How to choose the best survey tool for your study
You have to do a survey, but with all the software out there, how do you know which one to choose? Having used almost all the tools out there, we can share one secret with you, it all depends on what you need.
We will give you our top picks per use case. Oh, and it might be good to mention that we don't have any affiliation with any of the software tools, we are just fans.
First, we will share our top picks per use case, after that, we go deeper into why we made that choice, and we end with a decision-making table.
Hopefully, this short article speeds up your research!
What survey tool is best for casual, academic, or professional surveys?
Different types of research will require different types of survey software. This is why our list of best survey software is split into a selection of 4 different use cases: casual, academic, startups/small businesses, and larger businesses.
- Free Survey Software for Casual Surveys – Google Forms
- Academic Research – Qualtrics
- Startups / Small businesses – TypeForm
- Business – SurveyMonkey/Qualtrics
If you'd like to understand your options better, you can read on. In order to decide we will score each survey software on a few dimensions:
- Expertise level required
- Price point
- Survey distribution
1. Best Free Survey Software for Casual Surveys
Google Forms is our top choice for casual surveys. It is a free tool, easy to use, and has all the features you will most likely need for the following scenarios:
- If you are new to survey research
- If you are in high school and need to do a survey for a project.
- If your research project doesn't require advanced statistical analysis in SPSS, Stata, R, or other tools. If you don't know about these tools, you are probably fine choosing Google Forms.
- You don't need advanced features, like randomization to prevent ordering effects, or logic flows (skip logic).
- If you are only looking to acquire survey participants for free
Google Forms is one of the most accessible survey software tools out there. Most people have a Google account, and Google does a wonderful job of making the tool very easy to use.
Free, but lacking features
Google Forms is a wonderful free tool, but it does miss some features. You can use basic skip logic, which allows you to show specific questions to survey participants based on their answers. What they lack is that you cannot end the survey for people who fail qualification questions or attention checks (see section "Startups" in this article for more information). This means there the options to collect quality data are limited. For any serious study, we would advise going for different software.
- Price point: ++ Free
- Expertise required: + Accessible for beginners
- User-friendliness: +Decent experience for people who participate in the survey
- Features: +/- Has most question types but doesn't have a lot of options to randomize questions, or setup logic flows.
- Survey distribution: - Limited options to collect survey respondents.
2. Best Survey Software for Academic Surveys
Our #1 pick for college and college/university-level surveys is Qualtrics because it's free for most students and has incredible features.
Free for students and university staff
Most students and staff of universities will receive login details to Qualtrics for free from their institution. You will want to check this with your college or university.
Advanced features: A researcher's dream and a student's nightmare
A high level of professionalism is expected for bachelor's and master's degrees. This means you will need many advanced features like conditional logic (skip logic), randomization, attention checks, qualification questions, and/or respondents quotas. All of these features and much more are included in Qualtrics.
The challenge is that you probably haven't conducted many surveys yet. There is a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, Qualtrics recently updated their interface, which made using their software easier.
- Price point: ++ Free for enrolled students
- Expertise required: +/- Takes some time to get comfortable with the software.
- User-friendliness: + Decent experience for people who participate in the survey
- Features: ++ Has almost any feature you would ever need and more.
- Survey distribution: ++ Excellent, the software is compatible with almost any platform where you can find survey participants.
3. Best Survey Software for Startups or Small Business
Our #1 pick for startups or small businesses is TypeForm.
Startups often need to validate business ideas, features, or marketing messages prior to spending a lot of money.
Survey software for startups needs to be:
- Compatible with businesses that recruit quality survey participants.
- Easy-to-use interface, quick implementation.
- Logic flows
When it comes to surveying software for business there are often only annual subscriptions, which means you would pay at least $400 for just the software.
Luckily, Typeform has monthly plans at affordable prices. They have many advanced features and are (by far) the cheapest option if you need to collect high-quality data.
Quality of data
Most startups would pay for survey respondents but need to be sure they collect quality answers. These answers either validate an idea or kill it, so you don't want to get that wrong, right?
In order to get quality data, you would need to set up qualification questions and attention checks. When you pay a company to recruit survey participants from you, you will want to check in the survey whether you are actually getting the people you've asked for. This is called a qualification or screening question.
For example, if you want only women to participate, you may ask in the survey about the gender of the participant, and disqualify anyone who doesn't fit this criterium. In order to do this, you will need conditional logic (skip logic), for which TypeForm has an intuitive interface.
You will also need to add skip logic in order to do attention checks. Otherwise, how do you know if someone paid attention while answering? This can go wrong in many ways, and make you draw the wrong conclusions from your results. In order to fix this, you would add 1 or 2 "bogus questions".
A bogus question is basically a fake question, just to check if people are paying attention. For example, you can ask "What color is a polar bear?". It sounds silly, right? But you would be surprised how many people get it wrong.
For the participants that fail the attention checks the survey will end immediately. With any decent company that provides survey respondents, you won't have to pay for people who failed these checks. But most importantly, you will be able to trust your data.
Conversion and lead generation while surveying
With their clean design, completion rates are typically very high (90%+). Smart founders even ask for survey participants' email addresses at the end of the survey to start building a waiting list for your tool, interview them in person, or add them into existing email automation.
With a good survey design, you can capture 30% to 75% of the email addresses of your survey participants as a nice bonus while doing research.
- Price point: + Affordable
- Expertise required: +/- Takes some time to get comfortable with the software.
- User-friendliness: ++ Beautiful, fast, and highly user-friendly
- Features: + Incredible features at this price, but limited for very complex academic or market research surveys.
- Survey distribution: ++ Excellent, at the "Plus" subscription level the software is compatible with almost any platform where you can find survey participants.
4. Best Survey Tools for Business – SurveyMonkey/Qualtrics
Established businesses often rely on survey research to have quality data before making critical decisions. For example, you might need to know what country to roll out your product or service out next, how to tailor your marketing messaging to different user segments, or to see if there's interest in a new product you are considering.
It's paramount to have advanced features that allow for:
- Conditional logic - Allows for displaying specific questions to users based on their previous answers.
- Variable passing - Pass information of previous questions to the next questions)
- Randomization - Randomize questions to control for order effects.
- Quota control - Control how many participants of a certain segment complete the survey
- Quality control - Allows for the termination of survey participants who upon double-checking don't fit the demographics of the desired sample, or to end the survey for participants who failed to pass the attention checks.
For professional surveys, we have 2 top picks: Qualtrics & Surveymonkey. Both of them include all the features above, and much more. If you want a safe bet to be able to do any type of market- or academic study, we advise using one of these.
For SurveyMonkey, you would need to pick any of the business plans. The lower plans won't include the feature you need and we would refer you to the "Startup" section of this article.
Qualtrics has many enterprise options, for which we would advise to talk with them.
Honorable mentions for business survey software: