Your Ultimate Guide to Online Surveys: Tips for Earning an Income & Avoiding Scams
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You’ve seen the ads all over the internet and on social media: “Take a survey, get paid!” – or something to that effect. To those unfamiliar with the paid survey industry, the ads can sound a little smarmy. Snake oil for the digital age! However, paid surveys overall get a bad rap. Many of the companies whose business it is to collect data from consumers are established, experienced and effective market research organizations with the primary purpose of fulfilling the mission their clients pay them to achieve. The others, the ones that make wild promises, fail to pay out or require payment for survey access, taint the genuine efforts of the legitimate companies and the paid online survey industry.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of companies out there soliciting consumers to join their survey panels. That means, statistically speaking, there’s going to be a percentage of companies that are run by dishonest individuals who are simply trying to cheat the unaware. In particular, websites or ads that require payment, promise a specific dollar amount earned or advertise an opportunity to get rich are likely trying to scam the public.
It’s not all bad news, though. While you’re not going to make your fortune (or even a livable salary!) solely by participating in paid surveys, you may be able to bolster your budget, support that out-of-control Starbucks habit or splurge on a gift for your child with your earnings. The keys to success are applying common sense when evaluating an offer, performing due diligence before signing up with a company, persevering through surveys you may not qualify for and having realistic expectations.
Evaluating Paid Survey Opportunities
Legitimate market research companies such as OneOpinion recruit panel members based on a screening of demographic characteristics. Collecting demographic information enables researchers to find a representative sample of the population so the data collected is useful to the clients they serve. For example, imagine Pampers wants to restructure its marketing campaign to target older, first-time mothers. They might hire OneOpinion to launch a paid survey and collect data about the shopping behavior and money attitudes of first time moms over 40. That means if you’re under 40, male or childless, you won’t qualify for the survey. That can be frustrating, especially if it happens repeatedly. Keep in mind, though, that this is one of the signs that a market research firm is legitimate. Not everyone who registers SHOULD qualify for every survey. Research firms need a representative sample to participate in a survey of the population of interest in order to produce worthwhile results.
Paid surveys and related activities should also be free to consumers. Legitimate sites will never charge consumers to register, complete surveys, read emails, watch movies, review products or any of the other paid tasks that are available. Companies like Product Testing USA “allow a user to test a variety of all the latest tech, gadgets, fashion accessories and more.” Users are also given the opportunity to “mystery shop some amazing stores and fantastic restaurants all across the US.” Users write a review of the product or experience in exchange for the freebie.
Becoming a Panelist
Experienced online survey members suggest joining multiple paid survey sites since some companies send out multiple survey invitations per day while others only send out a few per month. Register with an e-mail address that you check frequently so you can respond to invitations quickly as many are first-come-first-served. You may also want to consider using a unique e-mail address dedicated to your survey participation: if you sign up with multiple sites, you are likely to receive a great deal of inbox-clogging mail! And down the road, if you decide you no longer want to participate, you can simply delete the e-mail address.
Some experts say it is possible to earn between $50 and $100 a month in cash and free products by completing multiple surveys. The key is to sign up with several legitimate survey sites to increase your chances of being selected for surveys. It takes effort and a willingness to spend the time, but on the flip side, you increase your chances of becoming a paid participant.
Compensation varies widely by company, by survey and by activity. You may receive a few dollars, be sent free products in exchange for trying and providing feedback about them, earn points towards gift cards or be entered into sweepstakes for monthly or quarterly drawings.
Who Should Participate in Paid Surveys?
Paid, online surveys, product testing, music, restaurant, movie or commercial reviews and more are great ways to earn some extra money for a wide range of individuals. If you have extra time on your hands, why not spend it doing something interesting to supplement your income? Caregivers, seniors, military spouses, students (18 and older for the most part) and anyone who finds him- or herself housebound, take note: surveys are a useful, thought-provoking and potentially profitable way to spend that extra time! Explore your options – there are a LOT of survey sites out there – then get serious and follow through. Be sure to follow the recommendations discussed in this post and others so you go in with realistic expectations and an understanding of what a legitimate market research company looks like.
Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t give out personal or financial 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 number or driver’s license number. These are likely to be scams and may be set up to collect data for identity thieves. Experts recommend using a new, dedicated e-mail address just for your survey side-gigs and NEVER giving out financial account information. Many legitimate survey companies pay via check, PayPal and/or gift cards, so while your mailing address is needed, your banking information is not!
Don’t pay to play. It can’t be overstated: stay away from any unsolicited emails asking you to take part in surveys and don’t engage with any company that contacts you with the promise of survey gigs or big bucks, then wants you to pay them for access. For that matter, even if you find a site like this organically, giving promises of guaranteed surveys or substantial paydays is not something a legitimate market research firm would do. There is no way to guarantee that every person who signs up to participate would qualify for every survey! These are very likely scam artists looking to con you out of their ‘fee.’
Do know what you’re getting into. Be aware of what you’re getting into. Some surveys 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. The longer the commitment and more consumer input required, the more likely it is to result in a larger payout. However, 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.
Do maintain 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 few and far between. Better to take the “buckshot approach:” fire off as many surveys as you can. 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, you may also be solicited to join a virtual or local area, in-person focus group. Participants are typically scheduled for a specified day and time and are required to attend to receive payment. On the flip side, focus groups usually 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 legitimate information from legitimate respondents. 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
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.