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How Paid Survey Sites Work

Companies of all kinds offer online surveys through market research panels so that they can figure out the preferences of their customers.  Here's a great example video from SurveyClub on how an online survey company works:

Tips for Success: Paid Survey Sites

One of the most important aspects of the market research business is gathering opinions from consumers. Although consumer market research has traditionally been conducted in-person, over the phone or via traditional mail, the industry has seen almost a complete shift towards online sources in the past 15 years. Since all you need is an email address and access to the internet, the rise of online research panels has afforded millions of people around the world the opportunity to earn extra money in their spare time simply for voicing their opinions on the products and services relevant to their lives.

Being an online panelist won't replace a full-time job, but, depending on your background and level of commitment, you could expect to supplement your income by as much as $50 to $100 per month. Before joining any paid survey site however, we highly recommend reviewing our top ten tips for being a successful online panelist. The tips are based on our extensive experience as online panelists with numerous survey sites and on the research we conducted as part of our in-depth review on the best paid survey sites.

What to Know Before You Join

How Paid Survey Sites Work

Participating in paid online market research is a pretty straightforward process. First, you'll need to register with the survey site and fill out a member profile, which typically includes some questions related to your demographics and background. Once your account has been activated, the site will contact you by email whenever there are relevant studies available for you to take. The email will always include a customized link to the study, and it may also contain additional information about it such as the topic, length and reward (if you qualify). Rewards programs will be structured differently depending on the site, but compensation is usually awarded in one of three ways: cash, points or sweepstakes entries (for cash or other prizes). Cash and points are typically redeemable starting around $10, and payment may be issued in actual cash or in gift cards, e-certificates, vouchers, merchandise, etc. Most earning opportunities you receive will be online surveys that last an average of 15 - 20 minutes and pay between $0.50 - $3. However, you may also occasionally receive higher paying opportunities like in-home product testing (~$10), telephone/webcam interviews ($50+), focus groups ($100+), etc.

Tip #1 - Be Mindful of Scams

You can feel confident that all of the market research companies reviewed by the SurveyClub team are completely legitimate and trustworthy sites. If you decide to branch out from our list however, it is important to be careful of scams. Before engaging with any market research company, we encourage you to keep the following points top of mind:

  1. Legitimate companies will never make you pay to be a member or ask you to buy anything as part of your membership.
  2. Legitimate companies will never ask you for sensitive personal information (i.e. social security number, bank account information, credit card number, etc.).
  3. Legitimate companies will never make any guarantees around how much money you will earn as a member of their site. As a rule of thumb, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  4. Legitimate companies will list a privacy policy on their website, as well as a clear explanation of their rewards program.

If those points don't raise any red flags, we then suggest researching the background and reputation of the panel and the company that owns it. We typically like to go through the company's website, review the policies of the panel, and conduct a quick internet search of the company's name and the word "scam". We also like to check whether the company is accredited by the Better Business Bureau and/or affiliated with a major industry association such as CASRO. While there are still great companies that aren't accredited by the BBB (ex. Ipsos), checking BBB-accreditation is a quick and easy way to confirm legitimacy when you aren't sure about a site. Most major research companies will be members of CASRO, and, as members, they are required to follow the CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics. Again, there are legitimate companies that are not affiliated with CASRO, but we advise that you take a closer look at the site's privacy policy to determine how your information will be used.

Seals like these from CASRO, the BBB and TRUSTe can provide a good indication of a company's legitimacy.

Credit: CASRO, the BBB and TRUSTe

As a side note, a few of the scams we've come across have reached out to panelists using a name similar to one they trust in order to gain access to sensitive information. If you suspect that you are being targeted by a scam, you should alert your local law enforcement or the FTC. Lastly, since this page is about paid survey sites, please be aware that there may be related advertisements displayed. SurveyClub has no control over these advertisements, and the only sites that we endorse are listed in our Top Rated Online Survey Companies.

Tip #2 - Join Multiple Paid Survey Sites

We suggest joining several paid survey sites at first because you'll receive more survey opportunities and increase your overall earning potential. You can review all of our favorite online panels on our Top Rated page, and we'd encourage you to combine some of the high-volume survey sites (ex. MySurvey, GlobalTestMarket, i-Say) with some of the lower-volume ones (ex. PineCone Research, SurveySavvy, Inspired Opinions). Sites that don't send very many surveys will generally have higher average payouts than the ones that send a lot, but the latter will still have great offers periodically that you can cherry pick when you have time. After signing up with a panel, you should always take part in at least the first 5 surveys you are sent (regardless of payout). This will demonstrate your commitment to the panel and ability to provide thoughtful feedback, which can lead to higher-paying opportunities. Initially, you might feel a little overwhelmed, but, over time, you'll get a better sense for which sites work best for you given your background (ex. employment, health, lifestyle, etc.) and schedule constraints. Then, just focus on the sites that pay you the most but don't cancel your other memberships (unless there is a serious issue) because you never know when you could get a big project from a site that hasn't even been on your radar in weeks.

Tip #3 - Get Organized

When joining multiple online panels, there are a few administrative things you can set up to make your life a whole lot easier. In your inbox, we would first suggest adding the email address of each survey site you joined to your "safe sender" list. This will prevent survey invitations and other correspondence from ending up in your spam/junk folder. Next, if you want to keep your inbox organized, you can also create inbox filters that automatically file emails from the same company in the same folder. You can find information about setting up filters under the "Help" section of your inbox or by using the following links: Outlook, Gmail and Yahoo.

In your browser, we would suggest bookmarking the survey sites you use (or adding them to your "Favorites"). This will allow you to access any site's homepage with just the click of a button. We've also found RoboForm to be a great timer-saver. RoboForm will store and automatically fill in your login credentials for various sites, so you don't have to remember multiple usernames and passwords. It can also store personal information and autocomplete repetitive online forms for you. Lastly, if you are comfortable with Excel, it can be helpful to create a master spreadsheet where you keep track of reference information for all of your sites (ex. username/password, points-to-dollars conversion, surveys with pending credit, payments requested and received, etc.). It might seem like a pain, but it will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Tip #4 - Create a PayPal Account

We also recommend creating a PayPal account linked to the email you are using to participate in online surveys. PayPal is free and used by a lot of sites to issue cash payments (sometimes exclusively). It is completely secure and one of the fastest ways to receive payments. You can easily connect your PayPal account to your bank account to transfer funds, and you can also use your PayPal account to pay for items when you are online shopping since it is accepted at most retailers.

A $20 payment from MySurvey we received via PayPal.

Credit: Mary Griffin

Tip #5 - Keep Profiles Up-to-Date

During the registration process and periodically during your membership, you will likely be asked to participate in some kind of profiling survey. Profiling surveys could take anywhere from 2 to 45 minutes and may or may not be compensated. However, we highly encourage you to take time filling them out and keeping your information up-to-date. Sites use profiling surveys to match you with future paid studies, so you could miss out on great opportunities if your responses are outdated. Additionally, sites will sometimes use profiling surveys to determine how engaged you are with the panel. If you are unresponsive, it may impact the number of survey opportunities you receive.

MySurvey uses Lifestyle Surveys to help them better match panelists with paid survey opportunities.

Credit: MySurvey

Tip #6 - Respond Promptly to Survey Invitations

When you receive survey invitations, it is important to try to take the survey as quickly as possible and complete it in one sitting. Surveys will only run for a certain period of time and will generally have limitations around the number of respondents in different demographic groups. As you can imagine, response time is particularly important when it comes to higher paying surveys. If you wait too long to respond/complete the survey, you may find that the survey no longer needs participants with your background and you will be disqualified.

Tip #7 - Understand that Being Disqualified Happens

Being disqualified from a survey (or "screening out") happens for a number of different reasons. First, you can be disqualified if someone matching your demographics is no longer required on the survey. Even if your demographics are a match, you can still be disqualified if you don't meet all of the prerequisites of that survey. For example, the survey may only need white females between the ages of 25 to 35 (I'm in!), but she must own a smartphone (still in!) and uses it to post to Twitter (aannd I'm out). In this case, you are usually disqualified in the first few minutes, but you can also be disqualified at (or towards) the end of the survey if the quota for survey takers with your background is met while you are completing the questions. You should also keep in mind that survey companies routinely monitor the quality of respondents' participation and will occasionally embed quality control questions in surveys. If they find that you are rushing through a survey, answering dishonestly and/or not paying attention to the questions, you could be disqualified from the survey, denied payment or even removed from the panel depending on the situation. When it is out of your control, being disqualified from a survey is particularly frustrating, but, unfortunately, you have to accept it as part of the business. If the survey company can't use your answers, they can't get paid for them and thus they can't pay you. With that said, if you feel like you were disqualified from a survey due to a technical error or are being screened out of a disproportionately high number of surveys, we encourage you to send a polite email to the site's customer service team asking for help. Hopefully they can assist you in some way, otherwise you may want to reevaluate the amount of time you spend on that site or possibly even reconsider your membership.

When you are disqualified from surveys, most sites will still award you rewards points or sweepstakes entries.

Credit: GlobalTestMarket

Tip #8 - Maximizing Your Earnings

Since surveys can be time-consuming, it is important to try to maximize your earnings by prioritizing the highest-paying opportunities you receive each day. While some sites make it easy to understand compensation by using a straightforward cash rewards program (ex. SurveySavvy, Valued Opinions), others use a points system that can be misleading if you don't have the exchange rate top-of-mind. It won't take long to memorize the numbers, but, in the beginning, we found it helpful to keep a points-to-dollars conversion table handy for the sites that have a points system. Keep in mind that it is much more difficult to get into higher-paying surveys, so you shouldn't be discouraged if it takes a while to qualify for one. This is a numbers game and you just want to take as many surveys as you can. Finally, be sure to keep track of the amount of time you are spending on surveys. You shouldn't spend 40 minutes on a 20-minute survey or vice versa (as we learned in the previous section).

Posting an exchange rate table on your desk will help you prioritize higher-paying opportunities.

Credit: Mary Griffin

Tip #9 - Cash Out As Soon As You Can

Once you have earned the minimum amount required to request payment, we highly recommend doing so. Based on our research and experience, there isn't really any upside to waiting (even if it looks like there is), and you can save yourself a lot of hassle if something were to go wrong. Cashing out early and often will also ensure that you are receiving payments regularly, which can relieve some of the frustration that inevitably occurs when a site takes weeks to issue rewards/payment. Sometimes sites have to wait until a survey is closed to credit panelists' accounts, and it can take as long as 6 - 8 weeks to receive rewards. Then, it could take up to 8 weeks to actually receive payment. Unfortunately, this is completely normal and just something you have to deal with.

SurveySavvy allows you to cash out as soon as you've earned $1, but I actually earned much more than that after taking just a few surveys.

Credit: Mary Griffin

Tip #10 - Don't Forget About Uncle Sam

When done right, participating in paid survey sites is a great way to earn extra money in your spare time. However, we would just remind all of our readers to keep track of the money they earn from each site to ensure that all taxable income is reported on their tax return. If you are a US citizen and earn more than $600 with a survey site in one year, you should expect to receive a 1099 tax form from that site. If you aren't a US citizen, you should consult a tax professional about your country's tax laws around "miscellaneous income". Since sites issue payment in different ways, we've found the easiest way to keep track of our earnings is to add up all of the payments we receive into the master spreadsheet discussed above.

Let's Get Started!

Now that you have all the tips you need to be successful taking online surveys, please review our Top Rated section to see how some of our favorite paid survey sites stack up against one another. To help you find the best panel for you, we have compared each company based on their industry presence, membership experience, earning opportunities, rewards program, ease of accessing opportunities, rewards redemption process and user feedback.

Top Featured Online Survey Companies