Your Website Survey is Ruining My Life

This post uses colorful language. If you are offended by language, please feel free to sit this one out.

I have been on a mission lately to capture all of those interruptive survey popups that I see on websites and put them in an Evernote file. I call this file Shitty Popups, and it is a lot of fun to add to the list.


I’m sorry, where were we? I just got distracted and took a survey about my experience booking a flight online.

Sure, my original intent was to actually book my flight, but they truly value my opinion! Why else would they prompt me to answer a survey in the middle of the booking process?

Ok, back to the story. So lately popups have drawn my ire. It seems like every time I visit a big company website, I am inundated by a popup…


Sorry, about that. I just answered another survey. While I am not sure if they truly value my opinion, they did ask nicely. They would like my feedback, and who am I to argue? Also, there is a green trust symbol. My anonymous survey response is safe with them!

So I have been capturing popups lately in order to demonstrate how ridiculous things have gotten online.

Website surveys were originally designed to reach a small percentage of visitors after they viewed several website pages. The thought was that as a user visits the site, we invite them to take a survey at the end of their session.

That survey, anywhere from a simple 4 question survey, all the way to the length of a college entry exam, would help us understand the user better. The thought was that if we could understand the user…


Lost my train of thought again. I had to answer this popup from my hotel friends, they welcome my feedback! I gave them 7 gold stars and 3 hustle points.

The survey sales pitch

I can’t remember where I left off, so I am going to go back to the beginning. Way back to the first time I sat in on a sales pitch from one of these survey providers on behalf of a client. Now, I won’t name names, but you may see their logo in a screenshot or eight.

The sales pitch was simple:

“You need a survey on your site! Stats, stats, stats, bullshit, stats, bullshit, bullshit, stats, satisfaction index, everyone else is doing it so why can’t you?

Our methodology is backed by the blah blah blah association, so you know it’s good. Our research nerds recommend putting the survey on the site to provide a random sample of 10% of your visitors after they have viewed at least 3 pages.

But those guys are fucking nerds! If you buy this product today, we will give you unlimited survey results! You can put this survey invite on every single page of your website. Think of all of the amazing data you can collect!

What’s that? You wonder if this will alienate users?

Well, with our survey methodology, you will be able to tell right away if you are alienating users! They will have 37 questions to answer so we can get a true sense of their frustration.

Better yet, we will email you all of these responses every month! It will come in a raw unstructured zip file that your nerds will be salivating over.

Buy today and we will give you access to DATA. BIG DATA. The biggest fucking data set you will ever see!

You need to think it over? Here’s something to think about: how many responses you are going to lose because you didn’t sign today. There are thousands of people who want to give their opinion and you are a luddite. BUY NOW!”

I added the foul language and insults for effect. No reputable salesperson would ever swear or insult the prospective customer in a meeting. They wouldn’t tell prospects to ignore the methodology of the survey either…


Sorry, I had another tab open to book a flight and got caught up in a survey. Booking a flight is far less important than my opinion being valued.

Were you able to complete your task today?

A simple question that becomes more difficult to answer as we get inundated with distractions on the web. The chances are that you will see at least one popup when you visit most sites on the web. I even have one on this website that asks for your email address!

At this point, it’s not the popups that are ineffective, but rather the irresponsible way in which they are implemented. Just like many good ideas, popping up an email opt-in box or a survey invite proved to be an effective way to get people to engage with your website.

You see your response rates go up when you interrupt people to get their attention. You get more email addresses. More data points. Higher conversion rates. These are all activities that drive marketing engagement.

And as long as you do this responsibly, it doesn’t have an adverse effect on the overall customer experience.

The key word here is to do things responsibly. To follow the guidelines by the statistics geeks who came up with the methodology for measuring…

Jeffalytics Popup

What was I saying? I just got distracted by my own stupid popup. I guess that popup was a lot less boring than talking about math anyway.

Where surveying users fits on the food chain

While many large companies might be shocked to hear this, the number one purpose of your website is to make money. That money can come in many forms, but the purpose of a website is to generate revenue opportunities.

A website survey is not a short term revenue opportunity. Its utility as a long term revenue generation opportunity is arguable as well.

That means that every time you show a popup, you are sacrificing a short term revenue opportunity to add to a repository of data that you might use to make long term business decisions.

These surveys should not come at the expense of any revenue opportunity, but that is what website owners are doing when they place survey popups on key pages.

We have a responsibility as marketers and analysts to understand our role in revenue generation. Simply put, we should never get in the way of generating revenue for our company.


This is bullshit.


This is bullshit.

And we haven’t even gotten to the worst offenders yet!

The top 3 worst popups I have seen since I started capturing last October

#3: Trying to make a points transfer from my bank to an airline

I needed to transfer miles in order to book a flight to Hungary for Superweek (great conference, btw). The transfer process takes a few steps, but is fairly straightforward.

Once you get to the place where you put how many points you want to transfer (you can’t enter a number, you have to start at 1,000 and increment by 1,000), you start a click frenzy to get to your final mileage transfer amount.

At some point, the bank must think I am confused, because they tell me they want feedback.


Here is my feedback: Your website transfer function is fucking cumbersome and annoying. Also, I hate your survey.

#2: Trying to terminate my phone plan

I was making the big switch to a carrier with more reasonable international data plans. After trying to remember my account ID for about 20 minutes, I finally made it to the promised land.

After many clicks, I found what I was looking for: when I could end my contract and jump ship to a new provider. Of course the minute I made it to that page, I was invited to fill out a survey about the experience.

Phone Bill Popup

Here is my feedback: Your website fucking sucks, but that is not why I am leaving you. I am leaving you because you charged me $300 to send a text message while abroad.

#1: The survey in the middle of the checkout process

I can’t claim credit for this one. As I went on a rant about popups at Superweek (great conference), my friend Tim Leighton-Boyce offered to show me the mother of all pop-up fouls. A survey invite in the middle of the checkout process!

Homebase Survey Checkout

Photo credit to @jamesgurd

You can’t make this stuff up. There is a company that would seriously rather have you answer a 37 question survey than to purchase from them.

Revenue > Data Collection.

Here’s my feedback: Quit your day job while you still have your dignity.

Nobody is really at fault here

Surveys are a good idea.

Understanding your users is a good idea.

Getting meaningful feedback from 10% of your users is a good idea. Or 1% or 100% of your users.

Bad things happen when good ideas are implemented without thinking critically.

No analyst in their right mind would value data over revenue for their company, yet that is the statement that is being made by these surveys.

If you have a survey on your website, then you need to make the following adjustments immediately:

  • Take the survey code off of any transactional pages on your website
  • Don’t show the survey to visitors on their first page
  • Adjust the survey invite rate to reach exactly the % of visitors whose data you will use in analysis. No more and no less
  • Mine the insights from these surveys and make positive changes to your site. If you can’t act on this data within 30 days, then it’s not worth collecting

Use these surveys for what they were originally intended: to make your website better. Customer feedback is a tremendous asset for your business.

Do not get fixated on big data or response rates. Don’t be fooled by sales pitches and how much you are paying. Collect the data that you can put into action immediately.

And then take action.

If you are not going to take action from the data you collect, you are better off not collecting it at all.

About the Author

Jeff Sauer is an independent Digital Marketing Consultant, Speaker and Teacher based out of a suitcase somewhere in the world. Formerly of Minneapolis, MN and San Francisco, CA.