How To Evaluate Free Online Survey Platforms

12/30/2014
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This is a guest post by TrustRadius member, Ausrine Pasakarnyte. Ausrine is a Senior Set Up and Data Quality Manager at WorldOne. She joined TrustRadius in March and wrote an in-depth review of Confirmit.  


Back in 2008, when I started volunteering as a UN online volunteer for an organization in Ghana, Young People We Care, they wanted ideas on how to make their annual youth migration studies more interactive. They had been using Microsoft Word to distribute their questionnaires. 

As a specialist in data collection, my goal was to find a free platform to present the survey, making it more engaging for people to participate and express their opinions. The organization had no funding and survey participation was voluntary and unpaid. Initially, I zeroed in on a new version of Google Docs with the new Forms feature. 

Now, many years later, I am once again hunting for a free online survey platform. And while I love Google Forms, it does not give me some of the newer question options like ranking, multi-choice grid, star rating, etc.

Today, I want to share some recent research on free online survey platforms that offer basic features at no cost for anyone who is lacking dedicated funds to run simple surveys, such as small businesses, nonprofits, and non-governmental agencies. 

As with any “free” products, some are actually truly free while others create the impression of being “free” so that you try their site and possibly upgrade later to a paid, more feature-rich version.

Here’s what a quick search of the market for free online survey designers turned up (please check the summary comparison table at the end of this post):


Initially, my list was a bit longer (with surveygizmo.comesurveysPro.com in the running, too), but some either became paid sites (and I am not interested in 14-day free trials), or merged with other similar sites (e.g. zoomerang.com merged with surveymonkey.com), or were shut down (like surveypirate.com, possibly for being absolutely free). 

Taking a closer look at the list above, I found some restrictions on these “free” sites. It is understandable that offering such products cannot be totally free as people put their time, knowledge, and effort into creating and maintaining them. Instead, I will try to give you the best possible overview of what to expect when seeking an absolutely free tool. 

My comparison criteria included:

  • User friendly/intuitive
  • Question types 
  • Logic/routing 
  • Page breaks
  • Text formatting options (HTML)
  • Themes
  • Custom settings/adding objects (java, images)
  • Sending invitations/sharing your study
  • Monitoring your field
  • Data output/reports

User friendliness

The interfaces available tend to vary based on how recently the platform was created. For example, freeonlinesurveys.com and kwiksurveys.com share the same design platform! The trend is clear – we are moving to a more intuitive, drag-and-drop, tablet-feel interface. 

Nevertheless, I liked how questionpro.com has a good, old-fashioned interface, which provides a bit more credibility to handle any kind of online survey task. Most people, however, will welcome these newer interfaces. 

Here, I would also quickly mention that some sites like surveymonkey.com, questionpro.com,and zohosurvey.com have question libraries and templates to help in designing your survey. Also, all of these sites offered to use previous template sample surveys and questionpro.comeven offers an option to upload your survey from MS Word (with the upgraded account).  Some, notably fluidsurveys.com, can import your survey from zoomerang.com andsurveymonkey.com.

Question types

I was surprised to see how many sites had a very broad range of question types, such as multi-choice grid, five-star ratings, sliders, lookup table, net promoter score, and even custom scripting options (the majority of these features were found in questionpro.com andfluidsurveys.com). 

However, more advanced question types were generally accessible only with an upgraded account. I found that surveymonkey.com, freeonlinesurveys.com, and zohosurvey.comprovided the broadest selections of free questions (like multi-choice grid, ranking, five-star rating). By comparison, kwiksurveys.com offered the fewest options, as they do not support open-ended questions in their free version. 

What stood out somewhere in-between the more advanced questionpro.com and all the rest was fluidsurveys.com with their multiple options (even ranking) – all of these, however, required an upgraded account. 

Logic/routing

Almost all of these sites will give you the option to jump to some other question when a specific option in a single select question is selected. All other more advanced routing conditions were all in paid version. If you want more elaborate routing or to pipe in a response from a previous question, you will have to pay, which is understandable.

Page breaks

Now this strikes me as a total surprise – only surveymonkey.com, questionpro.com, andkwiksurveys.com offered free page breaks while the others require an upgraded version. This is probably because it closely relates to routing and skips and therefore comes with an upgraded account.

Text formatting options (HTML)

Text formatting is something you should not expect much from when it comes to free online survey platforms. HTML is supported only in questionpro.com and fluidsurveys.com, howeverfreeonlinesurveys.com and kwiksurveys.com offer some basic text formatting (including bold and italic, but not underline). The rest do not offer any additional text formatting, except any formatting inherited from layout themes.

Themes

All of these sites offer a variety of color palettes or background photos for your survey theme, varying from template themes to custom themes. Some of these choices will cost you. 

Only questionpro.com offers a strong variety of options with full CSS control for upgraded accounts. Adding your logo throughout the survey was not a surprising feature, but most vendors offer this ability with a paid upgraded survey design package.

Custom settings / additional objects 

Typically, you can add videos just about everywhere. There are obvious size limitations and you cannot upload the video, instead just share a link, which is understandable as hosting the video requires server space. 

On the other hand, images can be added free of charge only in surveymonkey.com andzohosurvey.com. Two platforms that offer the most customization are questionpro.com andfluidsurveys.com as part of their upgraded account.

Sending invitations/ sharing your study 

All of these platforms have multiple options to send your survey via email, share on Facebook, twitter, G+ and multiple other social media sites. For example, fluidsurveys.com offers a paid email blasting service while questionpro.com even offers targeted samples for an additional price. 

Also, kwiksurveys.com has no built-in email option, but generates the link and gives you options for social media sharing. On a separate note, I kept an eye out for a printing option (in case you wanted a pen and paper version) and almost all of them, except for questionpro.com andfluidsurveys.com, have this option only in their upgraded version.

Monitoring your field 

Now, this is where the tricky part begins. Not every platform will let you set your quota or end-of-field date without an account upgrade (e.g. surveymonkey.com and fluidsurveys.com). 

Freeonlinesurveys.com has free account limitations for up to 50 respondents and 10 days in the field, so you cannot really modify anything, except by keeping a close eye on your fieldwork. While questionpro.com, zohosurvey.com, and kwiksurveys.com will let you set your quota free of charge, zohosurvey.com and kwiksurveys.com will also let you set the end field time.

Data output/reports 

This is the point where freebies reach their limit. Yes, you can create an online survey for free, but when you need to finally export the data, you will need to upgrade. 

Only kwiksurveys.com has free spreadsheet, .csv, semi-colon, and tab separated export, while all the rest require an account upgrade. Once upgraded, you get all kinds of files from .pdf, .xls, .csv, .ppt to .spss. The good news is that the majority of these platforms will print a report free of charge (e.g. zohosurvey.com, freeonlinesurveys.com and fluidsurveys.com); some will also let you print separate respondent’s answers (e.g. fluidsurveys.com).

Conclusions

After closely reviewing these options, there is simply no option where you can create a survey, deploy it, monitor your fieldwork, and extract the data to a simple spreadsheet – all for free. While the market is very well defined for such products, it is still possible to find ways around the cost, such as by using kwiksurveys.com and eliminating all of your open-ended questions. 

Personally, I really liked zohosurvey.com as it offers a broad range of question types and is similar to Google Forms (which I will probably continue using, unless I need some more types of questions, like ranking, multi-choice grid, star rating). 

However for a survey for business, I would probably choose from upgraded versions ofquestionpro.com or fluidsurveys.com as they strike me as the most professional, and the upgrade price is not so steep. 

For non-governmental organizations without budget to run a simple survey, I would also recommend zohosurvey.com. For everyone else, it is probably worth the money to upgrade to enjoy the full capabilities of the platform. 

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Did you find this blog useful? What other free online survey tools should be added to this list?

Bertrand brings more than 15 years of marketing experience to TrustRadius where he is leading all marketing functions for TrustRadius. Previously, Bertrand led a team of product and demand generation marketers as Senior Director, Market Strategy for the Systems Management Business, at Solarwinds. Prior to that, he served as Vice President of Marketing at Troux Technologies overseeing brand, product marketing, demand generation, and community efforts. Bertrand has also held marketing leadership roles at Universal Weather & Aviation and at NetIQ, a systems and security management company. Bertrand holds a Diplome d'Etudes Superieures Europeennes de Management from CESEM Mediterranee in Marseilles, France, and a bachelor of arts degree from Middlesex University in London.