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This Is the Best Reason Every Blogger Needs a Reader Survey

Someone I’ve been listening to quite a bit recently is Michael Hyatt. Michael is one of the leading voices in helping individuals and companies understand principles about leadership, social media and growing their platform. A few months ago I listened to a podcast where Michael detailed his own experience with a reader survey.

reader survey He described in detail about what a valuable tool they had become for him. He felt strongly that every person with a platform (blogger, business website, social media outlets, etc.) should do one.

Well, I’m obviously a blogger and I certainly fit into the “every” category so I decided to give it a shot. I really wasn’t expecting much with my small audience but figured it might be worth the effort.

What I found after conducting a three-week reader survey astonished me. It changed the perception I had towards my audience and made me reconsider what I’m sharing with them.

And if you choose to do one, there will be one question you HAVE to ask your readers. It blew me away and is the absolute best reason, in my opinion, every blogger needs a reader survey.

Here’s what I learned from and about my readers.

Reader Survey Demographic Information

To my surprise 48 people filled out my 21-question survey. That may seem like a small number but at least it’s some feedback. As a blogger it’s so difficult to get feedback and know whether or not you are actually helping people. If I hadn’t done a survey my responses would be zero (0) so I was pleased with receiving this much traction on my first survey attempt.

Of course I learned come cool demographic information about my readers like:

73% are female…






58% are between the ages of 31 and 50…






And 74% have some form of college degree.






As their responses relate specifically to my blog I found that:

Most of my audience has been around for some time, with 69% having been reading for at least 7 months. (I think that speaks to some brand loyalty being developed.)






Only 6% found my site via Twitter (That was especially enlightening because I’ve been spending a lot of my social media efforts on that platform. Might want to reconsider that.)


And when asked to list the topics they most enjoy reading about, I found this graph particular interesting.


The demographic questions I asked were great but the real gold was found in the open-ended questions section. If you put a reader survey together you have to ask these questions – one in particular.

Reader Survey Open-Ended Questions

I asked five open-ended questions where readers were given the chance to type in whatever they wanted:

These questions allow respondents to speak from their heart and share what they are really feeling. With this being an anonymous survey, I felt they could speak freely about whatever was going on in their lives without being identifiable (unless they chose to be).

One note of warning here is needed. If you ask open-ended questions be ready for some negative feedback. Not everyone loves everything about your blog. Case in point, this reader’s comment:

“If I can be frank, I deleted my email update from this blog for the simple reason that I found your repeated references to your wife’s CPA status and your new job as a stay-at-home dad to be overkill. I understand being proud of accomplishments and sharing them – just two weeks ago I proudly stated on Facebook my son’s induction into the Science NHS – and you have every right to acknowledge the fact that a goal was set and reached. But, the continued link to these accomplishments in my opinion, for what it’s worth, appears to be boasting or bragging. I too returned to college for a master’s degree, and had to pass a state licensing exam with my job on the line if I didn’t pass it – talk about pressure! – while working and raising 4 children, and I certainly could not have done it with my family’s help. I know the sacrifices that it took for the 5 of them to help me. But I don’t believe it would benefit me or them if I lorded it over their heads that I have more college hours than they do. We all have strengths. Your strength is in encouragement, and I think that should be your focus: encourage your readers in various ways of reaching their goals, not consistently reflecting on your own goals.”

I have no idea who wrote that. And I’m not going to lie – it stung when I read it.

You probably think my first reaction would be to get defensive and claim this was an overreaction on their part.

Uh, you’d be right…that’s exactly what I did. “Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill,” I thought.

But after dwelling on it for a few minutes and going back over my posts, I can see their perspective.

Of course, I never intended to lord my or my wife’s accomplishments over anyone. I was so excited during that time frame of blogging about what we had been able to pull off. I wanted to share it in the hopes of encouraging other people who might be dealing with significant life change. My motive in sharing our lives was 100% pure.

I wasn’t boasting and I wasn’t bragging but this reader felt like I was. And as I looked back over my posting schedule, the articles I published and the internal article links I’d made to these events…maybe it was overkill.

The point is that seeing this comment will make me a better writer and blogger in the future. That’s the goal and the mindset you should approach with every single comment you receive. So “Thanks!” for whoever left that comment – and please don’t tell me now it was you. 🙂

I mentioned five open-ended questions were used in my reader survey. They were…

  1. What do you like most about my blog?
  1. What could I do better?
  1. Where has my blog helped you the most?
  1. What are you most proud of having achieved in the last 12 months?

…And the granddaddy of all questions that MUST be asked and which speaks to the best reason I can think of to do a reader survey…

5. If you could have me create one product or discuss one topic that would best meet your needs right now, what would that be?

It should be obvious why this question is so critical to ask.

Your readers will tell you what they specifically need. You can then tailor your content, products and services around their needs.

After my reader survey was completed, I took the list of responses one afternoon and sat down for just one hour to initially go over them. In that one hour of time I jotted down 36 potential post ideas and titles based on the information provided from my readers.

For someone like me who writes about personal finance specific topics twice a week, that’s 18 weeks of content for my site.

Let me ask you some questions…Ever had writer’s block? Ever curious about what will stick with your audience? Ever wonder what they might be so excited about they’d share it with all their friends?

This question answers all that. I’ve got content my readers will be interested in to last me for months.

You can bet I’ll be writing a post in the future speaking to every single one of those question #5 responses.

How to Make and Promote Your Own Reader Survey

If you are new to doing a reader survey and want to get one done quickly (and for free) I’d suggest using Google docs. You could use a service like SurveyMonkey – which is actually the place I went first. I’m sure it’s a great tool but I wanted something done quickly. It also only allowed limited amount of questions to be asked before you had to upgrade to a premium service.

Using Google docs I had a free survey that I could link my readers to completely finished in about two hours. You’ll find tutorials all over the web on how to create a survey in Google docs.

As far as questions to ask, feel free to use mine. I still have a live link to my survey available. The questions aren’t copyrighted so feel free to use them. (I got most of mine from Michael Hyatt’s survey.)

I chose to limit my reader survey to 21 questions because I didn’t want to make it so long to fill out and I really couldn’t think of anything else to ask that would be beneficial for me at this stage of my platform’s development.

There are several ways you can inform and distribute a survey to your readers. I wrote one article about it and included links at the end of my posts for three weeks. Google also allows you to embed the actual form on your website. I had that form up in the primary sidebar of my blog for a week. You should also get the word out over your social media outlets and send an email blast to all those receiving your updates.

During promotion, the best way to draw readers in is by using a call for “Help.” Nothing says, “I need you” more than a big “Help” sign on your blog or Facebook page.

If readers know their responses will lead to improvement on a site they frequent, I believe they will be more likely to respond.

Even though I didn’t, it might be a wise move to offer some incentive for filling out the survey. If your resources allow for you to provide one it might be a way to draw in more responses.

Do a Reader Survey This Year

If you have a presence online that is servicing people, I’d encourage you to conduct a reader survey sometime this year. It won’t be a waste of time

I was shooting in the dark many days when it came to producing content for my audience. Their responses helped me see the light and clarify in my mind what they really need.

The experience was so valuable I’m going to put this on my yearly to-do list.

Questions: Have you ever formally surveyed your audience? Do you know what they really need? What would you like to know about them? Anyone ever used a more advanced service like SurveyMonkey? For my longtime readers, do you think I overkilled the wife-CPA-stay-at-home-dad topic last year?

Image courtesy of Wessex Archeology at Flickr Creative Commons

Next Post: Does My Health Insurance Cover Dental Work

Prior Post: How to Stop Making Bad Money Mistakes Again and Again

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  1. I’ve never thought about doing a survey for my blog. After reading this it makes perfect sense. Thanks for the excellent idea.

  2. Awesome results – thanks for sharing.

  3. I’ve always been in awe of people who choose writing as a profession. Writers of any genre – novels, articles, ads, music – in my opinion have actively chosen to inspire others with their ideas. I interpret the comment above to read as though that author was actively searching for new inspiration that they could implement in their own life. Your wife’s accomplishment is definitely worth celebrating; I can see that many people would also be inspired by it and hopefully will seek to reinvent themselves with advanced degrees too. Obviously the comment writer had already accomplished that achievement personally and rightly or wrongly seems to be looking for more.

  4. Wow. This is such a great idea! I have a made a note in my notebook about creating a reader survey within the next few months. I think it would be a great idea in terms of what kind of goals I should set for my blog. I’m also quite curious to hear what readers think because not everyone comments on blogs. Receiving feedback and applying it is a great way to better ourselves.

    • “…not everyone comments on blogs.” That’s really what drove me to do it. I knew I had more readers than commenters and wanted to gather their input. I think it helped give a voice/outlet to those who never feel like commenting.

  5. I’ve been listening to Michael Hyatt for years. If you haven’t listened to any of his old podcasts, I recommend them. The new ones are good but since they’re interview style, sometimes they’re not as informative. I don’t think anyone has influenced me as greatly as him over the last couple of years. I’m so glad to see you’re benefiting from his work, too.

    • One more thing – re your point about Twitter. I read Ruth Soukup’s “How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul” and since then I’ve increased my traffic; focused on Pinterest; and stopped focusing on Twitter. Twitter ends up being a larger network of the industry, but not a source of readership (Facebook and Pinterest take the cake on that).

  6. Wow! This sounds like it was a really meaningful exercise for you. I have toyed with the idea of a survey but more for my podcast than my blog. My blog is my hangout and I like to write what comes naturally to me and what I feel compelled to write (especially since it’s not my day job), the podcast is growing though and I am more interested in learning more about my listeners since many are not blog followers. Thanks for all of the survey info!

    • Shannon, if you are interested, Michael Hyatt’s info on podcasts is so great. Michael talks in depth about the length of a podcast, how to provide information that the listener wants and will retain (with the ultimate goal of growing the podcast), in addition to random things about podcasts that you would never think about but that make a big difference. I don’t have a podcast so I just wanted to pass on the resource in case you are interested — it’s sort of useless to me! And I listen to podcasts daily, so if you ever want any of that extra info, don’t hesitate to ask!

    • That would be interesting to see the difference between a blog reader and a podcast listener. I’m sure you could set the same type of survey up for people who listen to your podcast. They’ll just need to know where to find the survey.

  7. Even Steven says

    Really like the idea of the survey and opened ended ?’s thanks for the tip/mention.

  8. Sounds very fruitful! I did a survey last year and got some great feedback. I used SurveyMonkey and it was great. It’s hard to get criticism, but can help you think of things in a different way.

    • “…think of things in a different way.” I agree that’s beneficial and really needed at some point. We tend to get stuck in a thinking rut and sometimes we need a jolt.

  9. It certainly sounds like I should consider a reader’s poll for The Heavy Purse as you received some valuable insight. Interestingly, I actually never thought you were boasting about Kim becoming a CPA or you becoming a stay-at-home dad. I was and am very proud of both of you. While some blogs are certainly less personal and more business, I consider yours to be a fairly personal so it felt right that you would share those things with us. What I do wonder is if it felt different to me because we are blogging buddies and I’ve read your blog for what – 2 years? I may feel more personally invested in what’s happening in your life and successes, than more general readers. I try to write posts that I believe provide immense value, as I know you do too, but I never thought about how regular readers versus a new(ish) reader might interpret things differently.

    • I think you should do it Shannon. Even if you only get a few responses it’s worth it.

      There probably is a difference in how readers perceive content based on the duration of time they’ve been reading at the site. I hadn’t thought of that before this survey. Someone who joined right when that happened may have felt I was harping on that issue when, in reality I had been building to and mentioning the accomplishment of that goal since the day the blog began.

  10. I did a reader survey a year or so ago and it was really helpful. I learned that the people who come to my site are primarily focused with making money which…no surprisingly, is the main focus of my site. Getting to know what type of readers you attract is extremely important. I did not include an open-ended question, which I now regret. I may have to give this a try again this year.

    • I thought the demographic info was interesting but what really will move me forward in helping my audience was the open-ended questions. When people can freely share they will let you know how they feel, like or dislike.

  11. I can imagine reading that particular feedback would have more than stung! Yet it’s so important to accept criticism in order to improve. This has made me think twice re my blog about “overkill” on particular achievments. A survey is a great idea and one I’ll definitely be doing in the future. Thanks for sharing this Brian!

  12. Wow interesting. I might have to consider doing one. I used survey monkey when I did my “so you want to move to LA” series, which was very helpful. BTW I totally do not think you were bragging at all about yours or your wife’s successes. If anything, I find you to be very humble and grounded…for what it’s worth. 🙂

    • I’ve read nothing but positive things about SurveyMonkey…It’s highly recommended. Maybe the next time around I’ll give it a shot. Thanks for the encouragement as well. 🙂

  13. Awesome feedback Brian! We do stuff like this for our clients and for some odd reason I’ve never done it for the site…me thinks that should change! That’s awesome you were able to come up with that many topic ideas from the sampling as well, especially as it’s coming from the data you pulled out. It can feel like you’re sort of shooting in the dark at times when it comes to content, so having input directly from readers should only directly benefit you and what you publish.

    As to the negative comment, I can understand where they might be coming from and they might even say similar things about me…that said I take it with a grain of salt. It was a major change for you & the family so it only stands to reason you’d be processing through it. I never took it as boasting or anything like that, but simply to encourage others.

    • After writing for awhile you think you’ve covered every personal finance topic possible. I couldn’t believe how my mind was popping with ideas when I read the responses of what people say they needed.

  14. Very cool idea- I would like to have that same type of information from my readers! I guess it’s time to add a survey to my very long list of things to get done.

  15. Wow! It looks like that was time very well spent. We did the same for our podcast about a year ago and changed the format slightly because of it and also were surprised by who answered. Most of our listeners are college-educated women, yet most of my email questions come from men. There was a whole audience I was talking to that I didn’t know was listening. …talk about a wake up call.

    • “There was a whole audience I was talking to that I didn’t know was listening…” That’s really what makes this worth the effort. I wouldn’t have (didn’t) know anything about who was paying attention to me.

  16. Those were some interesting stats and comments to get back from your readers. I’ll have to try this some time soon for my own blog. I’m very curious what kind of feedback I’d get….

    • I’d highly recommend it MMD. I gained so much valuable information and it really took little effort to compile. Once the form was set up Google did all the recording and graphing of responses.

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