How to get the target audience for your online surveys – A step-by-step guide

How to get the target audience for your online surveys

At Research Network we recruit participants to smoothly conduct various kinds of research methods like eye tracking, remote and in-person usability testing, field studies, contextual inquiry, diary studies, interviews, focus group discussions, card sorting, A/B testing, online surveys etc. Based on extensive experience and expertise in recruiting participants for online surveys, we intend to share substantial inputs on how to target the right audience for online surveys. We believe that this article enables researchers, market research firms and organisations to not only develop a deeper understanding of how to recruit the right target audience for online surveys but also allows us to pragmatically put them into practice.

In this blog post, we show how to get the target audience for your online surveys. Choosing the right target audience for online surveys is one of the seminal steps of market research. As surveying the wrong audience proves to be a futile process, enough care and caution should be taken while recruiting the participants for the online surveys.


Thus, to help businesses make informed decisions, it becomes key to design an apt survey and run it with the right audience to better cull out appurtenant and actionable insights. This may sound challenging at best, if not intimidating because many things need to be considered to choose the correct survey targets. With the right online survey platform and reliable methods of selecting participants, this process seems to be straightforward and doable.


Very importantly, this article throws light on how to select the right target audience for online surveys, the significance of selecting the right survey audience, sample size determination, potential benefits and perils of using a research panel.

The significance of selecting the correct survey target audience

Central to any good research includes asking the right questions to the right audience. Although the accuracy of the research findings is to a greater extent contingent on a gamut of factors like survey design, data collection method and so on, it is mainly determined by getting the survey responses answered from the right group of people within a reasonable amount of time.


Having said this, selecting the right audience for surveys becomes an important norm as it will help business to make the right decisions, close the gaps and move forward. So how do we select the right survey target audience? However, before jumping the gun, it becomes critical to have a deeper understanding of what your survey target audience is and is not.

Summary Tip: To help business close the gaps and make informed decisions, selecting the right survey target audience becomes a top-notch priority. Also, knowing what you are looking for and devising strategies on how to get it is critical.

Potential pitfall: Surveying wrong people is one of the market research pitfalls that can prove costly and dysfunctional to the organisation. This can be avoided by clearly defining whom to talk to and why.

What your survey target audience is and is not?

Whilst the survey audience may be geared towards the understanding of the target market, it is not tantamount to it. Although the target audience includes the members that fall within the target market, there are nuances that make them different.


The target market is a very large and broad group of people that have been identified as the most likely potential customers for a product because of their shared characteristics such as age, income, and lifestyle. It can be broken into segments based on specific demographics and it is known as market segmentation.


On the other hand, a survey target audience refers to a specific group of people targeted for partaking in a particular survey. As a survey target audience is incredibly important to make decisions pertinent to marketing campaigns and advertising decisions adequate attention must be paid to selecting the right survey target audience. But how to select the right survey target audience?

Summary Tip: Although survey audience contributes significantly to the understanding of the target market, it is not similar to target market. Therefore, it becomes key to distill survey target audience from the target market based on market segmentation.

Potential pitfall: Overlooking the most important target audience in survey poses significant risk to identifying the correct audience. Inadequate segmentation and poor sampling can contribute to the inclusion of irrelevant or wrong audience in the survey.

How to select the right target audience for the surveys?

Regardless of having a well-designed survey, all the efforts prove to be inefficacious, if the questions are not posed to the right target. However, researchers can overcome the problem and uncover the correct survey target audience by identifying and understanding the target market.


Target market and survey audience can be well understood by conducting secondary market research and drawing information from trade magazines, blogs, news sites as well as content-oriented websites that are industry specific. To understand who belongs in the wider target market, it is recommended to look through the competitors target groups and understand whom they market to and produce content for. Turning to research associations to find the latest statistics proves to be a viable option and many sites like Statista, IBISWorld include both qualitative and quantitative findings of sector’s customers.

To better understand the target market and target customers for specific survey studies, it is suggested to identify customer personas and perform market segmentation. More specifically, market segmentation aims to find the right target audience by classifying broad population into subgroups according to demographics, geographic location, attitudes, behaviors or an amalgamation of similar attributes. There is no single universal method to perform market segmentation. To determine market segment, it becomes vital for companies to set the objectives, identify customer segments, evaluate potential segments, develop segment strategy, launch and monitor. There are 6 types of market segmentation:

  1. The first one is demographic segmentation which focuses on capturing identifiable non-character attributes such as age, gender, education, marital status, ethnicity, income, education, religion, and profession.
  2. Second, we have psychographic segmentation which strives to categorise consumers based on their personality, lifestyle, opinions and interests. This is more difficult to achieve as the attributes may change easily and may not have readily available objective data. Despite being the most difficult one, this approach may yield the strongest market segment results as it groups people based on intrinsic motivators as opposed to external data points.
  3. Third, we have geographic segmentation which is technically a subset of demographic segmentation that groups customers by physical location.
  4. Fourth, we have behavioral segmentation that groups customers with regard to their spending habits, purchasing habits, browsing habits, loyalty to the brand and previous product feedback.
  5. Fifth segmentation is firmographic that focuses on the company’s size, number of customers, number of offices, and annual revenue instead of people.
  6. The sixth kind of market segmentation is technographic segmentation which focuses on dividing the audience based on the technology they use.

After narrowing down the target market into segments and identifying unique customer personas, it is key to decide whom to survey. Also, due consideration of the below mentioned questions on survey campaign/business is key as it helps to choose survey target market.

  • What is the objective?
  • What insights do you intend to gain from it?
  • Which part of the business will it serve? (e.g., Increasing subscriptions)
  • Is this tied to a specific geographic location?
  • Will it require studying multiple customer segments?
  • What is the kind of research you intend to use? (Longitudinal or cross-sectional research)
  • Are you aiming to gain insights on new personas /segments or the existing ones?

A deep reflection of the above questions will help the researcher to develop a solid understanding of the survey target audience, which is a hyper-granular selection of the larger target market. But what should be the size of the sample in order to derive accurate and valid findings?

Summary Tip: Right survey audience can be selected by understanding the business/survey objectives, using good sampling method, performing adequate secondary research on the potential audience of the company as well as their competitors and narrowing down the target market into distinct groups based on demographic, psychographic, behavioural, technographic segmentation etc.

Potential pitfall: Inadequate understanding of business issues as well as survey objectives, high reliance on non-probability sampling method, ambiguity over research design and adoption of an inapt segmentation method can lead to the selection of wrong survey audience.

What should be the size of the sample?

Apart from identifying the right audience for the survey, another key consideration is with regard to the sample size. As it becomes highly unrealistic to collect data from the entire population, researchers tend to take a random sample of individuals which represents the actual population. The size of the sample is pivotal in order to get accurate and statistically significant results. It should be neither too small nor too big. If the sample is too small, it may include a disproportionate number of participants which may tend to skew the results.


On the other hand, if the sample is too big, the whole study becomes sophisticated, expensive and highly time-consuming to run. To choose the correct sample size for continuous data, consideration of the below-mentioned factors like population size, the margin of error, confidence level and the standard deviation is critical.

  • Population size: It refers to the total number of people in the group the researcher intends to study. For example, if the aim is to know about dog walkers, you will include people who take their dog or somebody else’s dog for a walk. As knowing the exact number is unrealistic, it’s common to have an estimated number.
  • Margin of error: It is the degree of error in the results received from the random sampling surveys. It indicates the extent to which the survey results can be close to the correct population value. For instance, a survey indicates that 82% of respondents favour Brand A over Brand B with a 2% margin of error. In this case, the actual population percentage that prefers Brand A likely falls within the range of 82% ± 2%, or 80 – 82%. A higher margin of error indicates less likelihood of relying on the survey results. As there is an inverse relationship between margin of error and sample size, it is suggested to increase the sample size and infer accurate findings that resonate with the population parameter.
  • Confidence level: Confidence level is expressed as a percentage and it indicates the extent to which the results of a survey is truly representative of the wider audience or population. Confidence levels are established in advance as margin of error and the scope of the survey depends on it. Generally, confidence levels of 90/95/99% are commonly used. For instance, if the survey result reported a “95% confidence level”, this indicates that if the survey was repeated, we can expect the same result from the actual population 95% of the time.
  • Standard deviation: Standard deviation indicates how dispersed the data is in comparison to the mean. A standard deviation close to zero indicates that the data points are close to the mean, a high standard deviation indicates that the data points are above the mean and a low standard deviation indicates that the data points are below the mean. It is suggested to set the standard deviation as .5 and then determine the sample size.


Upon gaining clarity on the above 4 aspects, sample size can be determined using the online calculator or the formula suggested below by Qualtrics.


Sample size = ( Z-score)2 * StdDev * (1-StdDev)

(Margin of error)2


Summary Tip: Due consideration on factors like population size, margin of error, confidence level and standard deviation is a non-negotiable aspect while determining the sample size.

Potential pitfall: Determining sample size without a robust methodology can yield results that are inaccurate and statistically non-significant. Having said this, selecting tons of data from the respondents is not the winning strategy. What is pivotal is to capture the right data from the right audience at a right quantity.

Can organisations rely on research panels?

Upon determining the sample size, it becomes super important to find the target audience or a representative sample that accurately reflects the characteristics of the larger group. As most organisations don’t have access to an in-house panel due to bandwidth and other issues, they buy a representative sample from a third-party research panel like SG Research Network which offers high-quality participants who show a good fit with the survey requirements. Given the rapid progression from the days of pen-and-paper questionnaires to online survey methods, it becomes easy to connect to diverse people through the internet instantly. But how does one know if utilising a research panel is the apt method for running online surveys? To better address the question, it is vital to uncover the possible pros and cons of using research panels to find the right audience.

What are the benefits of using panels to find the right participants?

  • Increased completion rate: Panels help in increasing the incidence and completion rate as qualified and willing respondents are more likely to show up to the sessions.
  • Fast and time-saving: As panels allow for quick-turn recruiting, it allows organisations to quickly analyse the data and act on the gaps in a timely manner.
  • Access to diverse profiles: Buying sample from external panel can help in improving the diversity of the participants. Having data from diverse audience becomes useful especially when the organisation is expanding it’s business in new regions or manufacturing new products for a different demographic cohort. For example, if the organisation is into making perfumes for men and if it aims to expand the business by manufacturing perfumes for women, the company’s current customer panel would not be the right audience to survey about women’s perfume related products. In this case, buying a sample from a reliable recruitment agency proves to be a parsimonious and viable option.
  • Facilitate conducting research sensitive topics: At times organisations carry research studies on sensitive topics and targeting a random sample may not work as majority of them may not be comfortable answering such questions. In such instances, buying a qualified and willing sample from a third party can help in gathering valuable insights.
  • Economical: The cost associated with collecting data from online market research panels is less and this puts most of the organisations at a potential advantage as it increases the panel size without significantly increasing the costs. Unlike the traditional survey technique that involves printing the questionnaires and inviting the participants at a facility, online research panels promote green initiatives and off the expense list.


While experiencing the benefits of research panels, organisations need to pay attention to the associated risks of research panels. In a scenario where advantages and disadvantages are presented, it becomes pivotal to discern which outweigh the other. If the benefits far outweigh the risks, it is recommended to consult with the recruitment service provider to mitigate the risks and the associated negative outcomes. This very well leads to the next important question on the potential disadvantages of using panels to find participants.

What are the drawbacks of using panels to find the participants?

  • Practice Bias: If the online surveys are administered to the same sample by the research panels, panelists will develop a sound knowledge of the organisation’s products, and understand the research patterns ultimately leading them to respond in a trained or unnatural manner that may not resonate with their actual perceptions or perspectives.
  • Negative impacts of multiple panel membership: One of the drawbacks of finding participants through market research is with regards to participants’ enrolment in multiple panels. Research indicates that participants who belonged to multiple panels and took a lot of surveys were inattentive, completed studies much too quickly and provided only terse responses to open-ended questions. As it impacts the quality of the data responses, it becomes key for the service provider to warn or remove the ‘speeders’ as well as ‘straight liners’ from the panel. Also, panel providers must have policies to prevent the ‘over-use’ of panel members to reduce ‘survey fatigue.’ However, if the recruitment firm is lax, organisations will end up with poor data that is of no use.
  • Poor panel management: Poor panel management by the recruitment firm can negatively influence the quality of the data. This can be prevented by enhancing communications with the panelists using multiple channels like newsletters, email campaigns, personal contacts etc. As part of panel management, research panels should take the onus to train the participants to respond honestly by communicating the researcher’s expectations and the importance of generating quality data. However, the quality of data is at stake if the research panels do not spend adequate time and effort managing the panelists.
  • Loss of panel members leading to an unrepresentative sample: As panelists may become inactive due to concerns with data security, natural mortality, loss of interest, changes in household circumstances and so on, the panel that was initially intended as a ‘representative’ sample of the population may subsequently become unrepresentative impacting the accuracy of study findings. To overcome the significant loss of valuable panelists, it becomes critical for the recruitment firm to monitor the panel and keep them active.

Summary Tip: Organisations devoid of in-house research panels can buy samples from reliable recruitment firms ( like Research Network) to increase completion rates, have access to diverse profiles, facilitate research on sensitive topics at a faster pace.

Potential pitfall: Taking services from unreliable research panels can result in inaccurate data caused by the panel’s poor monitoring and management practices.


Although choosing the right survey target audience may seem long-winded and a herculean task, it is a worthy exercise as it has the potential to understand business problems and identify actionable initiatives to close the gaps.


To make the process seamless, it is suggested to choose an online survey platform that supports the complete survey process such as targeting, questionnaire building, distributing, analysing, reporting and many more. These platforms should also aid in making various quality as well as technical checks to ward off survey fraud and amplify survey takers positive experience.


As selecting the right survey target audience is pivotal for market research success, relying on incorrect methods to identify the target respondents proves to be an entirely futile process that leads to numerous dysfunctional outcomes for the business.


This problem can be negated by clearly listing out the research goals, preparing robust screeners, selecting unbiased participants and using good sampling techniques. Also, setting clear definition of what your survey target audience is and is not can help in selecting the right survey target audience.


By Goveravaram Archana Das (Ph.D)

I am an UX research consultant, organisational psychologist and a human-loving optimist focused on creating business impact by helping MNC’s, government stakeholders and different sized companies to solve their strategic problems based on robust research.