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Survey Your Readers and Discover Who They Are and How You can Be More Useful to Them

Posted By Darren Rowse 9th of December 2009 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Two weeks ago I re-launched the ProBlogger weekly newsletter. The first email I sent out to subscribers was a story of how I’ve been changing my approach to blogging over the last year. The reaction to the email was huge – literally hundreds of readers responded with emails telling their own stories, asking questions and simply reacting to what I’d written.

I’ve never had that kind of response from a newsletter before – I’m not sure why it happened this time, perhaps it was that it was a story (of sorts), perhaps it was because I shared how about how little I know and that I’m still learning….. or perhaps it was just a day that people felt like reacting.

Whatever it was – it reminded me of the fact that email newsletters can be interactive.

Bloggers with newsletter lists sometimes get trapped into thinking that their blogs are the interactive component in what they do (they have the ability to collect comments after all) and that a newsletter is more of a ‘broadcasting’ tool.

Perhaps there’s some truth in that – email is useful for broadcasting and at their best blogs are great for conversation – but my first email illustrated that email can be interactive too.

Building on the Interaction – with a Survey

I decided to build on the interaction of the first email with a second one that was ALL about interaction. A few days later I sent out an email to my subscribers that simply invited them to participate in a 4 minute survey.

The idea came as I read the reactions to my first email. As I read I realised how little I knew about those who were subscribing to my newsletter and why they subscribed.

I decided to put together a survey to help me do 2 things:

  1. Tell me about my subscribers and their blogs – including some basic demographics (age, gender) as well as some about their blogs (how many they have, platforms that they use, topics that they blog on etc
  2. Inform me of what people want out of my newsletter – including questions asking subscribers to identify the challenges/problems that they face as well as inviting them to write about what they’d like me to cover in future newsletters.

The survey contained 16 questions which were mainly multiple choice questions that could be completed in 3-4 minutes. There were also options on some questions to write more and two optional open ended questions inviting people to write as much as they wanted.

I created the survey using Survey Monkey (I went for the paid option as it lets you download results and do more than 100 responses).

I sent out the newsletter (unfortunately my timing was terrible as it went out just as Aweber were doing an upgrade so those who got the email in the next few hours were unable to open the survey link – which meant I had to send out an other email…. it was a real mess up) and in the 3-4 days that followed have had 1989 responses from subscribers.

The email went out to about 20,000 people so the response rate has been around 10% – more than I expected considering the mess up with the email and the fact that my list has gone a little cold as I’ve not sent much to my list in a while.

Within an hour or so of people starting to complete the survey I realised it was one of the smartest things I’ve done for a long time. It was producing incredibly useful data in each of the areas identified above.

I’m still working through the responses (the open ended questions are rich with powerful feedback but will take me some time to crunch through) but am already feeling as though I have a much better understanding of:

  • who my subscribers are
  • why they’re subscribing
  • what their needs are
  • how I might be able to help them.

I will share some of the results from the survey with subscribers in an upcoming newsletter but one of the bonuses that also came out of the survey is that from the 1000 people who took the extra time to respond to the open ended questions I have literally hundreds of questions and ideas for blog posts. Any time I’m stuck for something to write about in the next year I can just dip into those questions and I’m certain to come up with something to write about.

Take Home Tips

  • Whether your blog is big or small – a survey can help you improve your blog on numerous fronts. Even in the first hour after I got results in and only had a handful of responses I was already learning valuable lessons about my readers that would improve my blog. Having lots of responses is great – but even a small number would be useful.
  • A survey is a great way to ‘warm up’ your cold newsletter list – I’ve not really sent out too many ProBlogger newsletters for over a year – as a result my list wasn’t overly responsive or feeling connected to me. This survey has really ‘warmed things up’ and already I’ve had a few readers responding with feedback that they feel valued and more connected.
  • Ask mainly closed ended questions – think carefully about what you want to find out and try to make the bulk of your questions as easy to answer as checking a box in a multiple answer question. This makes doing your survey quick (respecting the time of those who do it) but it also makes collating your data easier.
  • Ask a couple of open ended questions – the multi-choice questions have produced some interesting data for me, but its the open ended ones that have produced the real Gold. I asked one that asked readers for questions or suggestions on what they wanted me to cover and another that simply asked for feedback on any aspect of my site. Both questions have been fantastic and both seem to also have given respondents a chance to feel as though they’ve been heard (and they have been).
  • Survey Your Readers and/or Subscribers – in this case I’ve chosen simply to survey those who subscribe to the newsletter of my blog and not all readers and RSS subscribers. I partly did this because I wanted to be informed about how to improve the newsletter but also to help me manage the amount of responses – however valuable information could also be gleaned by surveying everyone or by targeting other specific sub groups within my network. Perhaps for you it makes more sense to survey your readers, your Twitter followers, your facebook fans, those who’ve bought your products etc – really it comes down to your objectives of your survey and how big your network is.

Have you ever run a survey with your blog readers (or some other subset of your readers)? What did you learn? What tips would you add?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. I ran survey to get some feedback on my up and coming launch. Response was great and I am currently analysing the feedback.

    I used Survey Monkey – the free version.

    I didn’t realize it at the time but with the free version you are restricted to 100 responses. I had to close the survey early as I quickly got to that number.

    Second thing is the free version doesn’t let you download the results. I had to copy/paste and muck about with the details.

    I decided to send everyone who responded, a gift and to do that I had to manually ‘extract’ the emails.

    So advice would be go for a paid survey service and not a free one.


  2. A survey is a great way to figure out what your readers are actually interested in, and you can choose the right content, affiliate programs and products. When i started my first survey I figured out that most of my readers are just beginners, so i chose affiliate products meant for beginners.

  3. Hey Darren,

    The best way to find out what your readers want is to ask them.

    A lot of people will feel empowered (and maybe honored?) that you’re not on some big pedestal but on their level and wanting to genuinely know what they think. Practically everyone wants to share their opinion to someone, especially when asked for it.

    Surveys is something I should start doing. Thanks for the reminder to go beyond just asking my readers a question during my weekly site updates.

    Here’s to transparent and interactive communication with the readers to make the content more valuable for them,

  4. As a subscriber/reader, I liked what you did with that particular survey four a couple reasons: first, it was short. As you noted, I could complete the survey in less than five minutes, which meant there wasn’t any mental baggage or real thought process of “do I have the time to deal with this?” Secondly, the questions were meaningful and it was obvious that the answers were going to help you create a better newsletter.

    Make the survey quick and meaningful to the respondents and the responses will be valuable.

  5. This is something new to me. Something I never thought of doing although I do participate in surveys sometimes. Thanks

  6. This may seem like a very simple question but I am assuming that you are having people sign up for a newsletter so that you can collect their contact info. Right?

    How would one get started with this?


  7. People like taking surveys.I found the SurveyMoneky through google search engines this afternoon .It’s a very cool site.

    I don’t know what’s your defination of the “big or small site”.Does it relate to traffic?My site has only a little traffic up to now.I even don’t have an email list now.How will my blog benifit by releasing surveys?

  8. Darren! As soon as I did your survey, I joined survey monkey and started my own on my website and tied it into a giveaway. It’s been only a day and a half and I have already gotten 45 responses (haha no where near your almost 2000) but the information they have given me has been EXTREMELY helpful in deciding my course of action over the next six months in terms of services and how to better improve my blog.

    THANK YOU for this post and for the wonderful work you do.

  9. Interaction is key. People don’t care about you unless you can help them in some way. Whether that’s a girl for sex, comfort, understanding or a job you put a smile on because that’s inversely related to your paycheck.

    When you interact with people, you’re giving them attention and that’s what happened. What do the best selling books, tv series, movies all have in common? The main characters relate and hit an emotional understanding with the person receiving.

  10. Nice, nice. It’s amazing some of the things you can learn by asking your audience. Instead of making changes that you’re not sure about, asking those who actually use or enjoy your stuff can provide some powerful insight that, if done without first asking questions, could actually hurt whatever good was there before.

  11. i was kind of surprised too darren when I received that email thinking i you don’t use email newsletters at problogger (then i remembered when i signed up for the updates of problogger community).

    I answered that surveyed too. It was pretty much comprehensive. And if about 10% of your subscribers did the same thing- that must be some powerful data you got there! Look forward to seeing results. i honestly miss you *chart-containing* posts like poll results.


  12. Darren Cronian says: 12/09/2009 at 6:12 am

    Hi Darren,

    I ran a readers survey earlier this year and found the results very helpful to understand my readers more. It also helped me to provide potential advertisers with stats on age group, type of reader etc.

    I used Google docs (form) and the results went straight to a spreadsheet which I was then able to run a few formula’s through to get the stats that I wanted.

  13. My readers refuse to comment, most of the time!

  14. Running a survey is an amazing idea! I have bookmarked this post for future reference. Thanks for the share Darren

  15. You never know what your readers need until you ask – great reminder, Darren. I used to conduct seminars and after each I would send a survey via email. This gave me plenty of feedback on the effectiveness of my presentation, what I needed to change, and even the quality of my topic. Survey monkey looks cool, but Constant Contact (email service) has a survey service that starts at $5 per month. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a quality service to conduct their surveys. Here’s a link to Constant Contact if anyone wants to give them a try (this is an affiliate link, if you decide to pay for service you and I will both receive a $30 credit); http://www.constantcontact.com/features/signup.jsp?rc=-1834977374&sru=1101971617442&fc=f&cc=community_purl&pn=ROVING

  16. Great post. I was one of the people who responded to your email survey, and I have to say it was easy to complete and not time consuming at all.

    Survey monkey is a great tool – we use it at work, and I have used it for a survey of my own. You can use it in a limited capacity for free, or pay for a version with more respondents permitted, more questions etc. I used the free version to guage the response first, planning to upgrade if there was a large enough response.

    Unfortunately I have not had any responses from my survey. Part of the problem is that my site is only 2 weeks old, and I do not have an email list yet (still tryng to figure out how to make one with wordpress & Thesis). I have tweeted my survey a few times, but no hits as yet.

    The problem could also be related to the topic of the survey rather than the means of publishing its existence (I wanted to get a feel for how people respond to squeeze pages).

    So I guess the take home lesson from this is build an email list first, or at least get a good readership for your site so you can get some respondents.

  17. Another new thing you inspired me to do. And being the impatient type, I went ahead and created a newsletter and collecting emails now. Have a few already from past comments and will create a survey for them now. Thanks and cheers, mate!

  18. Being the owner/operator of a luxury service company I am constantly asking my client if they are happy with the service and what I can add or take away. I ask them what would make the experience even better. I am overly polite and most gracious for their business and keep in mind without them I have no business

  19. Great! I’m going to be doing this soon as I’ve recently started a blog which, although has an international outlook, needs to create a local niche. Since I’m based in a developing country, Pakistan, I have literally no idea if people are going to eventually pay for buying my e-books and other products online. Currently I only get about 40-50 visitors a day and haven’t started an email list yet, but I’m thinking a survey at this initial stage would still be relevant. Thanks for the push in that direction.

  20. I conducted a survey for Engaged Marriage, and I also got a great response. The results told me what topics my readers wanted more of and what they wanted less of. I threw in a preference question about e-book topics, which turned out to be my golden question. One topic was chosen as the favorite by a margin of 3-to-1, and it was not the one I would have anticipated. That was worth the price (free) of my Surveymonkey survey!

  21. Dear Darren:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Although I am not using surveys just yet, I always ask my friends to tell me what they think or what they would like to see change.

    That actually has driven me to make many important changes in my blog ranging from design to the what I write about.

    I see myself using surveys later on, when my blog becomes a bit more popular and when I have more subscribers. Until then I plan to continually ask for feedback from my friends and readers that are friends :)

    After all, we write for others so we should know what the readers want to keep them happy and coming back for more.


  22. I did a survey when I hit about 200 subscribers and surprisingly got about 30 responses, which was definitely more than I expected.

    And one interesting metric I found useful was what percentage of survey responders had left a comment on the blog. Most of the people who completed the survey had left a comment but there was still a good chunk of lurkers. It’s a good reminder that even if you don’t get a ton of comments there are people still probably reading (and enjoying) your stuff.

    Plus, for smaller blogs http://wufoo.com is the best survey tool. You get 100 survey entries for free, and it’s dead simple to setup. :-)

  23. It’s funny you should write about this now. After receiving your survey (and filling it out, of course), I was inspired to do my own survey. I’ve though on and off about if for a while, but seeing your survey inspired me to get off my rear end and actually do it.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  24. foibles says: 12/09/2009 at 9:37 am

    I agree w/Aaron that you’ve got to be short and sweet and on-point. FYI: I was reading these tips from Zoomerang for making better online surveys. There are two or three in there I never thought of.

  25. I’ve only done informal surveys by asking questions on a blog post. It’s not that effective so may use your tips to manage a proper one some time.

    I’d be interested to know who your readers are. Let me guess:

    75% male, mostly aged 20-30 ??

  26. it’s good to find out what really needs visitors, providing the best information, of course, which will benefit from the increasing popularity of your blog, I strongly agree the idea.

  27. While I haven’t done a survey, I do pay attention to what pages people are going to on my site. I looked at what they seem to be looking for and focused on that.

  28. Andrew: good points, going to update this post with that reminder.

    Aaron – thanks, that’s what I was aiming for.

    Paul – here’s some links. Reasons for a newsletterHow to build a successful newsletterhow I use newsletters in what I do.

  29. Great idea Darren I will try this

  30. Thanks, Darren. The response was very impressive, and the anonymity might have nudged more to do the survey than if not.
    I believe surveys and polls are very important because readers feel like they have a platform to tell it like it is, unlike in commenting where the topic is “restricted”. It’s also a good way to get suggestions and positive criticism that would help improve any blog.
    I’m in the middle of offering free webinars and rather than decide what to “teach” first, I asked my readers about the problems they were having and what sort of help they needed. It was only after that I can up with the topics for the webinar based on their response.
    I’ve found it very effective.

  31. Yeah, we should know more about our readers, get their feedback or opinions to make your blog become better and better. Survey is definitely one of the best option to achieve this.

  32. Its an amazing option and I really didn’t think of this option before but it is really important to have a survey of who your readers and waht do they want.

  33. I have had never used Survey Monkey before. I had just used a shabby little form system that took me forever to figure out. Its a great way to hone in on who is actually reading your stuff.

  34. On my blog, i send newsletters to my subscribers every week and i get from them more comments. more visits and more subscribers too.

  35. You’ve reminded me how important it is to survey your list to see what they really want. I’m planning a launch of a new product and I’m going to go right now and put a survey in the plan to make sure my product is on track.

    It’s easy to assume we know what customers want. But we may be completely wrong about what they want and need.

  36. I am now understanding the blog marketing strategy. Well I did not put any widget for survey, but I have reward my blog commentator by providing backlink to their blog.

  37. Surveying your list is always a good thing to do before you create a new product. I learned this the hard way.

    the Body Guard marketer

  38. I agree. I have done surveys before and got a great response back as well. It’s amazing how easy is to find out what your audience is searching for if your just ASK. I have not done one in a while now and I’m glad you brought it up as it’s time for me to do one again. And I’m sure it will help me with the project I’m working on right now as well – I’m so glad you drew my attention to it! Thanks Darren, you always have insightful things to share in a very humble way. ;-)

  39. A nice idea! Besides giving information on what the readers want, it will gives confident for us to write because we know what the readers want!

    Btw, the first thing is to find a list of loyal readers. Looking forward to practice the ideas given. Thanks a lot =)

  40. Yes, I have run surveys. I’ve asked my readers what they wanted me to cover in my blog. I’ve also asked them how they read blogs, and if they wanted me to discuss things such as blog readers and RSS feeds, and if they wanted an explanation of how to read blogs — the different ways it could be done. They were coming from a different platform and there was a big need for it at the time. I also asked them if they wanted me to discuss more topics regarding twitter. Many were new to Twitter so there was a need for that also. And finally, on another survey, I asked them what they wanted me to blog about. It was very fruitful.

  41. I really try and encourage my readers to engage with my newsletter. I point it out every and often leave with a question hoping that people will reply to my email. I don’t want it to feel like it’s a newsletter I send out to ALL my readers.

    Instead I try and make it feel more intimate and feel like I’m addressing the one person and ask then questions with hope they will hit the reply button.

    As you mention – it’s also great to be able to know what sort of readers you actually have so you can accommodate your content to the readers, and not what you think they want.

    You make a greater connection this way. If users know you’ve gone out of your way to reply to emails they suspect has been given out to many many other people, you feel more connected, don you think?

    Sarge | BeginnerBlogger.com

  42. My readers is very active in commenting, at least they leave a comment everytime they visit my blog.

  43. Yeah, we should know more about our readers, get their feedback or opinions to make your blog become better and better. Survey is definitely one of the best option to achieve this.

  44. I haven’t done either the newsletter nor the survey with this blog yet. But now I want to:) I did try a newsletter with my other blog, but for some reason the emails weren’t going through, so I definitely need to try a different company for that.

  45. Darren, do you think you need a critcal mass of readers for a survey to be of use? If you only have 100 readers and only 10 bother to respond then you might get a heavy bias in your survey results. Making changes based on that might alienate the other 90 readers?

  46. Hey, you found a new reader here!

    Great content and, in my opinion, deciding to refine things is always time well spent.

  47. Andy from Workshopshed – you might get a bias with only 10 responses, but you might also get some benefits:

    1. showing your 100 readers that you’re interested in them
    2. even 10 responses will give you some interesting ideas and feedback
    3. even small samples can be representative – in the first 100 responses I got back the %’s of bloggers answering in certain ways didn’t really change to when I had 2000 responses.

  48. Hello Darren,

    Your post is enlightening. But for the moment I only rely on feedburner email subscribers. I haven’t used Survey Monkey yet and was hoping it can use those emails from feedburner without opting them again.

  49. Vey helpfull, you know we have been thinking about launch a servey.

    We would like to know how the customers like our products, the shopping experience.

    Just it’s not easy to compile the list of questions.

  50. hmmm, interesting approach. Maybe I should use the Employee Satisfaction Survey template in the company to do a survey.

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