive. Incentives are important (that’s another blog post), they have to be carefully considered before administering. In this example of the dress shop, the owner could offer a discount. They could have a raffle and the winner could win an expensive item. Or the owner could think outside of the box. Here’s an example:


Dear Jennifer,

As a valued customer of Francesca’s Dress Shop, you stated that we could contact you about company news, surveys, and product news. Today, we need your help in determining which fall trends we should sell in our shop. Please click on the link below for our ten-minute survey by October 31, 2014.

Once the survey is completed, you will receive an evite for our invitation only spa night at the store, where we will serve wine, appetizers, and desserts. You will also receive a pedicure, manicure and facial, free of charge.. Once you arrive, you will be entered into a raffle for prizes that include some of our favorite pieces and spa products. You will also be able to shop our exclusive clearance sale. All this for helping us determine our fall line!

The incentive should be expressly stated, as well as how the respondent can claim it when they complete the survey. In the above example, the respondent knows that they will receive an invitation to the store for a spa night with wine and food. If respondent comes to the event, they will be entered into a raffle and have a chance to buy items at a discount. For customers who frequently shop at the store, this provides extra incentive to complete the survey.

The email message should always include some information about how the company will protect the respondent’s privacy. Briefly explaining the company’s privacy policy could go a long way in allaying fears about the security and misuse of personal data:
Dear Jennifer,

As a valued customer of Francesca’s Dress Shop, you stated that we could contact you about company news, surveys, and product news. Today, we need your help in determining which fall trends we should sell in our shop. Please click on the link below for our ten-minute survey by October 31, 2014.

Once the survey is completed, you will receive an evite for our invitation only spa night at the store, where we will serve wine, appetizers, and desserts. You will also receive a pedicure, manicure and facial, free of charge.. Once you arrive, you will be entered into a raffle for prizes that include some of our favorite pieces and spa products. You will also be able to shop our exclusive clearance sale. All this for helping us determine our fall line!

Insert Survey Link Here!

At Francesca’s, we understand your personal information must be protected. We will not sell your personal data to any third party. The information we obtain will be used solely for determining our Fall 2014 line.

The bulk of the invitation email is nearly complete. Establishing credibility is the next step. Providing a short company description and a link to the company website or the company’s address and phone number further establishes that the email is not spam, or that it contains malware.
CLOSING THE INVITATION EMAIL

The next to last step in crafting an invitation email that will lead to higher response rates is the closing of the email.

The email invitation is nearly complete. It’s always best to end with gratitude. Thanking the respondents for taking the time to complete the survey goes a long way in increasing response rates.

What also helps is closing the email with the name of a contact, their title, and email address. This also helps to establish credibility. Here’s an example of a good closing and a bad closing:

GOOD

Thank you in advance for completing our survey. We appreciate you taking the time out of your day to complete it.

Sincerely,

Francesca
Owner, Francesca’s Dress Shop
111 Bryn Mawr Ave
Chicago, IL 60660
312-555-4173

BAD

Thanks for completing our survey!

Sincerely.

Market Research Department

SENDING THE INVITATION EMAIL

With the survey invitation email completed, it’s now ready to be sent. But what time and what day should the email be sent? There have been numerous studies showing the correlations between picking the right day and time to send a survey invitation and response rates.

A recent research paper concluded that the best days that had the highest corresponding response rates were Fridays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, respectively. The best time of day to send the emails were between 4:01 pm and 8 pm. Second best time was 12:01 pm and 4 pm. The worst time to send the email was between 4:01 am and 8 am.

To sum it all up, the survey invitation email is one the most important elements in the survey administration process. Think of the process from the viewpoint of the respondent, and remember that it takes only a few seconds for a respondent to open the email or delete the email.

Next week, we discuss survey incentives and how the right incentive can increase response rates.

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