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Online Polling Tools Rarely Give Good Data

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Online polling tools surged in popularity after they were first developed and remained in vogue for a number of years. But they have faded for good reason.

They don’t have any credibility, and many people know it.

One problem lies with the ability of someone to vote multiple times and skew the results.

Using cookies to block them from voting more than once helps slow people who don’t know how to delete cookies. But many people do.

The second problem is the makeup of the audience that completes the poll.

If the online polling tool has a question about politics, can it capture the voters’ political affiliations or whether they are liberal, conservative or moderate?

The answer usually is no unless the voters have personal profiles with that information available. Even then, the results will not have a balanced cross section of voters from each party or ideology. Results from 300 Republicans and 20 Democrats may not provide good data.

More on that point: the lower the numbers, the less reliable the numbers.

Surveys and Reviews

These same problems apply to surveys and reviews. For example, Google and many other sites allow people to rank restaurants.

All of the restaurant employees and their friends and relatives give four stars to the restaurant, even though the food and service don’t justify a four-star rating.

An author with an Amazon ebook is upset because another ebook gets more sales. He gives the book a poor rating regardless of the book’s actual quality and gets some friends and relatives to do the same.

These are not imaginary issues. They happen all of the time.

Online Polling Tools = Skewed Results

Sites that use online polling tools end up reporting skewed results as if they were a factual representation of an issue.

But it soon becomes clear when one political candidate received 100,000 votes and another received 100 that the numbers can’t be trusted. Those kinds of results show that some people are monkeying with the poll.

Online polling provides a modest amount of value when used with questions about casual matters. But then the results on casual questions are typically low, which makes an online staff wonder why it should do polling at all.

Controversial questions produce the most participation and the least credibility at the same time.

Polling on a website should be used sparingly and never reported as being credible. It is simply an amusing tool. There are better ways for a staff to use its time and energy to increase a site audience.

How to Use Polling Tools

All of this said, they still have some value if they are used correctly. They engage site visitors, increase time on page and add some entertainment value with results.

Consider the following tips for using online polling tools:

  1. Include a disclaimer that the results are not scientific.
  2. Try to use a sophisticated tool that blocks repeat votes.
  3. Display the poll in a secondary position on the page to emphasize its minor value.
  4. If possible, get people to register before voting to add some validity. If they are willing to provide some personal information, even better.


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