Meike Hendriks is a digital marketer at the Yoast SEO team. She works on SEO, SEA, and CRO to continuously improve Yoast.com.
What are the benefits of having a research panel for your business? And what are the differences compared to other types of research? In a nutshell, panel research can give you deeper insights into your audience. But it’s most valuable if you combine it with other types of user research. Here, we’ll tell you what kind of insights you can get from panel research and how to recruit and set up a panel.
Getting to know your audience well is essential if you want to be successful in the search results. So user research should be part of your SEO efforts. This is the third post in our user research series, you might want to check out our posts about top task surveys and exit surveys too!
What is panel research?
Panel research refers to collecting data from a (self-)recruited set of people. In this type of research, you regularly send questions to the same group of people. In doing so, you’ll get to know how these people value your business, products or information. What’s more, you can even get input for new ideas, whether that ‘d be a product, service or platform, for instance.
Because you’re asking questions to the same group of people, you really get to know how they think. And if you do it right, you can get valuable input out of the combination of answers they give.
For example, when the younger participants of your group – let’s say, the people between 15 and 25 years old – all tell you that they appreciate the environmental friendliness of your products, but older people don’t mention this, you’ve already received valuable information. Knowing this, you could focus on being environmentally-friendly in advertisements for younger people. For people above 25, you might want to focus on other aspects of your products.
Then, in the next survey, you could ask how they prefer to receive advertisements. If the younger group tells you they prefer newsletters and the older group tells you they like brochures, you can personalize your advertising even more.
Are the answers representative?
As you can see, you can get valuable information from a panel. However, you need to keep in mind that the answers given by your panel group aren’t always a representation of all your clients or customers. Therefore, it’s good to combine panel surveys with other types of research, such as an exit survey.
For instance, it’s easy to ask open questions to the members of your panel to get detailed data. After that, with an exit survey, it’s easier to ask closed questions based on the panel survey outcomes. Combining all of the data, you can be even more sure about the representativeness of the answers.
Also, when you send monthly or 2-monthly surveys, we’d recommend renewing your panel group about once a year. In doing so, you prevent people from becoming less interested and motivated and you’ll get fresh input from a new group.
Of course, you can also start a new panel for a different topic. You can have several panel groups at the same time. However, panel research is quite intensive, so to start off, it’s better to have one person within your company to focus on one panel and do that right.
Recruiting for a representative panel
So how to start recruiting people for such a panel? Well, you can use several tactics to recruit people. We’ll explain them here:
Participants from other research
When you’re already carrying out other types of research, you could ask if the respondents would like to participate in a panel. For example, at the end of a survey, you could add a question such as ‘Would you like to participate in other research for [your company name]?’ or even more specific: ‘Would you like to sign up for our panel and get the opportunity to give regularly input on new products/services?’ Most people who sign up from here, are already motivated and don’t need an incentive.
Your newsletter subscribers
Of course, you can do the same for your newsletter. More people will read your call for participants, but you’ll probably have a lower response rate. The difference with asking people in other research is that they’re already willing to help you with your research. Newsletter readers might not be internally motivated to help you. So, here, it can be helpful to add an incentive such as a discount code for products on your website.
On your website
On your website, you’ll probably have the same issue as in your newsletter, but since it’s quite easy to add a small pop-up asking people to participate we’d recommend doing so. Make sure they only see the pop-up once to prevent people from getting annoyed by your call for respondents. Here, it’ll also help to provide people with an incentive.
On social media
To reach a lot of people, you could also add a call for respondents on your social media channels. The advantage of social media is that you can reach people who don’t know your company yet. For some surveys or questions, this can be valuable: they can give you very unbiased answers. We’d also recommend offering an incentive here.
Buying a panel group
Another option is buying a group of people for your research. Why would you do this? Sometimes you’re looking for such a specific group of people, it’s hard to find them yourselves. In this case, you can get help from an agency specialized in panel research. They have big databases with people who signed up for participating in a panel.
However, you shouldn’t forget that these people participate in exchange for money or other rewards. Therefore, we think you should always try recruiting members of your panel yourself, but if that doesn’t work, this definitely can be a final option.
How many people do you need?
We recommend setting up a research panel of at least 30 people. Nevertheless, it’s smart to start with a somewhat larger group, because chances are not everybody will fill out all of the surveys you’ll be sending out.
What to do with the results
As we mentioned before, it’s good to combine surveys. Because you have the same group of people answering your questions, you can get deeper insights compared to other research types. For example, you could create client profiles out of the answers. These profiles can be used to improve your advertisements or enhance your services.
Don’t forget to share your results with other departments of your company as well. Sometimes, panels can be an eye-opener when it comes to certain topics. If you involve other departments, research will become an indispensable part of your company in the future. It also works the other way around: other departments can provide great ideas for new survey input. Do they have questions they would like to be answered? Or can they come up with more specific questions about a certain topic for the next survey?
Lastly, we recommend sharing some of your findings or improvements you’ve based on your panel’s input with your panel. If they see the results of their effort and input, they’ll remain more motivated to fill out future surveys.
After reading this, do you think you would start a research panel in the future? Or have you ever done panel research before? Let us know in the comments!
Read more: Why and how to investigate the top tasks of your visitors »