The Pros and Cons of Online Survey Research
13 Jul 2020

When referring to market research, online survey research is often the first methodology that comes to mind. Survey research is compelling and dynamic if executed correctly. Like all research methods, it has its advantages and disadvantages. 



Companies often realize that they need research too late. They usually require the findings at the moment that they conclude that market research is the only way to get the insights they need. This immediacy leaves researchers in a conundrum. Research projects can take time to kickoff, set up, put in the field, analyze findings, and write a detailed report. So, anywhere that you can make up time is valued. 

Survey research takes less time to execute. The survey goes into the field and will collect responses quite quickly. Unlike focus groups that need about three weeks of recruitment time and then hours of moderation with groups plus travel time, survey field time is significantly shorter.

Results Representative of the Population

While qualitative research is directional, survey research provides a representative look at the population you are interested in analyzing. On the back end of the survey, it is possible to implement quotas to ensure that the sample represents the demographic makeup that you are interested in (e.g., age, gender, household income, region, etc.). The quotas help you project conclusions about the greater population you are looking at. 


Incentivizing research participants is a large portion of the cost involved. The value of the incentive is dependent on the type of research you are asking people to participate in. If you ask participants to travel to a facility to take part in a two-hour-long focus group on a specific topic, the incentives typically start at $75 and go up as high as $500 for B2B specialists. 

That is big money – they are time-consuming and taxing. However, if you ask people to take part in a 10-minute online survey (from the comfort of their own home), the incentive will be much lower.  

No Borders

Survey research makes it easy to reach “hard-to-reach” audiences. As long as the participants have an internet connection, they can participate in the study. It allows participants to get involved despite being unable to travel or to avoid travel by the client.


Having a larger sample size allows for more varied analyses. With a dataset from online survey research, it is possible to conduct advanced analytics to understand the drivers and correlations that may answer the research objectives. 


While some question the quality of survey research, it is the easiest to control. At Provoke Insights, we include red herring questions to flag those who do not pay attention to the survey. We also include an open-ended question at the beginning of the questionnaire to remove participants who might give nonsense answers. We will monitor the study to ensure that the participants do not provide all ‘straight-line’ responses or patterning their choices. Finally, we will track how quickly the participant responds, and if they answer too fast (not enough time to read the question) – they will be excluded from the findings. 


Lack of Probing

In qualitative research, you can ask the “why’s” or modify the guide in real-time. While you can include open-ended questions as a follow up to a survey question, it still has its limitations. The amount of open-ends you can include in a survey is limited. No one is going to fill out 20 open-ended questions in a study. They would stop participating or write very short responses.

In qualitative research, you can follow up and dive deeper into the answers given to get to the bottom line of the question you are seeking to answer. 

Engage Participants For Short Time

It is not easy to keep research participants engaged in an online survey that is longer than 15 minutes. Therefore, most survey methodologies will limit the length of the study to 10 to 15 minutes. This time limit ensures that participants are engaged and answering the survey thoughtfully throughout. However, this limits the number of questions is it possible to ask and the depth of the findings. 

Local or Very Specific Audiences

Online recruitment can be difficult if you are looking for a tiny geographical area or if your audience is extraordinarily specialized or senior business leaders (e.g., business leaders of large retail companies in Austin). In that case, the methodology may need to move to the phone or in-person. 

If your company is interested in content marketing research, please reach out to [email protected], and we will be happy to schedule a call to discuss the research objectives with you.

In addition, check out Provoke Insights research services here.

Read some of our blogs from this series here:

  1. The Pros and Cons of Online Focus Groups
  2. The Pros and Cons of In-Depth Interviews


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