What's the difference between a poll and a survey?

/ 6 min read
Helen Jackson

In marketing, knowledge is power. But to grab hold of that knowledge, you need to ask the right questions. That’s where online surveys and polls come in.

A survey is a questionnaire-type form that helps you understand your target audiences, whether that’s your customers, employees, or colleagues. A poll focuses on just one question to get a snapshot of public opinion on a given subject.

Surveys and polls can help you deconstruct your audiences’ minds and use them to your advantage. And it’s not just about customers: online polls and surveys can help you understand your employees better, too.

You just have to know the differences between surveys and polls, and when to use each one.

When to use a survey

Surveys are powerful tools for gathering the data you need to improve your product or keep your customers happy. They’re often used for gathering feedback or gaining more insight on a recent launch or event.

But it seems collecting feedback isn’t as popular as it should be. Less than 40% of marketers use consumer research to drive decisions. Getting your product right shouldn’t be down to guesswork—that’s why surveys exist.

Surveys are perfect for getting that deeper insight that a quick poll just can’t offer. They’re used in a wide variety of fields, from medicine to marketing to gaining additional insight into your customer experience.

For example, you could use survey questions to get extensive feedback on a particular topic, turn this information into a downloadable report, and gate it to generate qualified marketing leads.

Generating your own data to use in your content marketing helps establish your organization as a thought leader. Sending out regular employee feedback surveys can also help dissect and better your employee experience, too.

This survey question uses sliding scale responses to gauge employee sentiment.

How to create an effective survey

In order to get the most out of your research, it’s important to create a survey that respondents won’t mind filling out. Following these 5 tips can help you do just that.

1. Define the purpose

Without a clear purpose, chances are you’ll create surveys without direction. Ask yourself, ‘what do we want to achieve with this survey?’ Once you know the answer, you’ll be able to decide what question types will best suit your needs.

2. Keep it short

Nobody wants to waste time answering page after page of endless questions. You can help avoid survey fatigue and keep your respondents happy by only asking the essential questions.

There’s been debate over the years, but our attention span seems akin to a goldfish (just 8 seconds). So capture your audiences’ interest immediately and ask only short, simple questions with easy-to-understand answer options.

3. Don’t leave room for confusion

Which is better, this sentence:

As a valued customer, we want to understand your motivations for buying our product, so we can make improvements where necessary. What makes you consider purchasing our product? (Select from the reasons below or add your own answer)

Or this sentence:

Why do you buy our product?

We’d be surprised if you even made it through the first sentence—it’s so long-winded.

The point? Cut out words that fail to add value to your surveys to keep your audience engaged.

4. Write in your audience’s language

You want to create that instant connection between you and your customer. A customer feedback survey for a toystore will sound a lot different than that for a SaaS business. Understand your audience and speak to them in a way that is appropriate, relevant and clear.

5. Change up the format

If all your questions follow the same format, respondents are doomed to get bored. Varying your question types is a great way to keep folks engaged and gather unique data at the same time.

Break up the monotony of multiple choice with a sliding scale, a ranking field, or a matrix question.

When to use a poll

If you want results immediately, and you can get the answers you need using a single question, a poll is the way to go. Poll questions help you read the room and make quick decisions. They can also be used in real-time, which is great for presentations or meetings.

Polls won’t give you a detailed analysis, but they’re perfect for getting a sense of how a wide range of people feels about something. They can also help you quickly predict demand and pinpoint trends.

This Netflix poll is short and to the point.

How to create an effective poll

Creating an effective poll is all about getting right to the point. To do that, you need to be clear on the goal of your poll and how you aim to reach it. These tips can help you along the way.

1. Pick a trending or relevant topic

Social listening comes in handy when creating impactful polls. Make sure it’s a relevant topic, as jumping on the bandwagon might not always be appropriate. Listening to what your customers are talking about online can help you discover interesting topics that'll grab their attention.

2. Keep it short and sweet

In a busy social media feed, posts can get lost in the noise. Making sure your poll is short and skim-able increases the likelihood of people paying attention and quickly voting for their answers as they continue with their day.

Stick with one-click, closed-ended questions, like a rating or multiple-choice question. Simple polls aren’t the place for broad questions and detailed responses.

3. Use the results to start a discussion

As they’re quick and simple to set up and publish, a poll can be a great way to start a conversation with your online community. They take no time at all to create and even less time to participate in.

64% of consumers want brands to connect with them, and by facilitating conversations about topics they care about, brands can build this connection quickly.

Want to build polls and surveys?

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4 different types of surveys (what are they and how to use them)

There are many different types of surveys, each one designed to offer insight into a different aspect of your business or life.

1. Customer satisfaction surveys

These surveys help you monitor customer satisfaction. These surveys are often anonymous, which means it’s more likely you’ll get unbiased, unfiltered feedback. Without honest opinions, you’ll never understand the problems with your processes and why your customers might leave you for a competitor.

You should get into the habit of sending customer satisfaction surveys out regularly and following up with them after every order. Keeping on top of how satisfied your customers are is a cyclical process and one that should play a pivotal role in your marketing going forward.

2. Employee engagement surveys

Surveys aren’t just for marketing. They can be used internally, too.

Happy employees lead to better productivity, which leads to better revenue. Without productive employees, your business can struggle to compete. Keeping tabs on how employees feel about working for your organization can pay dividends.

Use surveys to pinpoint problems before they escalate — whether that’s identifying heavy workloads, eliminating stress brought on by work or ensuring teams are fully supported with access to more staff. Employee engagement surveys ensure your employees feel seen and heard.

3. Market research surveys

Market research surveys are the perfect tool to help you understand your target market. Asking questions to understand your audience further means you can make better-informed marketing decisions.

Asking questions like 'how did you hear about our brand?' helps you understand which marketing channels are shouting the loudest and converting. Ranking questions like 'which of the following features are most important to you' help you prioritize when it comes to product development.

4. Membership cancellation surveys

Every lost customer presents an opportunity to learn. Cancellation surveys should play an important role in your marketing efforts.

Even though one lost customer might not seem like a big deal, the problems that led to them leaving could mean others are right behind them. Feedback from respondents can help you avoid losing more customers.

Retaining customers is critical to business success because existing customers will likely spend 31% more. So send out those cancellation surveys and reduce customer churn.

Creating surveys and polls with Paperform

If you’re looking for a powerful, easy-to-use online form-building tool, you’re in luck. At Paperform, that’s our bag. Our digital suite of tools is perfect for creating branded, beautiful polls and surveys of all kinds.

Integrate Paperform with your favourite apps, like Slack, Asana, Mailchimp, and over 2,000 more to improve productivity and automate your workflows. Our doc-style editor is easy to use, but it doesn’t skimp on features.

We offer all the design and customisation features you might need, as well as conditional logic, advanced calculations, and 24/7 live customer support. And when it comes time to analyse your responses, jump into our robust data analysis portal for visualisations of your data and valuable insights.

Getting started is a breeze. Choose from one of our 650+ designer-made templates or create your own from scratch. Try it out for yourself with our 14-day free trial, no credit card required, and start connecting with your target audience in style.

About the author
Helen Jackson
Helen is a freelance content writer from the UK. She writes about marketing and branding in the SaaS and tech spaces.

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