We’ve all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I used to cringe when I heard this phrase, that I believed diminished what I did as a writer. However, as online writing evolved it became apparent that design and visual aesthetic wasn’t competition to my bread and butter, but actually augmented and enhanced what I was doing. It also became apparent that some of the potent visuals that would be most effective in increasing the stickiness of my articles were data backed ones: survey findings, infographics, micrographics, etc.
Surveys add credibility to content marketing
In fact, including data from surveys and market research is one of the best methods to improve the credibility of your content marketing. In this ClearVoice article about increasing content marketing credibility with surveys, @Marc_Schenker shares “To succeed at marketing, your content, however, has to be exceptional each and every time. So how can you give yourself the edge to ensure that your content outperforms your competition’s? Try creating content surveys.”
He goes on to explain that not only do surveys increase the immediate readability and credibility of your content marketing, but it also provides meaningful insights that can inform what kind of content you create, and who you’re creating it for. Additionally, Marc shares research from Vision Critical that shows 87% of research respondents want to influence a company’s product or services.
Knowing that surveys can inform your content marketing efforts, improve readability and stickiness of that content, and help your audience feel like they have a direct influence on your brand, where should you get started?
Before you get started — know your GDPR limits
In a recent #MartechMonday column I discussed how GDPR affects content marketing efforts. Even though that article covered how GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) affects content marketing distribution, it also touched on data storage with GDPR. When collecting survey data, it is imperative that you understand what limits you face due to GDPR.
As a quick summary, GDPR went into effect on May 25th, 2018. It protects the privacy of consumers throughout the European Union by dictating the way you should communicate your data storage policy and what you need to do with that data.
Each of the tools discussed here have taken steps to become GDPR compliant (Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, Typeform). Among these platforms, none of them stand out as being extra proficient at compliance. Instead, they have covered their bases by updating their privacy policies and ensuring their software allows you, as the user, to easily export and delete content, at your users’ requests.
To ensure you are doing your surveys in a GDPR compliant fashion, make sure you:
- If collecting any personally identifiable information in the survey (name, email, phone, etc.), then be sure to communicate any post-survey followup you’ll do with their information.
- If you are coupling the survey with a newsletter opt-in process, then make sure the opt-in is “active” and not “passive.” This means that they will need to actually click the box to agree, instead of having it pre-checked.
- Provide the survey respondents a way to view the data you’re storing on them, and remove any personally identifiable information. This could be as simple as having an email address that someone can communicate with to have data pulled/shared and then removed, if necessary.
Choosing a survey platform
I’ve used Google Forms, SurveyMonkey and Typeform extensively. I enjoy using each of these survey platforms and have no personal stake in any of these companies.
I’ve also used Qualtrics a fair amount, but as it is a much more enterprise-level product, and costs much more than these other three solutions, I’ll not be reviewing it here. I also do have some stake in Qualtrics, as the company is headquartered in my own neighborhood and employs many of my friends.
To ensure I treat these three survey platforms fairly, in a non-biased fashion, I will be using the following criteria to judge each solution:
- Time to get going. How hard is it to get started with the survey platform? Do they have training, in-app guidance, tooltips, or videos to help you learn what you’re doing?
- Overall ease-of-use. How good is their user interface? How easy is it to use?
- Feature richness. Does the solution have features that make it stand out from the competitors? Does it have branching or conditional logic?
- Frontend aesthetic. How is the experience for the survey respondents? Does the survey work well on a variety of devices?
- Price. How much does it cost?
At the end of the article, I’ll present a grading rubric with the specific criteria weighting that I’ve used. I’ll also assign an “overall winner” to one of these three solutions.
Deep dive: Google Forms review
I’m a big fan of Google Apps, and use it for my own business and have helped several clients launch their own Google Apps ecosystems. That said, while Google is a “jack of all trades,” its Google Forms product leaves a lot to be wanted by survey power-users.
Google Forms strengths
- Price. The price can’t be beaten! While each of these three systems we’re evaluating here have free solutions, with Google you get the full functionality in their basic tier, which happens to be free. Of course, Google knows that if they can get you into their Forms product, you’ll use their spreadsheet product too. If they can get you to use their spreadsheet product, you’ll likely want to start using their other products. If you give a mouse a cookie…
- Ease of use. Each of these solutions is easy to use, but Google takes it to the next level. Typeform is also very easy to use, but the ability to see results in Typeform isn’t as easy as it is with Google, where results are sent automagically to a Google Sheet that makes data analysis quicker/easier.
- Connection to the full Google ecosystem. If you’re already using Google Apps for your business, it is very easy to not need to remember a new login and navigate between different tools. With Google you simply click the tools selector at top right, select their form builder, and you’re on your way. You’ll also save time not needing to backup survey results in the cloud as they can be auto-sent to a Google Sheet.
Google forms weaknesses
- Limited branching/conditional logic. Google Forms does have some limited branching logic. For example, if your respondent completes a given question in one way, then take them to this specific next page with questions. However, their branching logic is the most basic of these three solutions. In fact, their branching logic only works on specific question types. So if you’re a power-user, you’ll find yourself frustrated.
- Overly simplistic. In an effort to make a simple product, Google has pared back a lot of the functionality of their forms. For example, where you used to be able to make considerable aesthetic modifications to the frontend of the survey, they’ve now taken that away. Now you can only upload an image for the header, and Google tries to match the color scheme based on your upload. Trying to get that image upload to look good on desktop, tablet and mobile views is a pain, and Google doesn’t let you further tweak the color scheme.
Free or, if using Google Apps, starts at $5/user/month (pricing page)
C (2.5 out of 5 possible points)
Deep dive: SurveyMonkey review
As the oldest survey solution (at least, among these three) SurveyMonkey has an experienced team behind it that know the ins and outs of surveying. Founded in 1999, it has gone on to have over 15 million users, catering to a wide variety of clients, from startups to students to large companies. ClearVoice has also used SurveyMonkey for its own studies. For example, SurveyMonkey powered the research capture behind ClearVoice’s study of freelance writer pay rates.
- A mobile app for checking in on responses. If you’re like me, you’re creating your surveys on your desktop computer but want to see the results as they come in. One way that SurveyMonkey differentiates itself is with their native iOS/Android mobile apps that allow you to check in on responses from the palm of your hand.
- Kiosk mode. Several of my clients exhibit regularly at trade shows and conference. They often come to me with the question, “How can we get people to our booth?” One winning strategy we’ve come up with, that may clients have used over and over again successfully, is to offer a giveaway in exchange for taking a survey at the booth. One client gives away reusable coffee tumblers to anyone who completes a survey. The surveys are then used to create an infographic and provide sales with some meaningful conversation starters. SurveyMonkey is the only tool reviewed here that has a kiosk mode, which allows you to launch the survey in full-screen mode on a tablet and somewhat lock down the tablet experience. This is a great plus for gathering surveys at an event.
- Keyword search. What Typeform and Google Forms gain from simplicity leaves room for feature innovation on the part of SurveyMonkey. One feature I love, that SurveyMonkey has and the others lack, is the ability to search through your responses for a keyword. This is great for a quick analysis and saves a considerable amount of time from having to export your content into a spreadsheet and do the analysis there.
- Very limited free tier. While it is nice that SurveyMonkey provides a free account, it can be frustrating if you run into the ceiling on their free offering. One of the most frustrating aspects is that if you send a survey out and receive a lot of responses, SurveyMonkey will only give you the first 100 responses. Anything beyond that and you have to pay to unlock the extra responses. This can be very frustrating to a marketer who is in the middle of a survey project and then needs to go to his manager to request additional budget. Another limitation on the free tier is that you can only do 10 survey questions.
- Expensive for additional features. While I would consider SurveyMonkey to be the most powerful of the three solutions, it’s added functionality is going to cost you. For example, if you’d like to remove the “powered by…” type branding then you need to pony up $99/month for their enterprise level plan. Typeform’s remove branding option comes in on their $59/month plan.
Free plan, limited to 10 questions per survey, 100 responses per month and no advanced features. More powerful versions starting at $37/month (pricing page)
A (3.6 out of 5 possible points)
Deep dive: Typeform review
Typeform‘s functionality isn’t as extensive as SurveyMonkey, but what it lacks in function it gains in form. By far the most beautiful of the three, Typeform is sure to delight anyone who values high aesthetic solutions.
- Most beautiful. As you can see from the above-animated gif, Typeform is so attractive it is actually fun to use for your survey respondents! Because of how attractive it is, even though Typeform lacks a true “kiosk mode” that SurveyMonkey boasts, I have had clients choose Typeform over SurveyMonkey for on-site event surveys. The way it shows just one question at a time and takes the respondent seamlessly from one question to the next is aesthetically pleasing and likely increases form completion rates (though I haven’t done research on this and haven’t found any to support the idea).
- Good balance of function and usability. There is some functionality that Typeform doesn’t have, that SurveyMonkey does, such as the ability to edit the actual HTML of the survey. That said, for most small to medium-sized organizations Typeform has the functionality you need, and gives it to you in an easy-to-use manner.
- Easy to digest high-level reporting. In keeping with their high-valued aesthetics, the creators of Typeform don’t leave us wanting when it comes to reporting. Typeform’s high-level reports are attractive and easy to use and are formatted in such a way that you can screen-capture the report and easily/quickly copy and paste it into a presentation deck for your “return and report” meetings.
- Clunky data export. Ease of use and aesthetic design can sometimes mean that user interfaces are too easy – in this case I’m referring to the ability to get your data out of Typeform. Exporting your data from SurveyMonkey, or Google Forms where it is already just there for you in a spreadsheet, is as easy as clicking a button. In Typeform, though, it takes a few extra steps and requires that you know where to find it. It’s a very minor gripe I have, but one that does affect the actual usability of the product.
- Difficult to match your brand. Typeform is so beautiful out of the box that most organizations are fine with what they get. More of your power-users, though, require the ability to change the look of the form more readily. With SurveyMonkey you can edit the actual HTML of the form, giving you full control to match the survey to your brand. You don’t get this level of flexibility with Typeform.
Free version similar to SurveyMonkey (10 questions and 100 responses), starts at $30/user/month (pricing page)
A- (3.55 out of 5 possible points)
The grading criteria and rubric
As you can see, each of these products is excellent in their own way, and I don’t think you’ll go wrong with any of them. While I love how attractive Typeform is for the survey respondents, the other two platforms have their own unique advantages.
To remove potential bias, I independently weighed each aspect of each survey solutions and then compared the numbers to see how they stacked up against one another. The results, which I agree with wholeheartedly, give SurveyMonkey the win.
Who should use Google Forms?
If you’re already using Google Apps, and need a simple and quick survey, Google Forms may be the best bet for you. If you’re doing any kind of high-value survey, though, I’d look at the other two solutions.
Who should use SurveyMonkey?
Medium- to large-sized ventures that require more functionality and are okay with using a tool that has a steeper learning curve, should gravitate towards SurveyMonkey. The added functionality you’ll get with this tool, in most cases for survey-takers, is worth giving up some of the aesthetic edge that Typeform boasts.
Who should use Typeform?
In my review of these products, I was truly expecting Typeform to come out on top. I’ve used it extensively and love its balance of form and functionality. I think you’ll find that some organizations use both Typeform and SurveyMonkey. In fact, ClearVoice has used both tools on different occasions. In the above-mentioned study on freelance writer pay they used SurveyMonkey, but in their study on freelance travel writer’s pay, they used Typeform. All that said, I think medium-sized businesses that value form over function will best be served with Typeform.