Market Research

Choose the best free survey tool for your business – 2020 buyer’s guide

A quick search for online survey tools will show just how many vendors there are to choose from. To help you pick the right one for your business, here are the key features and functionality to look out for when deciding which survey platform is right for your business.

Why use a survey tool?

There’s no part of an organization that can’t benefit from using a survey tool in some way — from your marketing team running an audience segmentation study or testing their latest ad campaign to your HR team checking in with the workforce to understand more about employee engagement, survey tools provide a quick and easy way to gather data on just about any topic.

Must-have features for your survey tool

The best survey tools go way beyond simply designing a set of questions, emailing them out and then seeing your results in a spreadsheet at the end of it.

In fact, the most successful tools use the survey as the starting point to gather data and add in a whole host of different functionalities that help you to analyze it, find insights and take action.

And the very best do it all in a way that’s easy for anyone from an intern to a Ph.D. researcher to come to grips with.

Here are some of the best features to look out for as you select your survey software in 2020. To find out more about any of these features in Qualtrics, open a free account to see how it works.

Ease of use

It goes without saying, not everyone should need to be an expert researcher to start fielding surveys. Look out for a survey tool with a user-friendly interface that makes building a survey as easy as writing and sending an email.

WYSIWYG editing and drag-and-drop functionality help you to build your surveys easily - just type your question in and, if you need to move it, click and drag to a new position.

Some survey tools also provide simple dropdown menus of different question types to ask – e.g. open text fields, matrix tables, multiple-choice and even more complex ones like heatmaps or pick, rank and sum.


In fact, in Qualtrics, you’ll find over 200 question types to choose from with handy hints and tips to help you choose the right questions to get the data you need!

Some organizations might need additional capabilities, so a survey tool that also offers the ability for more technical users to update the coding and create more complex surveys is a real bonus.

Look and Feel

If you’re sending a survey from your company - say to customers or employees - you’ll want to be able to control the look and feel.

Like any communication, your surveys are an opportunity to reinforce your brand, so look out for survey platforms that provide the flexibility to create your own look and feel or update your branding.


Sending out a survey is just the start — the hard work starts when the data comes in and you need to make sense of it.

Avoid survey platforms that simply present the data in a series of tables or spreadsheets — these require time and effort to interpret and, unless you’re a seasoned researcher, this could lead you to miss vital insights from your dataset.

Mobile Survey dashboard report The best survey platforms also include reporting functionality that allows you to:

  • Visualize your data in easy-to-read charts
  • Create your own reports with a wide range of visuals to choose from
  • Choose your format, from PDF and word document to web pages
  • See different demographics or data cuts side-by-side
  • Share reports quickly and easily with others in the organization

Another useful feature to look out for as you pick a survey platform is the ability to build reports using filters and breakouts. This is useful if you want to cut the data for different stakeholders in the business — you simply create your report, choose your breakouts and the software automatically creates the different reports you need.

For more advanced researchers, the ability to export data to other formats like SPSS is a useful addition that allows you to take the data you’ve collected and use it in the programs and software you’re using for data analysis elsewhere.


Once you’ve built your survey, you’ll need a way to get it out to your target audience. Look for a platform that offers a multitude of ways to get your survey in front of people.

Here are some of the most common ways people distribute surveys through Qualtrics:

  • Email
  • QR code
  • SMS
  • In-app or website pop-ups
  • Online feedback buttons
  • IVR

Before you choose a platform, make sure to think carefully about how you’ll send your survey and check to make sure it’s supported.

Panels and online sample

While many surveys are sent to customers and employees, you may also want to look outside the organization to gather responses, for example when your database is particularly small or you’re doing research into a new group that’s not represented in your existing database.

The best survey platforms offer built-in panels or online sample services — these provide responses from whichever audience you need to provide the data for your research.

Find out about Qualtrics online sample

Quantitative data analysis

Reporting on data is one thing, but in many cases, you’ll want to dig deeper to start making connections between different data sets.

Built-in analysis tools can help turn a simple free online survey tool into a sophisticated research platform. And the best ones make it easily accessible and available to everyone in the organization — not just the data scientists.

Statistical Analysis - Stats IQThe best platforms today have analytical tools built in that perform complex statistical analysis at the click of a button. These include:

  • Relate
  • Multivariate regression
  • Key driver analysis
  • Predictive analysis

These statistical analysis tools are the difference between having ‘data’ and having ‘insights.’

Qualitative data analysis

Until recently, most people avoided having too many open text questions in their surveys. The responses were near impossible to analyze at scale — researchers had to dig through hundreds of thousands of responses and manually tag them to find patterns.

Today, the text analytics software that comes with the best online survey tools makes light work of text responses — it automatically analyzes responses, assigns topics and sentiment scores and automatically shows you the trending topics and sentiment.

Text Analysis - Text IQ It’s a vital feature for customer or employee survey projects because it allows you to see when a specific topic is being talked about more positively or negatively than before, signaling that you need to investigate what’s causing it.

Thanks to these additional features, more and more people are asking open text questions in their surveys — people talk much more freely in their own words than with a simple multiple-choice question, and these more ‘natural’ responses can generate much deeper insights as a result.

It also opens the door to pull in other sources of open text feedback, such as online reviews, or social media comments - the same analysis that applies to a survey answer can apply here too!


Your surveys are often part of a wider project in the organization. Take customer experience for example – you may want to send out a simple customer satisfaction survey out to a selection of customers.

The data you get back is incredibly useful as it tells you about the sentiments and emotions of your customers. But when you combine that data with your existing software, such as your CRM, HR systems or ERP, you can see how those experiences impact behavior.

So do happy customers spend more with you? How much will a one-point increase in NPS deliver back to the bottom line? Or which part of the employee experience has the biggest impact on attrition.

Qualtrics Integrations

The best survey platforms offer integrations into a whole host of other systems that pass data both ways. So when someone fills out a survey, for example, their responses can be automatically sent to a customer database like a CRM — it’s great not just for analyzing different data sets but ensuring that you have a single record of all your interactions with people, giving you the full picture about your customers and employees.

At Qualtrics, we integrate into any system through an open API, and also offer a number of pre-built integrations including:

  • Salesforce
  • SAP
  • Marketo
  • Tableau
  • ZenDesk
  • Workday
  • Microsoft

It means all your systems talk to one another, so your surveys can help to drive initiatives across the entire organization.

See all our integrations

Artificial Intelligence

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has been at the forefront of some exciting new developments, making survey platforms even more powerful.

For example, AI is now embedded into the Qualtrics platform through Expert Review — whenever you’re building a survey it offers proactive suggestions to improve it. The tool can also proactively spot potential issues with data protection and personally identifiable information (PII), and flag them before a survey goes live.

Expert Review - ExpertReview by Qualtrics

With the help of AI, the best survey platforms can now automate much of the data and analysis too, suggesting the most important insights, suggesting next steps and even making a powerful prediction about the future - all based on your survey data!

Collaboration features

Make sure the survey tool you choose allows you to collaborate easily with colleagues. Here are a few essential features to help make sure your projects are more collaborative:

  • Sharing projects with a single click
  • Alerts and safeguards for multiple users editing a survey at the same time
  • Scheduled reports and data sharing

Security and data protection

No assessment of a survey tool would be complete without close scrutiny of its security credentials. Whenever you deal with customer or employee data, keeping it safe and secure is paramount, with plenty of rules and regulations in different countries and some steep penalties for non-compliance.

Here are the basics to look out for:

  • ISO2001 certification
  • Sensitive data handling
  • GDPR one-touch deletion
  • User access controls
  • Single Sign-On
  • Data encryption in transit
  • Multi-factor authentication

In some industries, there are other regulations to remember too like FedRAMP for the US Government or HITRUST in healthcare. Make sure you check with your survey provider that they have the right policies and certifications in place.

Check out Qualtrics’ security features

Pricing & packages of online survey tools

Most online survey tools will have a ‘free’ version of the product as well as a premium offering that offers more features and functionality.

The price you’ll pay will vary from a monthly subscription cost for each user with some vendors to organization-wide licenses that open up a platform to everyone in an organization who wants a login.

While most survey platforms offer a free trial, you may want to add additional features offered in a subscription so it’s always best to get in touch to see what’s included.

Questions to ask when choosing a survey tool

With your list of features ticked off, there are a few other things worth thinking about when making your decision.

Here are some potential questions to ask all your vendors:

Do they offer 24/7 support to all users?

Because you never know when you’ll need a hand!

Do they offer free training for your teams?

Open training courses are a great way for everyone to get to grips with the basics

Are their surveys mobile responsive?

This is essential if you want to keep response rates high.

Can you see your data in real-time?

Nobody wants to wait weeks for it - the best platforms deliver real-time data

Can you get pre-built templates?

Save time with expert-designed templates ready to go from the moment you log in. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Don’t just take our word for it. Check out some of the latest reviews of Qualtrics

“The Qualtrics application is very intuitive so our staff can pick up the basics quickly. At the same time, there's a depth of features, with good documentation to back them up, to do most anything you can think of.” - David B

“Of all the survey platforms I have used (Wufoo, google forms, survey monkey), Qualtrics has proven to be the most flexible and functional. It is extremely user-friendly and building surveys are a breeze!” - Katie P

“Qualtrics combines an easy to use interface with best in class question types and analytics tools, while investing in robust development, to deliver an unrivaled insights platform” - John K

“I’ve used Qualtrics for 10 years! I’ve been in love with it that long. The flexibility, the ability to modify and enhance, the support - I can go on but it is easily the best piece of software I’ve used - ever.” - Rebekah A

Check out all our reviews on:

10,500+ of the world’s biggest brands turn to Qualtrics

Free Account: Start Creating Surveys Today

Jack Davies // Head of Content, Global

Jack leads the content team at Qualtrics, managing a team of writers and editors who eat, sleep, and breathe Experience Management. He occasionally writes too. Before joining Qualtrics, he spent over 10 years working in advertising and journalism.

Related articles