The hidden powers of SurveyMonkey

Twice I’ve joined companies to find professional researchers laughing at my use of SurveyMonkey for user research. They assumed it was inadequate compared to their costly enterprise software.

But most surveys don’t need advanced features. When they saw how easy it was to do surveys with SurveyMonkey, the researchers never looked back.

In their honour, here’s my guide to the lesser-known features of SurveyMonkey.

Super simple data sharing

The whole point of a survey is getting responses. But enterprise tools put so many barriers between writing the survey and getting the responses that it’s easy to forget why you were asking the questions in the first place.

This just isn’t good enough.

So my top reason to use SurveyMonkey is it only takes 30 seconds to create a password-protected URL for your survey results. Now anyone can access the data without being able to modify the responses or mess up the survey itself. 

And what does quick and timely access to user data equal? UX converts.

One survey, multiple collectors

SurveyMonkey lets you create a single survey with many different URLs (‘collectors’). You might put one on your website, another in a mass email to registered users and a third on your Twitter account. 

All collectors gather responses to one place, but the trick is you can view data in aggregate or segment it by collector. This lets you easily see differences between your audiences at the same time as gathering overall data.

And that’s just the start. Segmentation lets you test your hunches (do people respond differently when incentivised?) and compare feedback over time (one set of feedback questions with a different collector for each time you speak).

Conditional logic that my mum understands

You don’t have to create many user surveys before you find that you want to ask different follow-up questions depending on previous answers. 

The classic example is the satisfaction survey – ask one thing to users that failed to complete their task (‘what prevented you doing this?’) and something else to users that were successful (‘what do you most value about our site?’).

Although this sounds simple, in practice it’s dangerously close to programming. And, ouch, debugging. But SurveyMonkey has an interface for branching surveys so straightforward that my mum can (and does) use it.

The creepy part

Finally, you can pass information into the survey via a personalised URL. 

Using something like Campaign Monitor you send personalised emails to all of your registered users, each with a survey link that contains their email address as part of the survey URL. When users complete the survey their response is logged alongside their email address. Without them doing anything.

Now you can contact users about issues raised without ever asking for an email address. Fewer fields to complete, and no input errors either. Win-win.

Just don’t claim this is an ‘anonymous’ survey…

It doesn’t do everything (but in a good way)

Of course, many great features are missing from SurveyMonkey. (Although the refusal to bloat it with features just makes me love it more).

You can’t drag and drop when designing your survey. Or allow respondents to upload their own files. Or completely retheme your survey with CSS. If you want to do those things then check out Wufoo.

You can’t get an RSS feed of responses. Or do computation and scripting. Or use strings from previous answers in subsequent questions. If this sounds fun, you should look at SurveyGizmo

But SurveyMonkey has been ever-present in my arsenal for the last five years, and no other tool can make that claim. It’s solid, easy, powerful, friendly, usable and cheap. If you do user surveys, you should definitely try it.

I’m not affiliated with SurveyMonkey – I just love using it. Let me know what you think on @myddelton – particularly if you know something useful I’ve missed.

Update: SurveyMonkey introduced the ability to use strings from previous answers in subsequent questions in February 2011.