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Marketing Experts Speak Up Against Google's Consumer Survey Tool

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As always, Google has been busy creating cloud-based tools in search of fresh revenue streams and adding market share. Some tools like Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Alerts are amazing, and some are not so amazing.

The newest tool is the Google Consumer Survey Tool, which extends the spirit of AdWords into paid polling.

Instead of being presented with an ad, gated content pushes consumers to answer one or two questions before accessing the article. Publishers are paid when users participate, and the businesses who created the survey originally pay for its aggregated results.

Though claiming to be "custom market research made easy," is Google's consumer survey tool all it's cracked up to be?

Because it operates more like a yes/no poll than surveying and because the audience demographics and segmentation are very limited, many marketers say no. They say that while the new tool may be a simple way to collect subjective consumer feedback on anything from packaging design to product features, the tool does not produce legitimate market research.

Here are  a few limitations mentioned by marketers.

Weak Data Presented as Fact

When an agency or company presents subjective data pulled through polling as solid market research, expensive decisions can ride on very weak data.

"Not only do you get a skewed subset of the target audience---those willing to be forced to fill out surveys---but you're going to get a lot of people filling out random information to get to the article behind it," commented James Archer, CEO of Forty, an agency based out of Chandler, Ariz.

After all, who hasn't selected a poll response without reading it, just to get to what's behind that locked door?

Not only are the results not necessarily authentic, but they are interpreted with far more seriousness than they deserve. Says Archer, "The message gets changed from 'This is pretty sketchy data, so take it with a grain of salt' to 'Here's proof that this million-dollar spend is justified.'"

Archer feels the method of obtaining the data is bound to skew the results, and produce fake data---furthering the trend of companies making bad decisions based on junk data. "Not only is this a poor way to do any kind of market research, it's a fairly user-unfriendly practice that many would argue goes against Google's once-sacred 'don't be evil' mantra. "

DIY Method Leads to Misunderstood Results

Similar to AdWords, the survey tool is intended for small-business owners and agencies alike. The danger is when its results are presented as gospel by those inexperienced in market research or by those who don't understand how the method impacts the results.

According to Susan Baier, a respected audience segmentation expert and Founder of Audience Audit, "While this is being presented as a great tool for researchers, it's really just another way for publishers to monetize their content.

"It's extremely limited---one or two-question surveys only, with bias, weighting and demographic 'inference' issues that most 'researchers' using this product won't understand or even bother to learn. If you wanted to ask one question to a lot of people, this is no worse than other similar tools like mobile apps that allow you to answer questions to earn money---but it shouldn't be used (and really wouldn't be usable) for most serious research efforts."

Other marketers agree. In a simple question poll presented on a closed Facebook group for marketing professionals, most respondents did not feel the tool provided legitimate market research.

Lack of Segmentation Hampers Usability

The type of market research a company needs can determine how useful the tool is. One marketer said, "If you're asking general yes/no questions, and you ask enough people, it may not cause problems. But if you're trying to track a series of responses by individuals to generate something like segmentation, you can't do that. You're left with the bias introduced by where the questions are posed, and the "survey wall" concept.

"Many research initiatives aren't trying to get sample matching U.S. national demographics, they're looking at targeting a particular group. The harm in research comes from people thinking they're getting one thing, while they're actually getting something else."

To Use It or Not

In my opinion, the dividing line for how useful the feature is for marketing professionals comes down to a simple question: are you looking for generalized consumer input to guide your decision, or substantive market segmentation research?

If a business or agency is seeking data from a highly segmented audience---such as female attorneys making at least $200,000 in annual income who live in New York City and Chicago---the Google Consumer Survey Tool can't deliver the right audience and a market research firm is more likely to fit your need.

But if you simply want to ask which brownie packaging is more inviting or to find out what percentage of dog owners buy treats for their dog? Give it a shot.


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Carrie Morgan is a digital public relations consultant in Phoenix, AZ, and a regular contributor for Social Media Today and Convince & Convert. Reach her at Rock the Status Quo.

Twitter: @morgancarrie

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Comments

  • by Paul Tue Oct 16, 2012 via blog

    Hey Carrie,

    Thanks for checking out the product. I think the core of your argument is that respondents answering surveys on these publisher sites are likely to answer incorrectly just to get through to the content. This is concern we had when we developed the product and have spent an extensive effort measuring the error rate (the false responses) and comparing that error rate to other survey samples (probability based panels and non-probability internet panels). In all of our tests we have less error than existing methodologies. You can read more about how we validate our platform here:

    http://www.google.com/insights/consumersurveys/static/consumer_surveys_whitepaper_v2.pdf

    In the end, if we can't trust our data, we don't have a product to sell.

  • by Carrie Morgan Tue Oct 16, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for adding your feedback, Paul!

  • by Jose Albis Mon Oct 22, 2012 via blog

    Great article and feedback from Google. Regardless of the methodology and the tool itself, the use is the most important aspect. "...The danger is when its results are presented as gospel by those inexperienced in market research or by those who don’t understand how the method impacts the results."

  • by Carrie Morgan Tue Oct 23, 2012 via blog

    I absolutely agree, Jose! =)

  • by John Mitchell Wed Mar 20, 2013 via blog

    Paul - I am wondering if there's any peer-reviewed assessment of the claims made in your white paper. Otherwise it's a solipsistic Google sponsored venture that you're talking about and defending.
    Would you be willing to share the datasets you used to perform the comparison analysis? Submit them for review to a third party?

    John Mitchell

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