True Online Panels Offer Better Samples -- Faster and More Efficiently

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Samples sourced from true online panels offer significant research benefits over samples drawn from email lists or databases. Foremost is the ability to obtain demographically balanced samples of identifiable populations, with options to match U.S. Census, the Internet population, or custom targets (for example, representative samples of small groups, such as brand users).

This is possible because true online panels, such as the Ipsos U.S. Online Panel, maintain accurate and comprehensive demographic inventories on each panelist and are constantly monitored to ensure that the correct balance of various demographics groups is intact so that the panel yields representative samples.

Moreover, true online panels yield higher response rates than samples drawn from email lists and databases. For example, the overall response rate for the Ipsos U.S. Online Panel is typically between 45% and 50%. The response rates for email lists and databases, on the other hand, vary greatly and are typically in the single digits.

In addition, online panels offer many other benefits:

  • Controls are available to manage the contact frequency with panelists
  • Controls are available to manage respondents' exposure to different types of surveys, thus avoiding respondents with other contacts in the same or related categories
  • Surveying a specific target group is made easier due to the rich demographics on file
  • Matched, balanced samples for multi-cell tests or tracking studies can be drawn
  • Panelists can be screened and recontacted for follow-up research
  • Interview times are shortened since many demographics are on file

What distinguishes a true online panel from an email list or database? An online panel is a pool of registered individuals who have agreed to participate in online marketing research surveys on an ongoing basis. These people are carefully selected to receive an invitation to join the panel. Consumers cannot enter the panel unless they are invited. True online panels are tightly regulated in terms of recruitment and maintenance to ensure that only active participants remain on the panel. Controls are exercised to ensure that representative samples can be drawn from the panel, and processes exist that verify the integrity of survey responses.

How are online panelists recruited? Recruitment is designed to meet the demographic needs of building a panel that will yield samples representative of the U.S. Census.

The primary method of recruitment is by means of relationships with a wide variety of Web partners, which is an industry-standard recruitment method.

How are online panels maintained? Once a panel is constructed, an ongoing challenge is to assure that it continues to be representative and comprised of active panelists. To this end, the Ipsos U.S. Online Panel is updated every night.

New panelists are added, those who have requested to be removed or are chronic non-responders are deleted, and email address changes are made.

In addition, controls are in place to ensure that panelists are not over-taxed by too frequent requests to participate in surveys or, to the contrary, not contacted often enough.

How is data integrity protected? Our screening procedures prevent fraudulent attempts to access or qualify for a study:

  • E-mail invitations are sent directly to the individual panel member, rather than a liaison in the household
  • Tight sampling control is achieved with the use of individual survey URLs to ensure that there are no duplicate responses
  • Respondents are prevented from going back in a screener so that they cannot try to fulfill survey eligibility requirements
  • We can disable or enable the browser's back button for the actual survey, depending on the needs of the research
  • We generally offer the same incentive whether a respondent completes only a screener or a full survey, so there is no motivation to deceive in order to earn more points or money

The most significant difference between a true online panel and an email list or database is the quality of the sample, which in turn affects the quality of the data. Online panels offer representative samples of identifiable populations, such as U.S. Census or targeted consumer groups. Research organizations that are dedicated to delivering valid and reliable results to their clients are willing to make the investment in building and maintaining true online panels.

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