Online Research

When we started the company more than ten years ago, online research was something new. Now the Internet has become the main method of carrying out market research with customers via on-line surveys and on-line groups. It has also transformed intelligence gathering on competitor and market developments and with social networks it has completely changed how companies listen to their customers.

The nature of research has also changed. We design and conduct bespoke studies online, taking advantage of the ability to develop complex questionnaires and sophisticated conjoint-like trade-off questions online. Our specialist on-line survey site at SurveyGarden has some demonstrations or for more information contact us via the email address below (also see our On-line research Hints and Tips).

Quantitative surveys online

Quantitative research conducted on-line via internet or web-based surveys can take a number of forms and formats, but follows the general principles of all market research. Web-based questionnaires are by far the most common of online market research, but there are also pop-up Web surveys, and online opinion polls depending on the task. With increasing numbers of people across the world using the internet, this has opened up a range of new interview and research techniques that go beyond those available on paper or the phone. This includes more sophisticated computer-driven surveys that respond to customers' choices, and long-term tracking where individuals provide feedback over time, not just in one survey. It has also greatly increased the opportunities for international research and research across a customer base that spreads across a number of countries.

The main elements needed for online quantitative research are

1. an online questionnaire
2. a means of accessing the right audience.

Often it is the second part - contacting the right people - that is the most difficult part of an online market research project. By contrast, there are many providers of basic online questionnaire tools, though more sophisticated techniques can require the use of more specialist providers.

On-line questionnaires

Much on-line research is largely a mirror of the types of survey that are found conducted using pen and paper, or via the telephone, and most basic online survey providers work at this simple level. However, as a computer is used to mediate the questionnaire, a wide range of additional options become available to the researcher that would not be possible in traditional approaches. Our Cxoice Survey Technology has been developed to offer many new methods for research. For instance there are a swathe of trade-off research techniques and interesting alternative techniques such as non-linear questionnaires where the respondent chooses what to answer - the choice being part of the data to be collected, and examples such as delphi-style surveys where respondents complete their own data, but are then shown the results of other people and given the chance to change their mind.

Web-interviewing also adds a new dimension to telephone interviewing. It allows telephone interviewers to be more widely distributed whilst centralising the data collection, but it also allows complex mixed-mode surveys - known as Web-assisted Telephone Interviewing (WATI). In a web-assisted survey the respondent logs in to the survey to see prompts and information (ideally tailored to the individual) while being interviewed by a professional telephone interviewer allowing more complex types of questionning. (A second option is a telephone recruit to web, but this remains largely self-complete).

On-line samples

The main concern for on-line surveys remains the sample. The potential sources for sample include your own lists, but also external sources. With concern about spam and a requirement for opt-in to receive emails, the safest source of information is often on-line research panels. Some are now very large and have been shown to be as reliable as telephone and face-to-face techniques. However, there can be data quality issues and questions over 'professional' respondents. For this reason it is important that data is quality checked as questionnaires come in, and secondly that the representativeness of the panel is fully understood.

In business environments where surveys are being conducted among named existing customers and contacts, on-line surveys provide a serious alternative to postal and telephone research and often make it much more cost effective to carry out business-to-business research. However, some control is needed over the sample to prevent survey fatigue and consequent declines in response rates. We would also recommend that the survey itself looks good and meets the design standards of the host company's own website. To customers this is another piece of company communication and so should reflect the brand standards of the business. Declining response rates for B2B surveys is having the effect that businesses are having to revisit telephone-based interviewing or face unacceptable non-response bias.

Where a broader market is being considered and email information is less widely available, some care is needed to ensure that an on-line survey will represent the wider market. However, for "finger in the air" style research, on-line research can be a very effective way of testing the water.

We have our own on-line survey software which means that design, questions and even adding new question types is possible, and we have our own conjoint software. In addition we can host your on-line surveys, or you can take advantage of our design skills at our specialist on-line survey site, SurveyGarden where you can find demonstrations including on-line conjoint research.

Qualitative online discussion groups online

Like conventional qualitative online research, discussion groups are used to explore issues and ideas with customers to gain insight into what they want and how they think.

There are three main on-line techniques, chat based discussion groups (held in "real-time") and e-mail discussion groups where a conversation takes place over a period of days between group members via email, and a forum or community-based approach.

These techniques are led by a moderator. Typically chat dicussions are quicker to carry out, but can be relatively shallow compared to other qualitative methods. Email groups on the other hand allow for considered opinions of your product or service. In a forum format, customers are more able to pursue their own discussions and a forum or community approach also allows for elements of quantitative measurement and evaluation to take place.

The advent of broadband connections also makes it possible to carry out combined internet and telephone discussions where the moderator controls stimulus sent to respondents over the internet.

Blog monitoring and text scraping

In some categories, discussions and comments appear spontaneously in blogs, on social networks or in areas such as Twitter allowing the researcher to eavesdrop into on-going conversations or to monitor discussion topics and feedback. This discussion can be monitored and text-analysed to look for trends, hot topics or issues that the business needs to address. As 'free' research it can and does provide a useful pulse of the market, but it needs to be cross-checked against standard market research as sometimes it is the loudest voices and not necessarily the most representative voices that make it onto the internet.

Market Intelligence

An alternative to pure market research is to use market intelligence approaches to finding good background information from a wide variety of sources. Competitors and journals are continually producing information about products and services that you need to know about. Currently it can take hours to monitor all the key sites for information. We can do the monitoring for you and provide headlines and links to the top stories in the format you want see our specialist site Notanant for a live example of an on-line Market Intelligence System

For help and advice on carrying out on-line research contact