• 7 Crucial Online Poll Best Practices for Audience Engagement

    · January 12, 2016

    Relax – we’re not going to talk about the latest political numbers coming out of Iowa or New Hampshire. Instead, we’re going to take on the questions that matter, and then teach you how to create the most engaging online polls on earth – in minutes.

    Among these life-altering questions:

    Why polls?

    Simply put, polls are thermometers. Like no other medium, they allow you to quickly gauge the opinions and insights of a group of people (and – in contrast to a quiz or interactive list, you can throw one together in a jiffy).

    Why does this matter? Well, for three reasons. 

    To learn

    You obviously know how you think, but what about everyone else? This is the most traditional reason for creating an online poll – indicated by their prevalence in the news. Polls teach us something about the way a certain group thinks, to shine a light on the group’s diversity of thought (or lack thereof).

    From the results, we can make assumptions about the world around us and either be swayed by the results, or become more resolute in our own opinion. But one thing is certain – we want to know what other people think.

    A company or publisher may use a poll to make an important design or editorial decision – by being able to take a quick snapshot of preferences, they’re able to direct their overall efforts with a greater assumption of what their overall audience (or niches therein) wants.

    Take for example car blog Jalopnik’s poll about Chevrolet’s new redesign of the Malibu. They wanted to know what people thought about the car, and whether to cover more of it, but readers also wanted to know how others perceived the car, so after voting, they dove deeper into the Breakdown.

    To engage

    People inherently want to speak up and contribute their opinions. A poll is a great way to foster that kind of open marketplace of thought, since it’s pretty non-confrontational; people are able to add their voice in an anonymous way, where the emphasis is on the overall sentiment of the group, rather than that of the individual (where the comment-wars reign supreme).

    The content landscape today is horrifically one-sided – just like a bad date. There’s a deluge of persuasive information, with everyone wanting to speak AT you, and very few wanting to listen. Take advantage of the opportunity to cut through the noise by asking a poignant, thought-provoking question – one that will resonate with your core audience.

    Remember – thought-provoking is exactly what you are looking for. You want to slap someone upside the head with a doozie that yanks them out of “content overload mode,” and forces them to self-analyze to forge their opinion. If the question is meaningful enough, you’re sure to win some major goodwill.

    You’ve obviously heard that the current Powerball jackpot is up to $1.4 billion. With millions of people flocking to buy tickets in hopes of winning big, it’s a perfect chance to tap into a question that is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. That’s exactly what MarketWatch did by asking people what they would do if they won the jackpot. Nothing like a little whimsical daydreaming to break people out of autopilot, right?

    To entertain

    Some polls are just plain fun. They shine light on topics about which we wouldn’t have ever had an opinion, but “Come to think of it, that’s a really good question.” Honestly, “opinion” may even be too strong a word for polls in this category – maybe “preference” is more accurate. Here’s a good example:

    Why we launched an online poll tool

    As we watched quizzes explode in popularity with our first tool (Qzzr), we learned a lot about what people wanted, and how they would choose to interact with content on the internet. While there were several online poll tools, we felt that many were lacking that special engaging ingredient that made you want to dive in. In short, most polls felt more like a survey than they did an engaging piece of content.

    gomez pollHere’s an example. Does this feel engaging to you? Does it stand out from the page and pull you in?

    We felt that a poll should be as meaningful to the person taking it as it is for the people putting it on. If people want to know how they match up, we wanted to give them the chance to see how others of their same gender, age, or geographic location compared. The result was Pollcaster, and it was our first foray into the world of polls. These features (and more coming) are also available in the Boombox plans.

    Let’s compare the poll above with this one:

    Try and ignore the subject matter itself and focus on both experiences – which catches your eye and looks more at home? Which makes you want to dive deeper into the results?

    So – what have we learned? In the past 6 months, we’ve seen thousands of polls created, with millions of votes. While the average poll gets nearly 1,600 votes, many do much, much better than that. With millions of data points, we’ve isolated several best practices that, if employed, will help you create the most engaging polls on the planet.

    7 Crucial Online Poll Best Practices

    1. Keep it Simple

    The best polls make you choose between simple, straightforward options. Remember, polls are meant to be quick, snackable experiences that wring a little more engagement out of the interaction. They’re not supposed to dive deep. Here’s an example:

    There’s a simple question, and two simple options – Red Vines or Twizzlers. I don’t have to put too much thought into it; save the deeper dive for the breakdown of results.

    2. Use images!

    As we mentioned earlier, we live in a world flooded with content. A simple scroll down LinkedIn or any other content site shows you how much text is flung at readers every day. In response, our brains have adapted to tune out most of the noise. The best online polls we’ve seen use striking images that reach out and demand attention, forcing the reader to take a stand and share their opinions.

    Here’s a great example – stands out, doesn’t it?

    3. Use option labels

    option labels 2option labels blankThis is a subtle trick, but even if your image options speak for themselves, make sure to enter the option labels as well.

    You can hide the labels on the poll itself, but without them, when people go to look at the breakdown of results, they’ll only see “Your selection” and “Other option” – not the greatest experience. 

    4. Avoid the overt survey

    Like surveys, interactive content can help you gather some pretty impressive insights. But you’ll never see a survey go viral, nor do people share surveys with their friends. (“Bro, you GOTTA take this survey!”)

    So be thoughtful about how you’re presenting your poll – is it inviting or begging? Engaging or dull? Personal or estranged? That’s not to say you can’t learn some really cool things about your audience – but just like any marketing effort, it’s about how you say or show it. Add personality into your poll, and you’ll see a lot more willingness to engage. Your content will get better, and the insights will get stronger.

    5. Humor

    People aren’t used to seeing funny polls, which makes them all-the-more engaging. Come up with unconventional or off-the-wall questions – start by asking yourself what might make your your audience laugh. Is it a shared frustration about technology in your industry? Maybe there are some funny (but respectful) employee stereotypes that you could create a poll around – Which are you – the “other people’s lunch”-eater, or the one whose lunch gets eaten?

    Oftentimes, people are already laughing at something going on in the news at the moment. Take advantage of that momentum and create a funny poll.

    Take for example Gawker’s foray into the Dadbod debacle of mid-2015. The topic was relevant enough, and the poll funny enough to generate a lot of buzz (and it didn’t hurt that Chris Pratt is so hot right now). The poll was taken tens of thousands of times, and even warranted a follow-up post dedicated specifically to the results seen in the breakdown.

    6. Controversy

    Another great thing about polls is that you can take a controversial issue, one that you perhaps wouldn’t be able to cover otherwise, and put it up to your audience in an objective way. Utah-based news organization KSL took on a heated issue when they asked their readers to weigh in on their preference between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

    The poll even picked up some steam out of state, and it was interesting to see that more than 50 people not only voted, but took to the comments to back up their choice. A little lively debate is good for the soul, and definitely good for the site.

    7. Embrace the breakdown

    Without a way for your audience to interact with the results of an online poll, they’re just flinging their vote into space. That results in a poor experience, and the reader is left wanting more.

    sportshorse-4Many of our customers have seen a lot of success by embracing the breakdown, and bringing it into their story. Refer to it directly in your post copy, invite people to look at the results, or include a follow-up story on the results after a week or so.

    I referred to the Gawker example, but Sports Illustrated also wrote a follow-up post on the results of their recent Sportsman of the Year award. The post included screenshots of each page of the breakdown, showing how the voting panned out along geographic, gender, and age lines. People love seeing how others think, and it certainly makes a topic more engaging.

    So – don’t just create a poll and hope people engage with it; invite them to dive deep into the results and take to the comments to discuss. You’ll be surprised how many do.


    Polls should be a go-to in your content arsenal. Not only are they interesting, engaging, and audience-building, they’re wicked easy to throw together. For as simple as they are to create, try putting up a poll a week for a month, and see how engagement is affected (whether that’s page views, time on site, social traffic, poll votes, or something else).

    But for now, you should help us settle this fiery office debate, once and for all: