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The Top 13 Do’s and Don’ts of Paid Online Surveys

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Paid surveys are wildly popular. Just type “paid online surveys” into the Google search bar and take a gander at the millions of entries that come up. Online surveys are a great way for companies to reach the masses with minimal cost. They can also be an interesting way for consumers to add to their income through cash payments, gift cards or points that can be exchanged for money or prizes. However, consumers should be aware of some of the do’s and don’ts of participating in online surveys so they can avoid scams, earn extra cash and provide market research firms with the data they need.

DO evaluate survey sites. There are some sites that pose as market researchers solely to obtain information from consumers. These sites will sell your information to advertisers and you will then be the recipient of unwanted spam if you sign up with them. As part of your due diligence, read every site’s privacy policy before enrolling to ensure it is legitimate and your information will not be sold. Marketing sites that pose as survey sites are likely to disclose their practice of sharing member information with other parties in their privacy policy. If you can’t find a privacy policy link, consider skipping that site and looking for another with easily located policy information. A credible website may have a privacy policy that includes a statement like the following: “We do not share personally identifiable information with other third-party organizations for their marketing or promotional uses without your consent except as part of a specific program or feature for which you will have the ability to opt out.” Check out Survey Junkie’s privacy policy; it’s a good example of the quality of the information that should be provided by a legitimate market research company.

DO join multiple survey sites. Experienced online survey members suggest interested consumers join multiple survey sites to increase the frequency of survey invitations. Some companies send out multiple survey invitations per day while others only send out a few per month.

DO set up an email address dedicated to your survey side gigs. Register with an e-mail address that is only used to receive survey invitations. Signing up with multiple sites is likely to generate a lot of legitimate, inbox-clogging mail! Down the road, if you decide you no longer want to take surveys, you can simply delete the e-mail address rather than going through the tedious process of unsubscribing from each account.

DO check your email account frequently. Participants need to respond to invitations quickly as many are first-come-first-served. Market researchers are typically looking for multiple categories of participants. If the category you fall into fills, you will be blocked from that survey. There’s no guarantee you will qualify for a survey – market researchers don’t disclose survey criteria. However, being quick on the draw gives you a chance to participate (and be rewarded!).

DO sign up for PayPal (or similar service). It’s never a good idea to share banking information. That doesn’t mean market researchers as a group are untrustworthy! However, there are unscrupulous people in the mix, so to my mind, it’s best to err on the side of caution, particularly when it’s so easy to do so by signing up for a PayPal account. You can have confidence with PayPal as your go-between – they fiercely safeguard user information!

DO sign up! Don’t think you’re unqualified to participate in surveys, perform product testing, write music, restaurant, movie or commercial reviews or join focus groups! Market researchers don’t generally specify what demographic they’re targeting, so if you’re a caregiver, senior, military spouse, student (18 and older for the most part), veteran, man, woman or any religion or ethnicity, you have a chance to participate! It typically takes just a few minutes to complete a pre-screener, so it’s worth it to give it a try if you’re serious about survey/research gigs. You can’t qualify if you don’t try!

DON’T give out personal information. It’s normal to be asked your date of birth, birth year or age as part of the screening process. However, avoid sites that want privileged information, such as your social security or driver’s license number. These are likely to be scams and may be set up to collect data by identity thieves. Many legitimate survey companies pay via check, PayPal and/or gift cards, so while your mailing address is needed, other personal information is not. (Caveat: if you earn more than $600 in a year from a single company, they (and you) are required to submit a 1099 [tax doc] to the government declaring the income. Personal information may be required to submit the 1099. Consult an accountant or visit irs.gov for more information on this topic.)

DON’T pay to play. Don’t engage with any company that promises survey gigs or big bucks then wants you to pay for access to them. There is no way to guarantee that every person who signs up to participate would qualify for every survey! In addition, most surveys and review gigs pay small amounts, so going back to point #2, it’s in your best interest to sign up with multiple (legitimate!) market research sites to maximize your payday.

DO be proactive and learn what is expected for each gig. Be aware of what you’re signing up for. Some surveys or review gigs will take five minutes while others may require a longer time commitment. Some jury research gigs in particular can take an hour or more rather than minutes if you are selected to be part of an online (or in-person) focus group. If your time is limited (a.k.a. you’re trying to squeeze in the latest survey while in the pickup line at your kids’ school), find out what the market research firm’s policy is on pausing a survey once you’ve started it. Survey sites may or may not allow you to stop and re-start a survey, so it’s better for everyone to be proactive and find out before you begin. In contrast, gigs like reading email, watching movies or previews, testing products or mystery shopping tend to have less structured time frames.

DO have reasonable expectations. It’s unrealistic to expect to earn the mother-load for survey participation. You may occasionally be invited to screen for a survey or focus group with a higher payout, but they are very few and far between. Better to take the “buckshot approach” and fire off as many surveys as you qualify for. Volume is key and for most is the way to make the effort worthwhile. In addition, opportunities to test (and keep!) products or review a store or restaurant (think free goodies or meals) may be worth the trade-off, especially if those goodies or meals out are typically beyond the stretch of your budget.

DO be flexible. While participants can work from home, completing surveys from a desktop or laptop, they may also be solicited to join a virtual or local area, live focus group. Participants are usually scheduled for a specified day and time and are required to attend for the entire scheduled event to receive payment. On the flip side, focus groups typically take longer than your average survey, so the compensation should be considerably higher!

DO be honest. It’s important for participants to be honest in their responses. Don’t have your kids fill out surveys and don’t make up answers! Legitimate companies want honest information from the participants they screened. Market research companies have clients who are seeking information they need to make decisions, develop or launch products, improve how they attract and retain consumers and more. It’s not finding a cure for cancer, but it is important work to the businesses who commission the research.

DO perform due diligence. It’s important to research the companies you want to join – before you join! Do a Google or Yahoo search for reviews or complaints and check out the Better Business Bureau to see if a company is rated or complaints have been filed against it. Websites like abcnews.com, cnn.com and newswire.com may also have articles, reviews or reports posted about market research companies, survey or focus group sites or online surveys in general.

Recommended Paid Survey Sites

Earning income with paid surveys

Following is a list of our preferred survey sites. Each is free to register and participate. While you will not replace a full-time job by completing surveys, reviewing products or entering sweepstakes (expectations!), each listing offers readers opportunities to earn and supplement their income through cash rewards, gift cards, free products/meals and/or contest or sweepstakes entries.

Click2Win4Life. Join today for FREE access to a series of entries into sweepstakes. There are basic survey questions that cover behavior (Do you smoke?) and demographic information (Do you have children?). Sweepstakes are always free to submit.

Earning Station. Established in 2011, Earning Station is a free and simple to use customer rewards site that provides users with a variety of online offers and activities like games, surveys, shopping and more. Users complete activities to earn gift cards. Thanks to their use of advanced technology, Earning Station is able to provide users with an enjoyable and customized experience. New offers are added regularly to keep content fresh; users can return daily for new opportunities.

E-poll. The goal at E-poll is to give users an effective tool for projecting their voices through interactive surveys. E-poll surveys focus on a variety of issues that affect users’ everyday lives. Earn valuable reward points that can be cashed in for gift cards or incentives.

Everyday Family. This site is a little different from most of the others listed in this post. Here, users can find a number of different offers on free baby samples and coupons from name brand advertisers. All registered members are entered to win free diapers for a year! That alone makes it worth the few minutes it takes to register!

Harris Poll. With Harris Poll Online, members take surveys and use their opinions to influence important decision makers in government, corporations and non-profit organizations. Members are encouraged to participate in a variety of market research surveys. Once users become Harris Poll members, they instantly receive a quick survey to earn those first points! Once the initial survey is completed, members start receiving email invitations to participate in a variety of cool surveys. For every survey successfully completed, members receive points (“HIpoints”), which they can exchange for awesome rewards after just doing a couple of surveys! Also, with every survey completed, members have a chance to enter Harris Poll’s biweekly and quarterly Harris Panel Sweepstakes. Harris Poll is one of the world’s oldest market research firms with experience spanning more than 50 years! They work with 74 of the Fortune 100 companies and partner with more than 500 public relations firms.

Live Sample. On this site, members can complete up to two surveys per day, every day. If a member does not qualify for one survey, they are taken to another at their discretion. Each time a survey is completed, a member is entered into LiveSample’s sweepstakes where participants can win one of nine prizes. If a member completes the maximum of 14 surveys in a week, then they are entered 14 times that week into the sweepstakes.

Lucky7 (Shopper’s Voice). This site offers users a sweepstakes entry followed by a quick survey. Once users get through this initial section, they are taken to Shopper’s Voice, which offers free products, coupons and special offers tailored to what users like and want. Users can also participate in paid surveys at this point to earn rewards and entries into monthly drawings. Shopper’s Voice has been in the market research biz for more than 25 years and using consumer data to help shape how common brands, products and services are developed and improved.

Mobile Xpression. Members are expected to download and install an app on their mobile device, and keep it installed for at least 30 days. This research software will monitor members’ mobile internet activity (only, never phone calls or texts) and allows Mobile Xpression to develop an understanding of how they use the internet on their mobile devices. In return, after members have been active members for one week, they will receive Mobile Xpression credits that can be redeemed for a $5.00 Amazon gift card. In addition, all MobileXpressions members are guaranteed rewards for their participation; that means prizes such as cash, gift cards, and merchandise. Active members are also eligible for weekly prizes in their "Weekly Winners" sweepstakes. A new prize is awarded each week. According to their site, they’ve given away iPads, Kindles, digital cameras, and many other exciting prizes.

Nielsen. Nielsen is a professional research company and the world’s leading provider of media and marketing information, including the Nielsen TV ratings. Their mission is to learn about what people watch, listen to and buy, as well as what they do online. Participants are asked to install the Nielsen App on their computers and in exchange, will be automatically entered into their sweepstakes (they give away $10,000 each month). Other reward opportunities are earned by registering multiple devices and maintaining the app relationship with Nielsen. How it works: Once the Nielsen App is installed, it begins collecting information on device usage: apps used, websites visited, etc. The app will eventually ‘sync’ with Nielsen’s database, sending out collected information. This does not happen immediately or automatically, but should happen to legitimate users who actively use their devices, within a week or two of installing the app. It will not happen if users immediately uninstall the app. Because this is a longer process, it may take up to 30 days to credit users.

OneOpinion. This site offers free and easy registration in 60 seconds or less! In exchange for survey participation, members earn points that they can trade in for rewards (starting at 25,000 points). Reward choices include Visa Debit Cards, which can be used just about anywhere. Per their website, OneOpinion says, “We are committed to putting our members’ needs first and value the time and cooperation of everyone who participates in our surveys. We work hard to make it simple for you to have interesting survey opportunities, earn rewards and cash out fast.” Unlike many other survey sites on the internet, OneOpinion has posted the names and pictures of their founders and team members and pledges “fast rewards, honesty and 24/7 care” to make it an easy and rewarding experience for participants.

Opinion Network Daily Surveys. ONDS allows members to complete up to 10 surveys a day. Screening profile questions are used to help select the best surveys for each participant and direct participants to partner survey sites. Survey rewards are paid through the survey partners associated with ONDS.

Opinion Outpost. With Opinion Outpost, members earn cash and gift cards by sharing their opinions in online surveys. They can also enter to win a $10,000 quarterly prize draw simply by participating. It’s 100% free to sign up with Opinion Outpost and there are 1000’s of survey opportunities for members to screen for. Claim rewards in seven different ways including cash and gift cards.

Opinion Surveys. This site offers users entries to win a $1,000 prize draw. Users may complete unlimited surveys per day. A completed survey means automatic entry for this site’s cash prize drawing.

OxSample Survey Router. This site produces daily surveys that can be completed up to three times a day per member. Reward information is unavailable. However, there is no fee to join and explore. Users are asked a series of demographic questions as a screener, then redirected to associated sites for surveys.

Panel Bucks. This site gives users instant, risk free access to paid surveys, mystery shopping jobs and more including free online discount coupons, exclusive offers and savings and leads for work-from-home opportunities. Users are also given the opportunity to screen for focus groups and sign up to try out new products.

Panel Pay Day. Panel Pay Day states members can earn from $25-$75 per survey through verified paid survey panels and mystery shopping jobs. Members can also earn $25 the day they sign up just for joining ‘instant cash surveys.’ According to their site, Panel Pay Day has been in business since 2000 and offers several ways for members to participate: taking online surveys, participating in focus groups, participating in discussion groups, working as a mystery shopper and taking part in real online jobs handpicked by the Panel Pay Day team.

Panel Station. Members’ opinions on consumer goods, technology, healthcare, travel and finance help global brands build better products and create better experiences. The company reports distributing more than $2,000,000 annually in incentives worldwide to members. They are part of Borderless Access Pvt. Ltd., an online market research survey and panel company that specializes in providing consumer insights via online panel services.

Pinecone Research, Pinecone Research Gen Pop and Pinecone Research 18-24. Pinecone Research is a trusted leader in voicing the opinions of consumers worldwide. Companies seek consumer input to develop new and improved products. By completing Pinecone online surveys, consumer opinions will directly influence tomorrow’s products today, with the bonus of rewards for their participation. By joining, members earn points for each survey they complete. Points can be redeemed for cash or prizes. Pinecone also occasionally sends out offers to test a product and sweepstakes entries for quarterly prizes.

Product Testing USA. PTU allows members to test a variety of all the latest tech, gadgets, fashion accessories, and more. It also offers members opportunities to become mystery shoppers or secret diners to some “amazing stores and fantastic restaurants all across the U.S.” In exchange for writing a simple review, members get to keep their chosen product for free. Their mission is to give the public the chance to give honest opinions and improve the consumer experience.

QuickRewards.net. In business since 2002, QuickRewards offers members opportunities to shop online, watch videos, take online surveys, read emails, use grocery store coupons, sign up for offers and more. They pride themselves on having extremely fast customer service; emails are returned within 24 hours. Members are paid in gift cards or cash via PayPal with payment received within 72 hours (PayPal) to a week (gift cards).

ShopTracker. This site is part of Harris Poll Online. Their goal is to gain a “rich understanding of the internet marketplace so it can provide exceptional data and insight into how people are using their computers and the internet throughout the U.S. Once users join, they earn a $3 Virtual Visa Reward instantly. Requirements: download the ShopTracker App to a PC or mobile device and link an online shopping account (ex. Amazon). Use the App to login to your Amazon account. Being an exclusive ShopTracker member not only gives users access to easy rewards from Day 1, but opens the door to other exclusive opportunities for giving opinions and earning rewards.