Use this Free Alternative to Survey Monkey and Extract Value from Your Readers

Use this Free Alternative to Survey Monkey and Extract Value from Your Readers

Here’s the deal… I’m cheap. I’m not into randomly spending money without thinking about it first. Investing in my business is a definite must. But smart investments take time.

Not too long ago, I found myself in need of a survey management service. I had a few questions that needed answers from my readers and I felt like the best way to get those answers was to conduct a survey.

Little did I know that I would be asked to pay for monthly memberships just accomplish what I thought was a simple task. Let me tell you what happened.

Survey Monkey Tried to Stick Me for My Paper

Okay… I’m not Biggie Smalls and Survey Monkey didn’t exactly try to rob me. However, they did hit me with a unique pricing plan that had me searching for something better in life.

The free option they offer is not bad for beginners. If you intend to have only 10 questions and fewer than 100 people take the survey, you’re golden.

Otherwise, it’s time to pull out the the credit cards.

Though the pricing wasn’t horrible, they seemed to have already known exactly what I needed and they were sure to get me as close to that as possible without fully committing… before a hefty price increase.

For me, 100 participants wasn’t enough. Likewise, 10 questions just wasn’t going to get me the information that I needed.

This relationship just wasn’t going to work out.

The Search for An Alternative to Survey Monkey

I thought it was funny that there were companies in existence whose tagline was literally “The #1 Alternative to Survey Monkey.” A quick Google search for a similar long-tail keyword phrase revealed all of these companies.

The only real differences, though, were in the pricing structures. 20% cheaper sounds great but I simply don’t need to have a membership for a survey. It’s just not that important to my business yet.

So, I found something awesome to use instead.

It’s free. Questions are unlimited. Data is collected and organized for me and I didn’t even have to create a new account.

Google Docs for Surveys

You read that right. Using Google Docs, I was able to extract value from my readers and get the information I was looking for without paying a dime.

It looks like Google has started the process of Using their new App Google Drive instead of Google Docs. However, the same steps apply, though.

Want to see how I did it? (silly question… I know)

It was really easy. I had full control over everything and my readers willingly participated. Check it out.

Preparing Your Survey

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you need to know from your readers. Don’t create a survey asking dumb questions. If you don’t need to know their favorite color, don’t ask. If you do need to know their favorite color, ask them.

It’s that simple.

Ask questions that will give you the answers you need to better serve your readers in the future. Tweet This

If you are in the business of selling information products, ask questions whose answers will tell you what kind of information your readers are looking for.

For example, I am in the process of creating a membership course that teaches the average WordPress user how to build websites from scratch and build their businesses around that WordPress site.

So, I need to know what my readers have the most problems with when it comes to maintaining their websites.

I asked questions about which web languages gave them the most trouble.

I even asked how they felt about certain things, like Search Engine Optimization, so I could tailor my content to not just their apparent needs, but the needs that they aren’t even aware of just yet.

This is easily the most important part of the process.

Write your questions down beforehand and know what it is you’re trying to get out of your readers. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

Also, try to categorize your questions. We’ll need those categories later on.

Creating Your Survey In Google Docs

If you’re ready to get started with the actual survey, let’s do it.

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)The first thing you’ll want to do is log into Google Docs (Google Drive). I’m going to make the assumption that you already have an account. Assumptions are bad but hey… most of you are already set up. If not, fix that so we can move forward.

Once you’re in there, the first thing you’ll want to do is create a new form. Click the “Create” button and select “Form” from the drop down selection as shown the image.

Just like that, you’re ready to rock and roll. It’s time to create your form.

I hope you took my advice earlier and and prepared your questions beforehand. Though you can rearrange your questions at anytime, dragging the 20th question to the 2nd position is not fun.

The first things you will want to do for your form are give it a title and write a short description revealing the purpose of your form.

Here’s the form I’m going to create while we walk through this process:

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

As you can see, the user interface is as simple as can be. Give your form a title and description. In that description, you are allowed to place complete links including http://.

Once that’s done, it’s time to get down to business.

First, remember those categories I told you to place your questions in during the preparation phase? We’re going to start using those now. My first category will be called General Information.

Click on the “Add Item” button in the top left corner and select to create a new “Section Header.” This is similar to how you would use headlines within a blog post.

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

Because there are already two sample questions on your form, this section header will populate beneath them. At this point, go ahead and delete those two sample questions by hovering over them a clicking the delete icon. We’ll create our own in just a few.

How to fill out the new section header is self-explanatory. Place your category name inside of the Header Text field. There is also a textarea for a description of the new section. This field is optional.

Once you’ve done this, you can click anywhere outside of the section header and it will save itself.

Let’s create our first question.

Again, click on the “Add Item” button to create your new question. Depending on what kind of question you’re asking, you have a number of answer structures to work with.

I’m simply going to ask how you found my blog with a multiple choice question. Immediately, I’m presented with this beauty:

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

Go ahead and type your question into the “Question Title” field. If necessary, you can use the “Help Text” field to elaborate on your question or give specific instructions. This field will display in smaller, lighter font beneath your main question.

If at this point you decide that you’d rather have a different answer structure than what you originally chose, you can change the “Question Type” at any time and the options beneath it will change as well. I’m sticking with multiple choice.

Multiple Choice questions give a list of possible answers with a radio button for selection. In a list of radio buttons within a form, only one selection may be chosen. If you would like to allow for more than one answer to be chosen, you’ll want question type “Checkboxes.” This type of answer structure will list the possible answers as checkboxes and more than one selection is allowed.

Beside the chosen question type, you’ll see a checkbox for the option “Go to page based on answer.” When you used the “Add Item” button to create your Section Header, there was also another option beneath the section header called “Page Break.” This allows you to create separate pages within your form.

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

In the event you have your form separated into pages that serve different purposes, you can use the above option to make the user’s browser automatically redirect specific page in your form based on their answer.

An example of this would be if I were to have a different set of questions based on how much experience the person taking the survey has. I would use the multiple choice answer structure and for those with over 5 years of web development experience, I would direct them to a page in my form where the survey questions are more detailed and complex.

I won’t be using that option. I like to keep things simple. So, it’s time to create my list of possible answers that the user must choose from.

To do this, I’d simply type my first possible answer into the “Option 1″ field. I’d type my second possible answer into the newly created “Option 2″ field. I’d do this until all of my possible answers have been created.

Also, because it’s not always easy to account for every possible answer, I’m also going to click the little “Add ‘Other'” link to provide a final selection where the user can type their own answer.

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

Lastly, you’ll want to decide if this will be a required question or not.

I would highly advise you not to make every single one of your questions required… only the important ones. Reason being, people hate taking surveys.

Every required question will have that ugly little red asterisk next to it. If someone loads your survey and they see 50 questions all displaying the red asterisk of  obligation, they might not be motivated to take your survey. So use that option carefully.

Click the “Done” button and your question is complete.

Repeat this Process with Intent

From here, all you have to do is repeat the above process until your survey is complete.

Here are a few tips to help you decide which answer structures are right for you based on the question and the answer structure abilities and restrictions.

Text

The “Text” option is nice and simple. It will allow the user to input one line of text as their answer to your survey question. This is ideal if you’re asking for something simple like an email address or a domain name.

Paragraph Text

The “Paragraph Text” option is just like the “Text” option accept it provides a textarea to type into instead of a single line input area. If we were creating a contact form, this area is where the main message would be typed into.

Multiple Choice

This option has been explained in detail already. Just remember that multiple choice questions only allow one answer. Be sure to provide all possible answers. If you are unable to, use the “Add ‘Other'” option to create a field where the user can provide their own answer.

Checkboxes

The key difference between this option and multiple choice is that the user may select more than one checkbox. This option is ideal for questions that may have just one answer, but multiple answers are possible as well. You are also allowed to use the “Add ‘Other'” option here.

Choose from a List

This option will present a drop down selection for your users. If, for instance, asked what age range the user was in, you could create options like:

  • 18 years old or younger
  • 19 – 25 years old
  • 26 -35 years old
  • 36 years old or wiser

Because you can be certain that every user will fall into at least one of those categories, creating a list makes answer the question easier for them.

Scale

You would use this option to allow a range or answers for your users based on specified parameters. For example, I could make my question a statement instead like “Green apples taste better than red apples.” Then, using the scale option, I can choose the range of answers possible (default is 1 through 5) and say that 1 is “strongly agree” and 5 is “strongly disagree.”

Here’s what the user will see:

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

Grid

This option is a little more complicated than the rest. You can use it to collect a large amount of related information using rows and columns. Let’s just look at a quick example I whipped up:

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

It’s up to you to find a reason to use this bad boy. As for me, I’ll just stick with the other options. :)

Section header

Again, you have the option to use these to help separate your content. Much like a blog post, most users will scan before they engage. Using section headers that grab their attention and assure them that the survey is worth their time is ideal.

Page Break

As mentioned before, you can break your survey into multiple pages. Then, when you create multiple choice questions, you can make certain answers trigger a jump to a specified page.

Publishing Your Completed Form for Use

Once you’ve created your form, all you have to do is save it. In fact, it’s probably already saved for you. Google will make sure your changes are saved every few minutes so you don’t have to worry about it.

Now that your form is complete, you may want to give it a little style. By default, the form is a simple black text over a white background. In most cases, that will suffice.

If you’re fancy, though, Google has provided a basket of themes for you to choose from with the click of a button.

Next to the “Add Item” button, you’ll see a button labeled “Theme: Plain.” Click that button and you will be taken to the built in theme options. As of now, there are 97 to choose from.

Once you’ve selected one, you’re allowed a preview of your survey with the chosen theme. If you like it, select the “Apply” option. If not, cancel it and try again. Here’s a plain and simple theme I like to use:

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

Distribute Your New Survey

Now that you have a theme, you’re ready to show your survey to the world… or whoever you want to take it.

By default, when someone completes your form, they will remain on the form and they will be thanked for participating. You can change what they see when they complete the form by clicking “More actions” at the top of your survey and selecting “Edit Confirmation.”

Also along the top of your survey, you’ll see options to share your survey automatically on Google Plus or in an email.

You also have the option to embed this form into your own website! All you have to do is click “More actions” and “Embed” to get the HTML code to place into your website.

By default, your form may be wider than what you want inside of your blog posts or other HTML page. You will have to change this value yourself in the embed code. The width and height dimensions are defined in the code so simply make the form width small enough to fit.

Here’s the form I just created along with you all:

The reason why I like the embed feature is because not only is it awesome, but the one pitfall of using Google Docs (Google Drive) to create surveys is that I haven’t found a way to redirect the user’s browser after they have completed the survey.

Embedding the survey on my own website allows me more control of what they do after the survey is complete.

Upon completion, the actual survey will become very short. However, the iframe will remain the height specified in the embed code.

It should be noted that the height specified in the embed code does not have to be the total height of the survey. If the height specified is shorter than the survey itself, a vertical scroll bar will be added to the survey. Now, when the survey is complete, your page won’t be full of dead space.

Awesome. Let’s observe another sharing option that I like.

Send Your Survey to Your Readers

Chances are, you already use a service like Aweber or MailChimp for your email marketing. If not, you need to fix that.

If you have chosen to embed your survey into a page or post on your website, you can simply send them a link to your post and you’re good to go.

If you didn’t embed your form, you’ll need to share it with them manually.

To do this, go to the main dashboard for your Google Docs (Google Drive) account. There, you will see all of your docs listed including the form.

Click on the link for the form and it will open up as a spreadsheet.

This spreadsheet is where your survey results will be listed. Each time someone completes the survey, their answers will be pasted into this spreadsheet automatically along with a timestamp.

Above the spreadsheet is a menu with various options. Click on “Form” and select “Go to live form” from the drop down menu.

Create Surveys with Google Docs (Google Drive)

This option will open up your completed form. The URL of that webpage is the link to your live form that you can share with others.

That’s one butt-ugly link, though.

What I did was install the Pretty Link Lite plugin to make my survey URL pretty. Now, I can simply send people to sdavismedia.com/example-survey and they can take the survey.

To take things a step further, I even created a shortlink to my form so it remained branded and was easy to remember.

Toss your link inside of an email broadcast, on your Facebook page, on Twitter, or wherever your heart desires.

All of the data will be collected and organized for you and you can view the results in a spreadsheet at any time. What’s great is that you didn’t have to pay a dime.

How awesome is that?

Let’s Get the Word Out

https://twitter.com/SDavisMedia/status/244906040557178880

Let me know in the comments what kind of survey you’ll be creating and let me know if you have any questions.

photo credit: Andres Rueda via photopin cc

43 Comments:
  1. Great post man!

    I see you dug real deep on this one. (as you should)

    You mentioned asking the right questions. My thoughts are this, asking the right question(s) is the difference between a sale and no sale.

    It’s that simple.

    • I believe that 100%. The right questions lead to the right answers and those lead to solving the right problems. Most definitely…

    • Nice! When you do, shoot me an email and let me know how it worked out for you. It’s working wonders for me so far.

  2. Wrote about this 6 months ago.

    Its crucial that you find out exactly what your readers need and this is one of the best ways to understand your audience better.

    Still got the survey in my author box.

    How about the results Sean?

    • What’s going on, Brad? Long time no speak.

      I’ve released the results of my survey over on http://buildwpyourself.com in the member’s area as stated in one of the emails I sent out after asking for your biggest problems with WordPress. The results were interesting because most everyone was the same in most areas.

      Here was one interesting result. It shocked me how many people were on the same exact page:

      “96% of those who know HTML also know CSS. 91% of those who know both HTML and CSS have issues with PHP. Only 4% know Javascript.”

      • Hey Sean.

        Been writing posts about WordPress and looking after my clients.

        I think the easiest way to customize your theme is to go to the Kolakube forum and ask the guy that works there for the code! hahaha

        Written about this many times in my blog posts and added Kolakube to my list of best forum support for WordPress.

        So looks like you have a new membership site. http://buildwpyourself.com/

        What can i expect as i just signed up for your newsletter?

        • Basically, as you already know from the Kolakube forums, there are a lot of people who need help with simple things around their website.

          The problem I ran into over on Kolakube is that 99% of the problems had nothing to do with Kolakube. They were just general web development knowledge. So I realized that even though a person may have a maintain a website, they aren’t always 100% certain about how things or done, what they have the ability to do, etc.

          So I’ve decided to build this course that basically reverses the way people psych themselves out about not knowing how to do this stuff. I’m going to teach people not only how everything works, but also how to troubleshoot… which is what any web developer spends most of the time doing.

          As of now, the course is being built and those on the early list are contacted every few days with information, questions, and opportunities. I let a few people into the membership area early just a week or so ago and the conversation is flowing in those forums already. I might let a few more in here soon.

          Thanks for signing up, man. I hope to make it an outstanding program and there definitely will be an affiliate program if that’s your kind of thing. ;)

  3. Awesome tutorial, Sean. I’m probably going to use this soon for getting feedback on what my membership bonuses should include.

    Also, on ClickToTweet, if you copy the full link (not the shortened one they give you), and give it a target=”blank”, you’ll get that cool little twitter pop-up instead of sending people away from your article. It took me a while to figure out the right way to do it, but it’s working nicely now!

    • I don’t mind sending people away from my articles 99% of the time (I think controlling their browser is rude and intrusive in most cases) but I DEFINITELY don’t mind that little Twitter pop-up! I figured target blank, like other links, would just open another tab so I didn’t bother. I didn’t think the URL would make a difference. Thanks a ton for that tip. That’s useful as hell.

      • No problem! I didn’t think the URL would make a difference, but for some reason it does. I had to dig into Derek Halpern’s source code to figure out why mine wasn’t working initially :P

        • That’s funny because first thing I did after I fixed mine was run over to Social Triggers and see how the hell his was working lol. Too funny. Thanks again.

  4. I don’t have time to write a long comment but I felt I needed to say this …

    this website is a goldmine of practical, easy-to-use info! Gonna use this on my website also.

    Keep up the good work Sean!

  5. Love this, very helpful article. Does the form auto create a spreadsheet to add the form data too or do you have to create a spreadsheet and link them?

    • It’s all done behind the scenes for you. When you log into Docs/Drive, and click on that form, it will actually show up as a spreadsheet for your and display everyone’s organized responses. :)

  6. Hey, thanks for sharing this kinda stuff!

    I noticed youve changed your share links. You not using Jetpack anymore for sharing? Ive found its very limited in where you can place the share buttons etc.

    I see youre using Social Sharing Toolkit now. Is this what youd recommend to people?

    • Good timing! I just changed the share options yesterday. The only reason I went back to the social sharing toolkit is because I would also like the share buttons to appear underneath the post title. It sounds like you’ve experienced the same limitation. I do intend to explore ways to place the code manually, though.

      As for now, that’s what I would recommend. I don’t suggest using the buttons in excess, though… only the ones where your content is actually expected to be shared. No point in slowing down page load speeds for no reason!

  7. The best survey software, for me, in terms of layout, features and ease of use is http://www.sogosurvey.com I had no trouble getting to grips with this software and the features that they offer are more than sufficient.

  8. Sean, I really like your style! You saved my a lot of time and made the job of putting together a survey so much easier (and cheaper too). I look forward to seeing what you come up with for training with WordPress. Will ther be a cost for this course? If so, how much?

    • Hey, Simon. I’m glad you like my style!

      Yes, there will be a cost for the training but that information is not being released just yet. I am still working out the details of something special that I am considering including in the price. Stay tuned!

  9. Hi Sean, I built that survey and in fact I saw your posting later when I check and I still want to know how to know who sent me the response to the survey so that I could approach them for any offer of better service..Can I is that possible?

    • Sisira,

      Are you asking how to collect contact information from the person filling out your survey? If so, there is no set in stone way as far as I know. You can definitely put an email address field in the survey itself and make it a required field. However, there’s no guarantee that people will use a real email address. It’s worth a shot, though!

      Am I answering the correct question?

  10. The problem with Google Docs/Drive is that it might not reach your entire audience.
    My company and I are trying to embed a survey in to Outlook. At first glance, Google Docs/Drive was perfect, incredibly easy to use and free! Awesome. However, opening and replying straight from email isn’t possible with Outlook.
    Opening and submitting from email.. it can’t be done. Unless we’re missing something?

    • It’s definitely possible that you’d lose that type of functionality when making your surveys with Google Docs. The point of this article wasn’t really to replace the functionality of companies with products that actually focus on surveys. They will always be better. The purpose was just to show you have to collect information without having to pay for any kind of subscription. You may very well need what the companies provide outside of just collecting information. If that’s the case, I’m sure the subscription is worth the money.

  11. Thank you for this post — it was very helpful to me! I’m in higher ed, not marketing, but you made some excellent points that relate to anyone creating surveys. I appreciate the clarity of your instruction.

  12. Hi Sean,
    I think one of the big issues in GoogleDocs is the lack of collectors. Collectors allow you to share the results with your respondents after they fill out the survey. Imagine you do some kind of a “best practices” survey and you would like to share the results immediately. SurveyMonkey again had many restrictions on types and number of questions you can present, GoogleDocs don’t have this feature (please correct me if I am wrong). So in my search after a perfect tool I got to qualtrics. They seem to be a great provider, I only need to figure out their pricing plans. Thanks for the post

    • Thanks for your feedback, Olga.

      You definitely run into pros and cons with every service your tool you may choose. I know I did before I decided to just use Google Docs. The only reason it made sense for me, though, was because my list of needs wasn’t very long. I would imagine that needing more complex functionality would lead me in another directly as well.

      Thanks a lot for reading and for the Qualtrics suggestion!

  13. Great tutorial! Question though– I have a bunch of paper surveys that I created (for some reason, I didn’t think to do it online!), and the number crunching is crazy! Is there a way to manually input the responses into Google?

    • All of the results of your surveys will be sent to a Google spreadsheet which you should be able to edit as you please. So in whatever format survey results will be put into the spreadsheet, I would imagine you could just use the same format to submit manual entries.

  14. This was extremely helpful. I was terribly frustrated with the survey monkey app for facebook, as well as the poll app. Your procedure works great and was simple enough for me (a non-techie) to get up and running in minutes.

    Thanks!

    • I’m glad it worked for you! I had the same frustrations but this turned out to be a great solution. Thanks a ton for reading and commenting.

  15. This just saved my entire college career! Thank you so much!

  16. I AM SO APPRECIATIVE OF YOUR FEEDBACK – THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH !!!

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