Response rates are a commonly explored theme in market research today.  This is especially the case with online surveys where a lot of times it’s counterproductive to put in additional time hounding respondents to complete your survey.  There are few exceptions, but in most cases the vast majority of your online survey completes will come with your initial invite to take the survey, fieldwork will slow down considerably when it comes time for your first or even second reminder.  Unfortunately, no matter what you do as a market researcher you’re going to have a considerable audience who just won’t complete your survey.

There are a number of reasons why people will not respond to a survey.  I would even go as far as saying all of us who work in market research as a profession have at one time or another turned down doing a survey.  In fact, I did that just last night where on the bottom of my Subway receipt they offered me a free cookie to go online at and complete a survey.  So if surveys are our core line of work and sometimes we don’t even bother, how willing are non-market researchers to participate?

Here are five things that contribute to a high number of non-responders and in turn a lower response rate:

1. Email – Some people just don’t check their email that often and as a result, your survey invite gets lost in the inbox shuffle or heads directly to their junk folder.  The Bunker talks about this often (and will probably result in a blog post at a later date), but email is becoming more and more of a business-only medium with the emergence of text messaging and social media as a means to communicate in the consumer world. 

2. Invite – The subject line here is the key.  You need to make it intriguing enough that the respondent will actually click and open your email.  But you need to word it in a way so the spam filter does not pick up key items and send it directly to junk.  Carefully word your subject line and make sure it generates interest in your study.

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Result of an Uninteresting Subject Line

3. Time – This is the be all and end all factor.  It influences all of the other factors too, because respondents will always weigh time vs. other factors in their decision.  There are all kinds of secondary research out there about the best days and times to send an email survey invite.  On a larger scale, if you are conducting B2B research, be aware of busy times of year for your targeted population.  The goal here is to make your survey worth their time.  As our friends at MRX Conversition say, there’s always time to participate in good quality research.

4. Incentive – We have a general rule here in the Bunker.  You have to make the incentive exciting enough, that the respondent would at least take a look.  Once you have their attention, then you’ve passed the incentive test.  Now there are a whole slew of other factors after this barrier that still might stop the respondent from completing the survey, but the incentive should never be one of them.

5. Topic – This one is out of the research supplier’s hands.  No matter how much you pay a respondent, or how intriguing your invite might be – a survey about push pins for cork boards is not going to generate much excitement.  Even for cork board enthusiasts.  Still though, it’s our job to make the survey as engaging and interesting as possible, and we can do that.  But every so often suppliers will be commissioned to manage a survey that will generate a lot of interest in the market, and non-responders become a non-issue.  We love those.

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Interesting in discussing how to improve your online survey response rates?  Or do you have a question about how to best launch your survey invitation?  Click our newly added “Have a Question” button at the top right of our blog.