Yesterday, I wrote about online panels, giving my opinion that online panels are great but that you ought to use them to answer questions about why customers did something, not try to find out what they did. Online panels are becoming easier than ever to set up, so there’s no reason to hold back from doing one of your own.
I didn’t know much about online panels a few months ago, but I’ve had several folks help me learn more since then. Because online panels are so much cheaper than focus groups, you can ask the same kinds of questions to many more people, so you can get quantitative results at a fraction of the cost of large-scale focus groups. You could, of course, get quantitative results from surveys, but well-designed online panels let your customers interact with each other, as they can in focus groups, so you get the best of both worlds.
But it might seem daunting to set up online panels. Fear not.
I recently reviewed a demo from Vision Critical, who provides online panels through a tool called Panel+ Pro. This tool (and I am sure there are others out there) allows marketers to easily create a branded secure portal where you can invite participants to individual studies you want to conduct. You can create surveys and see the results right online. Or you can invite respondents to interact with each other in a forum.
Regardless of what you want to find out, resist the temptation to find out what people do on your site—use your Web metrics system for that—but if you thought that getting underneath your customers actions was beyond you, well, it’s not. If you need to find out what is causing the behaviors of your customers, you can do it without a whole lot of work.
In fact, you can “do it wrong quickly“—maybe creating an online panel will be your entry in the latest contest. Think about your entry today!