Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Not To Conduct Online Surveys

I subscribe to a few magazines including Wired, Entertainment Weekly, The Atlantic, Boston Magazine, and Sky & Telescope. I also recently subscribed to Ars Technica, mostly so I could get single page views of articles to save in Instapaper but also to feel good about how much I consume their well written and researched content.

Today I got email from "WIRED". It was reasonably formatted and had a top portion that looked like a Condé Nast letterhead listing their publications. I recognized Wired and Ars Technica. I know the name Condé Nast but I wouldn't have been able to tell you what publications they own. Here's the text:

At Condé Nast, we really care what you think. That's why we are asking for your help with this online survey. As a thank-you for your valuable time, you will be entered into a sweepstakes giveaway for a chance to win $50,000.*

We know you may receive countless emails each day, but since this is one of the most important surveys we conduct all year, we hope you will take some time to fill it out. Simply click on the link below or cut and paste the link into your browser.

Many, many thanks for your help.

Kind regards,

Condé Nast Research and Insights

There's also some boilerplate legalese at the bottom about no purchase necessary, etc. I've X'ed out the id in the URL above since I don't really know what it identifies. Now I suspect this is actually real and I'd actually be willing to give them my opinion of their publications (though I suspect their survey will not have the questions I really care about). But the problem is, this email looks like spam. Sure it passed Gmail's spam filter, but so does real spam.

  • The From isn't from a magazine I subscribe to but from and that's at least a real domain name but the From header is easily forged.
  • The linked URL is to which is as spammy an URL as I could think up.
  • The $50,000 is a link to, another spammy sounding URL and different from the one with the actually survey and different from the From header. The links in the boilerplate stuff are all to so that's at least consistent.
  • They provide a link to a privacy policy which is also from but then follow it with this email address,, yet another domain name.
  • If you visit you get web page that looks circa 1993 with an Anti-Spam and Privacy Statement and saying to send questions to Silverpop is apparently "Award winning marketing software trusted by more than 5,000 brands worldwide." Uh huh.
  • If you visit the marketing survey the first two questions are your gender and age, certainly stuff that marketing surveys would want, but also stuff spammers or others would want. I was given no indication it wouldn't get worse going on.

So Condé Nast, if this really is "one of the most important surveys we conduct all year", then maybe you should make it not look like spam. Maybe instead of outsourcing it to several layers of marketing companies, you should do it yourself. You should at least set it up at your own website. That's kind of like the 21st century equivalent of signing your name. You should say what the survey is about, more than it's "online" and "important". The survey itsefl should like something from you, not something generic that any high school programmer could whip up in an afternoon. If I have to tell you these things, then I think you need more help than a survey response could give you.

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