Which type of questions should you ask as an email marketer?

While we're currently revamping our GatorSurvey tool here at CommuniGator, I thought it would be interesting to compare the different types of questions available in a survey or questionnaire. I wanted to consider their uses, when they are most appropriate and what type of responses and results they can offer email marketers.

Open-ended questions

Questions that allow your respondents to answer as they see fit are always a great way to get the most detailed insights out of your email marketing. However, they're also commonly one of the most unanswered question types. Given how structured surveys usually are, unless you phrase your open-ended questions in such a way to encourage your audience to focus on just one aspect, you may lose their interest and they'll answer with an NA, fail to explain a 'Why' or just leave the answer box blank.

Close-ended questions

Also known as the dichotomous question, this is generally a "yes/no" question that gives you a distinctive answer one way or another! These are great questions to use if you are 'screening out' respondents or trying to create segmented audiences. Careful, though! Overuse of this question type will come across monotonous and you might find answers skewed as a result.

Demographic questions

Particularly when it comes to building audiences and preference centres, demographic questions are critical to include. However, be sure not to go into too much detail. Respondents are wary of businesses holding too much personal data about them.


Almost a meeting point between open-ended and close-ended questions, multi-choice gives you a much more extensive look at what your email recipients think. Though, it's worth keeping the other section in case they want to give you a more open-ended answer. In turn, given the rigid choices, this type of question is more likely to garner an open-ended response if they do select 'Other'.

Ranking questions

While ranking questions (where you ask the recipient to rank the answers in order of preference) give you a good idea of priorities, there can be any number of mitigating factors that impact a respondent's decision. Therefore, ranking questions should always be used in conjunction with another type (I recommend open-ended) to truly understand why your recipient has responded in such a way.

The rating scale

Often used with emotions rather than numbers (I.e. disagree to exceptionally happy), the rating scale is often a good indication about email recipients personal feelings towards your marketing. However, be careful. Typically, men tend to overcompensate and women are found to scale back their answers to this type of question.

The constant sum - i.e. the answers total 100

Similar to ranking questions, the constant sum is a good way to understand respondents priorities, but in a much more in-depth manner than the ranking system. By giving them the option of deciding what makes the total score of 100, option A might be twice as important to them as option B.

Overall, it's clear that a variety of questions will make your survey more successful. Though, a survey that takes someone more than five minutes to fill out is unlikely to get completed 100%, so it's about finding a balance between asking the right questions and knowing where to stop. Personally, we've found quarterly surveys or ones hosted after an event are most successful at establishing what is and isn't working when it comes to our marketing.

What about you? Do you even use an online survey tool to gain genuine insights into your audiences? We've created a guide of do's and don'ts when it comes to survey marketing that you might be interested in.

For other email marketing best practices, take a look at the range of courses the IDM have to offer.

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