How To Reduce Ghost Completes And Improve Survey Responses

Surveys are a must-have tool in every content marketer’s arsenal.

This long-standing, popular form of data collection enables marketers to glean valuable insights that can be used in a variety of content formats.

While you’d expect your respondents to answer every question to the best of their ability, fraudulent responses are becoming more prevalent.

One of these types of fraudulent responses gaining traction is a phenomenon known as “ghost completes.”

In this post, we’ll explore how ghost completes undermine the surveying process, factors that contribute to ghost completes, as well as strategies to reduce ghost completes to improve content quality.

First, let’s define what a ghost complete is.

What Is A Ghost Complete?

A ghost complete occurs when a survey respondent qualifies for an incentive, and it appears they’ve completed the survey, but no data is collected.

By gaming the system, ghost completes occur when a respondent uses unencrypted redirect links.

As a result, ghost completes negatively impact data quality, undermine the survey’s validity, and lead to gaps in the dataset.

This form of fraudulent activity obfuscates the survey’s integrity, making it difficult for marketers to translate responses into measurable and meaningful insights.

In the absence of high-quality data, the survey can become obsolete and an unnecessary expense for marketers.

Aside from its impact on marketers, ghost completes can disrupt an entire ecosystem. Clients who expect to see valid responses are instead met with invalid completes.

Content marketers cannot convey the true message behind the research and source tangible takeaways. This results in detrimental campaign outcomes such as the time spent planning, outlining, drafting, publishing, and promoting a research study.

How Survey Fraud Impacts Content Marketers

Content marketers rely on accurate, thoughtful survey responses to gather valuable insights about their target audience.

They translate this information into relevant and engaging content in the form of infographics, blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, social posts, and more.

This content can lead to more traffic, leads, conversions, demos, and sales.

However, if the survey responses are incomplete or fraudulent, the results will be skewed, and the content marketer won’t be able to draft a piece based on accurate data.

This can lead to a number of issues, such as:

  • Creating unhelpful and irrelevant content.
  • Missing out on opportunities to effectively reach and engage potential customers.
  • Wasting time and resources on incomplete data.
  • Potential loss of trust and credibility with your target audience.

How Quality Issues Impact Survey Performance

The rise in fraudulent activity is prevalent among many industries, including the market research industry. That being said, the market research industry is still in its early stages of technology adoption and awareness of security.

As technology advances and becomes more sophisticated in the market research industry, so, too, does the likelihood of fraud.

Fraud, however, isn’t the only issue impacting survey outcomes. Other data quality issues haunt market researchers as well, such as:

Survey Length

Long, complex surveys lead to lower completion rates.

A study found surveys that included 1 to 3 questions had an average completion rate of 83.34%.

In contrast, surveys with 15 questions and more have a completion rate of 41.94%.

Lack Of Incentive

Consumers may feel less inclined to complete online surveys if there isn’t an incentive to do so.

Offering an incentive, such as a gift card for completion, can help prompt consumers to complete a survey.

Research results show an incentive will typically lift response rates by 10-15% (depending on the quality and attractiveness of the incentive to your target audience).

Poor Survey Design

If your survey isn’t easy to follow, has too many open-ended questions, jumps around to different topics, or doesn’t flow seamlessly, individuals may not complete it.

Provide clear instructions, a logical flow, and visually engaging elements to engage survey respondents.

Lack Of Personalization

If a respondent doesn’t feel connected to the content and context of the survey, they are less likely to provide meaningful responses.

Personalization is critical in any marketing effort, including consumer surveys.

Personalize your survey invitations to encourage participation and capture your respondents’ attention.

Survey Delivery

As with other marketing initiatives, sometimes your first attempt to grab a potential customer’s attention doesn’t quite work. The same logic applies when soliciting survey feedback.

Send your survey out multiple times to encourage maximum participation. Send a follow-up invitation to remind participants to complete the survey before the end date.

Fraud Vs. Quality Issues

The market research industry’s growing source of incomplete and inaccurate data stems from more than just the previously mentioned quality issues. Consider the following ways fraud differs from data quality.

Types Of Fraud

  • Ghost completes.
  • Repetitive responses.
  • Systematic behavior.
  • Similar IP address.
  • Inputting the same response for open-ended questions.
  • Using gibberish or a different language in open-ended questions.

Data Quality Issues

  • Key smashing, or typing a random sequence of letters or numbers.
  • Contradictory responses.
  • Inappropriate responses (such as profanity).
  • Unthoughtful or poor responses to open-ended questions.

Despite your best efforts, data quality issues, fraud, and problematic responses are unfortunately bound to arise.

However, market research organizations can mitigate the potential of fraud, and ghost completes in particular. We’ll cover more strategies to reduce ghost completes next.

Strategies To Reduce Ghost Completes

Ghost completes have become an industry-wide problem, haunting market research companies and businesses working with market researchers to conduct consumer surveys.

This then impacts data analysts and content marketers by turning over skewed results, which may lead to your survey having less of an impact.

How can your business stop this costly phenomenon from happening, or how can you mitigate this issue for your clients as a market research company?

Here are some recommendations to avoid fraudulent responses and ghost completes.

  • Share secure links: Ensure your links are secure to avoid fraudulent entry.
  • Encrypt links: Link encryption provides confidentiality and integrity to the transmitted data. It also makes it nearly impossible to identify the parameters being passed, leading to links that are less easily manipulated.
  • Work with a partner to ensure security: A technology partner can help facilitate the connections between buyers and suppliers. This enables both security and the ability to validate response data in real time.
  • Confirmation of legitimate survey responses: Server-to-server callbacks enable the server hosting the survey to send a callback to a designated server or system responsible for recording and validating survey responses. This callback serves as a confirmation that a legitimate survey completion has occurred.

Additionally, a few best practices to consider include:

  • If you see something amiss, say something to your survey platform partner. They will be able to determine the reason behind the bad data and create an action plan to resolve it.
  • Include data quality questions. This minimizes the opportunity for survey “bots” and rogue respondents to negatively impact data.
  • Report bad data in real time. Try and report bad data in as close to real-time as possible.

Putting It All Together

In an era where quality content reigns supreme (and is more likely to make its way to the top of the search engine results pages), online studies and other research content types win when ghost completes aren’t haunting the results.

By implementing the strategies outlined in this blog post, content marketers and researchers can minimize ghost completes, enhance response quality, and ultimately obtain highly impactful data for informed decision-making.

Content will become more valuable, useful, and impactful, leading to more shares, higher search engine visibility, and better campaign outcomes.

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Featured Image: Ahmet Misirligul/Shutterstock

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