If you take a look at the features that different survey softwares offer, you will quickly realize that understanding all of them is no mean task. But it is very important that you do because only then you can choose the right survey software. It is important for one other reason, it determines your price. More features invariably means more dollars. So if you don't choose the right survey software, you might end up paying more for features you don't need.
While it is impossible and not even worthwhile to look at all the features, here is a look at some of the important ones. Chances are that these are the ones will make or break your decision. The features have been divided into 6 categories based on their function in the process of conducting an online survey.
Images, sounds, video - This allows you to insert images, sounds, and videos in your surveys, and can enhance the appearance of your surveys. However, use it only when necessary since it increases the time it takes to download and display your survey, and certainly don't overdo it.
Question library, response library, sample surveys - These allow you to create surveys quickly since you don't have to create them from scratch. They are a must if you do a lot of surveys regularly. And they don't impact the price that much, so you might as well opt for them.
Skip logic - This allows you to skip questions depending on the answers to previous questions. Most survey softwares allow either AND or OR logic to decide whether to skip or not, but some allow a combination of any logical conditions. It might sound like a "nice-to-have" feature rather than a "must-have", but you will be surprised how often you need to skip questions in your surveys.
Data piping - This allows you to use the answers to some questions in the following questions. This is a very neat feature and it allows you to "personalize" your surveys. For e.g., you can say "Thanks Steve" instead of only "Thanks" if you know that the name of the respondent is Steve from a previous question. It also allows you to ask questions like "What do you like most about Coke?" when the respondent has selected Coke as his/her favorite drink in the previous question.
Advanced survey creation features (spell check, auto-correct, thesaurus, import from MS Word) - These are fairly advanced features and not really required in most cases, especially if you don't do surveys regularly. You can spend the time to spell check the survey yourselves. However, if you do a lot of surveys, then you might want these features. But they will impact the price quite a lot since they are considered as "premium" features.
Branding (your logo and background color) - This allows you to place your company logo and use your company website's background color for your surveys. This is good enough in most cases, but not if you are looking to customize each and every aspect of the survey. It is quite an important feature since it gives your respondents the feeling that they are still on your website.
Advanced survey presentation features (pre-designed editable survey templates, new templates, full-customized look) - These are fairly advanced features and allow you to customize almost every aspect of the survey. Survey softwares do this in a variety of ways: they have pre-designed editable templates, ability to create new templates, or create surveys with a full-custom look. These features are also considered as "premium" features and will impact the price quite a lot.
Survey Distribution and Tracking
Handheld device - This allows you to distribute your surveys on hendheld devices. This method of distributing is not as common as the other methods like placing link on website, embedding entire survey in websites, sending email invitation with link, or embedding entire survey in emails and newsletters. But it is definitely becoming popular because of the convenience it offers for taking surveys "on the road". As of now though, it is considered as a "premium" feature and will impact the price.
Track respondents - These allow you to track your respondents after they receive your email invitations. The simpler ones allow you to maintain an email list and send email invitations to all or some email addresses in the list. The more complex ones allow you to create an "audience" from the list in a variety of ways. They also allow you to track who read your email invitation and clicked on what links, who took the survey and who didn't, send reminders to the ones who didn't, etc. All these complex tracking activities fall more under the realm of "campaign management" than conducting surveys though. If you need these features, you are much better off going for a full-blown campaign management solution than a survey solution with half of what you need.
Password protected surveys - This allows you to protect your surveys with a password. The respondents have to know the password to be able to take the survey.
Save and continue later - This allows your respondents to save the survey and continue later. It is a very good feature to have especially if your surveys are going to be long. Some survey softwares make the respondents explicitly save a link and bookmark it to continue later. These don't work that well compared to some others that don't require the respondents to do as much.
Response validation - This allows you to validate the responses your respondents enter. These features are very important since they ensure that your respondents enter "valid" responses and increases the quality of the results. Always prefer survey softwares that have more types of response validation.
Respondent uniqueness control - This allows you to ensure that a respondent takes the survey only once. There are a few ways to do this and not all of them are "full-proof". If you want to strictly enforce respondent uniqueness, make sure that the survey software allows you to send unique URLs to every email recipient. It is the only "full-proof" method of enforcing respondent uniqueness.
Email notification upon response submission - This allows you to get email notifications when a respondent completes a survey. It is the only way to get the responses with survey softwares that don't store them in a database. But it is also offered as an addon by those that do store them in databases.
Graphical reports - This allows you to graph the results and not all survey softwares have this feature. If you like to see results in neat-looking graphs, make sure that the survey software has this feature. Check out the sample reports; most companies have them on their website. Or better yet, try out the product and generate them yourselves!
Advanced analysis features (cross-tabulation, sub-set analysis, 360 degree feedback, etc) - These allow you to perform advanced analysis on the results. Cross-tabulation allows you to relate the responses of one question to those of another. Sub-set analysis allows you to perform analysis on a sub-set of the responses by filtering out certain responses. These are definitely "premium" features and will impact the price.
Export data - This allows you to export the responses so you can do analyses in your favorite tool, like Excel or SPSS. Make sure that the survey software has this feature, especially if it doesn't natively support the advanced analyses that you want to do.
Save in PDF, Word, Excel, Powerpoint format - This allows you to save the report in one of the mentioned formats. It is a very convenient feature to have if you are going to distribute your report a lot.
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