You want your audience to love you. You want your customers to be happy. When they are happy and like you, they tend to buy stuff from you, which makes you both happy. Who doesn’t like the win-win?

But how do you get to the win-win? You have a great product. You have everything in place for your customers to reach you: a website, a blog, all the social media you can possibly be on, your app(s), your ads, and your physical location(s). Now what?

Relationships, People!

“Engagement is the secret sauce of digital marketing; every marketer wants more of it,” explains Pam Neely on the Marketing Action Blog of Act-On. “Whether it’s on social media, on the company website, in email messages or anywhere else, we all strive to get more engagement for our content.”


One of the constant things is change, right? We are constantly updating and improving what we do so we can meet our customers’ needs best. What are your customers’ needs? What do they want? What do they like about your business, and what do they want to see improved?

“There are a lot of ways to get traction for your content through external forces. Timing is one; screaming link-bait headlines is another. Outrageous images can work. You can also try content promotion, influencer marketing, and making your content easier to share,” says Neely. “But the very best way to boost engagement is to give your audience exactly the kind of content they wanted in the first place.”

Great Content Sources

How do you get great content for your business? There are a number of tried-and-true techniques to create great content. (Neely) They include:

  • Using analytics to determine what your audience’s behavior reveals about their favorite content
  • Doing competitive analysis to see which pieces of your competitors’ content have captured the most engagement
  • Being a member of your audience, then serving up content you yourself would like
  • Asking your audience what content they want
  • Asking your audience what their aspirations, fears and challenges are, then creating content that addresses those issues

Enter: The Survey

Did you groan on reading the word “survey”? How many times have you been asked to participate in a survey? Can’t count them? Me either. We aren’t going to waste people’s time with boring surveys. A survey is capable of so much more than that.

Faster Horses

Surveying your customers to know what they want is important. You need to know what they have to say. “Let’s focus on the last two options: ask people what they think they want and ask people what motivates them,” notes Neely. “You can absolutely ask people what specific content they want more of. But you risk missing the opportunity to create content that is better than what your audience can imagine. As Henry Ford put it, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’”

080415_Surveys Horses

You probably don’t need to create content for the new automobile, and “fortunately, most of us don’t need to aim for the stars and create content that borders on art. We just want our content to work to support our business goals,” writes Neely. To keep your audience happy, your surveys need to be done the right way, at the right time.

Specific Purpose

If I have analytics all set up, why do I need to bother with surveys? You ask. “Whether you ask people exactly what kind of content they want or what their motivations are is up to you. Whether one or the other is better depends on how evolved your content marketing is, and what you want to do with the information you gather. But the two approaches are very different. Once you see that difference, you’ll view surveys differently, too.” (Neely) Absolutely: Do not ask your subscribers anything your analytics data already answers.

Here are some questions you can’t get answers to from analytics. You need your surveys to ask:
• Would you like more beginner, intermediate, or advanced content?
• Is our content easy to understand?
• What topics would you like us to cover that we haven’t?
• Are you aware we offer the following content (or services)?
• How important are these issues to you (please rank in order of importance)?

Surveys Are a Great Marketing Tool

Sure you can get helpful information from them, but they have many more layers of capability than that. You can use surveys via email and/or on your website. You can do polls on your website. You can do social media contests and competitions via surveys (you can make them fun, too).


Website and social media surveys are hit-or-miss. Doing surveys this way is good for pulling people in who really want to participate and are willing to take the time. If you want to target your more thorough methods of reach, emailed surveys are best. Says Neely:

  • Most email service providers (Act-On included) offer a way to create and send surveys to your subscribers easily.
  • Emailed surveys get results fast. You’ll get most of your results within 72 hours of sending the survey.
  • If you’ve been good to your list, your subscribers are already trained to open your emails. That means you’ll get a drastically higher response than if, say, you sent a survey to your Facebook.
  • You’ll be surveying people who are your core audience. These are your subscribers, buyers, clients – they’re into your stuff. Better to find out what they want than to try to figure out what a general audience wants, or even what somebody else’s audience wants. And if you want to segment out a portion of your email list to send the survey to, that’s easy.

Do You Have a Subscriber List?

To do an effective email survey, you have to have subscribers. A lot of them. If you don’t have a way for your customers to connect and belong with you via subscription, you are missing out on some big opportunities for marketing. More than that, you are missing out on a great method of meeting your customer’s needs and building your business. Build a subscriber list now.

Magic Numbers

Neely gives us insight on the number of subscribers we need to aim for. “While you can run a survey with only 1,000 email subscribers, you’d probably only get about 15 responses. That’s not enough to get statistically relevant answers. It’s not even enough answers to guess at a trend.

“Hopefully, you’ve got more than 1,000 subscribers. Let’s say you’ve got 3,000. Let’s also say your clickthrough rate is around 3%. That means you’ll get about 90 people to click through to your survey. If half of them finish the survey, you’ll have about 45 completed surveys.

“Is that enough to get decent results? Yes. But it could definitely be better. Ideally, you want at least 200 completed surveys to see clear trends and have statistically valid results. And more completed surveys would be even better.”

Yes, you want as many responses as possible, but 45 is enough to make the exercise worthwhile. For some helpful tips from Neely, “see Survey Monkey’s sample size calculator and their explanation of how to calculate sample sizes.”

Reaching Out

While you may be focused on wording, and numbers at times, the most important aspect to keep in mind is that you are doing this for your customer. You want them to know “I care what you think.” “I want to hear from you.” “What you have to say is important to me.” If your surveys (and your business model) aren’t making that bright and clear, your surveys are going to struggle.


Respect your audience’s time. There is a right number of questions to ask, and it is usually between 7-10. Make everything short and sweet, fast and easy. A survey can be a way to reach out and get noticed in a positive way. Let your people know you care, and you are doing everything you can to make life better for them.


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