Survey Vs Questionnaire Vs Poll: The Ultimate Guide

Manoj Rana
September 19, 2023
min read
Survey Vs Questionnaire Vs Poll: The Ultimate Guide
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Did you know that telephone surveys and suggestion boxes were a thing in the late 20th century? Businesses would call their customers, poll them and put them through long surveys or have them fill out comment cards, aka the modern-day questionnaire. Conducting audience research was a laborious process prone to human error. So, why did businesses invest in it? It’s simple. Businesses used this feedback to measure customer satisfaction, make customers feel valued, and create better customer experiences.

Cut to now, and surveys, questionnaires, and polls are still an integral part of marketing, but it is pretty tricky to tell them apart.

Survey Vs. Questionnaire Vs. Polls

According to a massive survey by CoSchedule, 65% of marketers reportedly have never conducted audience research.

They have no clue about how to use them. This is primarily one of the reasons why these terms are often confused. 

Also, there are some overlapping elements among the three that further perplex marketers.

So, let’s address the elephant in the room and define what each of these terms mean.

What is a Survey?

A survey is a method of audience research that poses predefined questions to a select group of people.

Respondents can fill out surveys anonymously, which means they are more likely to be honest, making it a crucial source of unbiased audience data. 

But asking the right questions is paramount even on an anonymous survey. 

For instance, if an organic meal subscription business were trying to conduct market research and asked, “How often do you eat at Taco Bell?” the answer would be anything but honest.

People want to appear better than they are. They want to appear socially desirable, and that can create massive disparity in the data.

A better question to ask would be, “How often do you try to eat healthily?” or use a Likert scale which takes the pressure off the respondents.
While you can conduct surveys online and offline, online surveys generate quicker responses, are more convenient, and can be randomized. 

You can use surveys to study consumer behavior, user demographics, customer satisfaction, market trends, and analyze brand awareness. 

Here’s an example of a survey from Adobe.

Source: Adobe

It recently ran the survey to learn more about affiliates that promote its product. This data will help it improve the affiliate program, keep affiliates happy, and generate more sales. 

What is a Questionnaire?

A questionnaire is a research tool that intends to collect user data through a set of questions.

Wait. Isn’t that the same thing as a survey? Yes, but also no. 

All surveys contain a questionnaire, but all questionnaires are not surveys.

Now that you’ve suffered through a surprise logical reasoning test, let’s break it down further.
A survey is a process of collecting data that includes asking questions and analyzing said data. 

Questionnaires can be a part of a survey or not. 

Standalone questionnaires are just for data collection. Think health declaration forms or visitor sign-up sheets.  
These questions are usually closed-ended. But questionnaires, when part of a survey, can be open-ended to acquire qualitative survey data. 

What is a Poll?

A poll is a way for you to determine which way people lean. You could end the debate on the existence of extraterrestrial life or just declare that avocado on toast is the holy grail. 

Polls were originally carried out in person, and raised hands indicated whether people shared an opinion widely or not. Telephone polls replaced it. Here, users pressed a number to indicate their preference.

Now, we have polls integrated into emails, on social media, and blog posts. Here’s a LinkedIn poll from Matt Pyke. 

Source: LinkedIn

A poll can be a part of a questionnaire, which, as we just learned, can be a part of a survey.

Surveyception, indeed!

And just like questionnaires, polls can be a standalone method of collecting data. Think election polls or online contests.
They’re a great option whether you want to gain quick insights or just record the masses’ opinions.  It takes very little time to complete polls, so they generate a high response rate.

How do they differ from one another?

Here’s an easy way to understand the difference between surveys, questionnaires, and polls:

  • A poll has only one question and answer and can be a standalone poll or a part of a questionnaire. 
  • A questionnaire has multiple questions and can be standalone or a part of a survey. 
  • A survey is a process that involves creating questionnaires and polls, delivering them to the right audience, and analyzing insights. 

Another point of contention is the analysis. Polls show you a bigger picture of how your target audience perceives a subject and are pretty easy to analyze.

Depending on the type of survey, survey responses can take more time to scrutinize. A customer satisfaction survey may consist of many poll-like questions and is quicker to analyze. In contrast, an employee satisfaction survey will have more open-ended questions, which can take far longer.

When to Use a Survey Vs. Questionnaire Vs. Poll

Let’s say you want to analyze brand health, and you use a poll that asks, “Have you heard of XYZ brand?” That is not going to give you an accurate picture. 

You need a survey that includes both open-ended and closed-ended questions to determine how aware the user is of your brand.
Conversely, if you want to find out if a product tutorial is well received, a simple yes/no poll question is sufficient.

The key to understanding which methodology is best is to have a clear goal, determine the target audience, and then decide the audience research technique.

When to use a survey

A survey not only requires you to invest time in creating, delivering, and analyzing it, but it also needs the user to spend a considerable amount of time filling it out. 

But if you are after detailed feedback, then a survey is the right choice for you. You can collect both qualitative and quantitative data and use it to gather unique insights.

Take Netflix, for example. They occasionally send out emails to conduct customer surveys and improve the product. 

These surveys can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes to complete and feature a host of questions and polls to collect feedback. Since a user invests time into completing these surveys, Netflix also incentivizes completion.

When to use a questionnaire

You use a  standalone questionnaire to collect data and keep records. These usually have closed-ended questions.
If you want to build an email list, accept payments and donations, create a contact form, or collect medical history, a questionnaire is for you.
Just like with surveys, you can run an offline or an online questionnaire. But with contactless becoming the norm, online is the way to go.

You can also use standalone questionnaires to include some open-ended questions if you want a few more details about the user. Another example of a questionnaire is asking patients when their symptoms first began and what they have been experiencing.

When to use a poll

If you have a single question that needs answering, use a poll.

Social media platforms have made it easy to add a poll to your post and see how people vote. In most cases, there is no anonymity, so there is a risk that the answers are biased, but since they hardly take a couple of seconds, the response rates are the highest out of the three techniques.

But polls can also go beyond a simple engagement strategy.

When you watch a show or movie on Netflix, a poll is delivered to your email with a simple question - “What’s it like so far?”. 

You can either give it a thumbs up or down.

Netflix uses this to tune your recommendations and to suggest shows or movies to people with similar interests as you. You can find this type of opinion poll on YouTube, Spotify, and other streaming services as well. A like or dislike helps the service understand your taste.

This, in turn, boosts time spent on the app and improves retention rates. 

10 Tips for Creating Better Surveys, Questionnaires, and Polls

63% of consumers think that marketers are ‘trying to sell them things they don’t need.’

This means one of two things -
1. Most marketers don’t conduct enough audience research (we know this is true).
2. Only 37% of consumers are making their opinions heard.

Let’s assume you solve problem #1. But you might still find it challenging to acquire feedback.

The wrong survey design, not providing insights into how you use the data, asking for feedback at the wrong time, and, worst of all, not personalizing the questionnaire are all possible reasons.

But these are fixable.

Use these ten tips to supercharge your surveys, questionnaires, and polls.

1. Keep the survey short

As a rule of thumb, surveys should not take more than 20 minutes to complete. Shorter surveys have higher completion rates. If your goal is to get more data, cut down on all unnecessary questions or use alternative methods to gather data. A good example is this survey from Hubspot

It’s got less than 15 questions, and most of them are polls. It should take people less than five minutes to complete, so more people will take part. 

2. Assess the type of questions

Multiple-choice questions are easier to answer as opposed to a continuous rating scale or open-ended questions. Replace some of your open-ended questions with a multiple-choice question or a poll.

3. Be transparent about data handling

Let users know why you’re collecting data and how you intend to use it. The transparency helps you establish trust and make the respondent feel valued. Look at the above survey from Hubspot again. 

It makes it clear that it’s collecting feedback to understand more about what readers want to see. B

It also makes it clear that the answers will remain anonymous. This will encourage even more participants to complete the survey.

4. Have a logical progression

Make sure the questionnaire flows well. Start with broader questions and then ask specific questions. You can also use conditional logic to display questions based on previous answers.

5. Ask for feedback at the right time

Timing is critical in acquiring quality feedback. If someone has been in touch with your support, ask them to leave an NPS score (Net Promoter Score) after the conversation ends instead of sending it over email or giving them a call later. 

6. Test the questionnaire and poll

Before sending it out to users, make sure you run some internal tests to ensure the logic works. In the case of a poll, evaluate whether the question is easy to understand and avoid biased questions to collect honest feedback.

7. Include optional questions

On your list of questions, make sure that you allow users to skip questions to maintain anonymity or avoid questions they don’t want to answer. 

8. Include a neutral and other option

Questions that include a scale should have a “Neutral” option to allow users to maintain a neutral stance.

The “Other” option is another critical piece. If you have a multiple-choice question, you can include ‘Other’ as an option instead of forcing respondents to choose an answer from the list.

9. Show a progress bar

A progress bar on a lengthy survey can keep respondents motivated to answer the series of questions and complete the survey.

10. Incentivize the completion

When conducting market research or consumer behavior trends, there is no clear benefit for the user. By incentivizing finishing the survey questions like offering an early bird discount or monetary compensation, you can increase completion rates. Keep in mind that you should include more open-ended questions on such surveys to assess data quality.

For some ideas, check out this survey invite from TechSmith. 

Everyone who takes part gets a chance to win an Amazon gift card worth $100. A generous incentive like this will attract a lot of participants. 

What do you think wins - Survey Vs Questionnaire Vs Poll?

There are numerous ways of conducting audience research apart from using surveys, questionnaires, and polls, but these form the basis of other techniques.

Other techniques include 1:1 customer interviews, face-to-face surveys, listening in on sales calls, performing on-site surveys, conducting focus groups, and running a competitive analysis.

Once you have clarity about what you want to achieve - generate reviews, get customer feedback on product features, or build an MVP (minimum viable product) - it’s easy to choose a suitable method that will yield desired results.

After completing the statistical analysis, the next step is cross tabulating. You can also use filters on the statistical data to compare two subgroups. If you find this too complicated, you can use survey tools and third-party survey software like Qwary to analyze the data for you. 

Leverage Qwary today to create different types of surveys with ready-made survey templates and build a valuable feedback channel for your business.