Five things to think about when doing self-service research
June 6th, 2023, Lauren Nasiroglu

Five things to think about when doing self-service research

It has never been easier to find out what consumers think. The emergence of self-service online research tools – such as YouGov Surveys: Self-serve – allow brands to ask questions directly and get their hands on quality data when and where they need it.

But before starting any survey project, it’s worth taking a moment to think about how to get the most out of it. Here are five key things you need to have in mind when doing self-service research – for our example, we’ll take a use case for the charity and not-for-profit sector.

Knowing what you want to find out

With so much data at our fingertips, it’s easy to be unfocused when it comes to finding out what you want to know. This can often lead to vague questions, such as: ‘what do consumers think of charities?’ However, vague questions often get vague answers that lack usable insights.

Instead, it’s better to know what you want to find out and focus in on something more specific – like looking at the views of those who plan to give a legacy donation, for example or those who give on a monthly basis. This way, you will start your research off with a clear sense of direction and purpose, making the other stages much easier – and making your results more directly actionable.

Ask good questions

It may sound simple, but good research rests on good questions as they lead to accurate answers. Poor questions often lead to poor results – and can even put off respondents from engaging with, or taking part in, your survey.

Getting the right question can be tricky, but luckily there are some tips that can help:

  • Only ask one question at a time. A lot of the time people will try and cram two or three questions into one, making it complicated and often impossible to answer
  • If you’re asking multiple choice questions, make sure that the answer options are balanced and representative of a range of opinions. For example, don’t provide fifteen negative possibilities and one positive answer option (even if you really believe what you’re asking about is a bad thing)
  • Make sure your questions are not leading. If you read a question and can tell what side of the argument the person who wrote it is on, it’s probably a biased question
  • Only ask questions respondents can actually answer. Don’t assume knowledge of topics and don’t use jargon. If your respondents can’t understand the question, they can’t answer them accurately, and you’re wasting their time and your budget
  • Keep introductory text to a minimum, and if it is needed make sure it is balanced and uses neutral language. ‘Factual’ does not necessarily mean the text is relevant
  • Avoid emotional language. Positive or negative adjectives should have no place in survey questions

Speak to the right people

Once you have your questions, the next step is to choose who you want to ask them to (this is called the “sample”). You need to make sure you are directing your questions at the right audience.

A lot of research asks questions of the general public as a whole (this is called a “nationally representative” sample). However, it is now possible – through YouGov Surveys: Self-serve – for users to focus on particular audiences. This can be very useful when you’re trying to find out more about niche groups such as your own customers or target audiences. You can use audience profiling datapoints to select an audience based on their demographics, firmographics, opinions, behaviors and more.

In the charitable sector, for example, you may want to focus in on the attitudes and behaviors of occasional givers. This would allow you to get the views directly from the group that matters most to your organisation, so that you can have data-informed decisions on how to better reach, convert or engage with these people.

Use a good quality sample

The secret sauce of the research industry is the quality of the data. Some online vendors provide bad data because their panels – the groups of people signed up to take surveys – are of poor quality. Other providers – such as YouGov – make sure the people they are asking questions to are who they say they are which helps deliver robust data.

YouGov does extensive and regular quality testing of the people taking our surveys, so we know that our panel-powered survey tools are offering data of the highest quality.

Think of it this way – you could easily get 500 people to answer a question about your business if you asked your friends on social media to do so. But are they from a diverse section of society? Probably not. Are they really the people you most need to question? Again, probably not. This is where it counts to have a reputable research partner, to ensure your results are representative of your total market or target audience.

Present the results clearly

The final part of the jigsaw is making the most of your data. Unless you can showcase your findings well in a way that the people looking at them can understand, all your efforts up to this point may be in vain. It might be a presentation to your board on a new target market or data to add weight to a pitch. Whatever you want to use your data for, presentation matters.

If you have a clear idea of what you are asking, ask good questions, have focused the questions on the right audience and have good quality data, it should make being able to showcase the data easy. Once again, planning makes perfect.

As with all stages of undertaking research, integrity is key – if the results don't show what you thought they would, don't pretend they do!

Results from YouGov’s self-serve platform are available in our powerful and easy to use data analytics tool, for deeper analysis.

Putting your plan into action

So, by following these key steps you should be able to benefit from high quality, actionable data, about the audiences who matter most to your organisation.

Build highly targeted rapid research surveys with YouGov Surveys: Self-serve, Discover real answers, from real people in your target audience, no matter how niche, in panel-powered survey building platform.

Lauren Nasiroglu is Research Quality Manager at YouGov.