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What is an Online Panel Survey? Types, Definitions & Tips to Build one

Mathew Maniyamkott

26 May 2024

9 min read

In the words of Dan Zarrella, marketing without market research is like driving with your eyes closed. If we take that analogy further, developing and marketing a product without customer feedback is like driving with your eyes closed down a dark tunnel, with no idea what’s on the other side. That’s why an online survey panel is the solution here.

This article will talk about panel research and how to build an effective online survey panel.

If you are here looking for a tool to build an online survey panel, you can go ahead and try SurveySparrow’s online survey panel.


For the rest of us, off we go!

Let’s explore what an online panel is in an easy-to-understand way.

What is an online survey panel?

An online panel is a pre-screened online group that accurately represents your target group. These panel members can be drawn from various locations to participate in research studies. An online panel is used for many research studies like online surveys, mystery shopping, concept testing, and more.

Online panels, like SurveySparrow’s Audience Panels, profile each panel member before we can accept them for your study. We collect detailed demographic and background information to ensure that you have relevant data on the table for effective decisions.

How do survey panels work?

A panel study is a marketing research method where businesses collect data repeatedly from a selected group of people.

Thus, the purpose of panel research is to provide you with a pre-screened custom audience for feedback on your products or services. Although many assume that survey panels and focus groups are the same, there is a slight difference. The latter’s size is restricted to 5-10 participants, while the former has a larger sample size.

By implementing panel services, companies can get accurate insights for just the beta products or throughout the entire product lifecycle. In addition, qualified panelists generally get incentives for their participation.

Types of online panels

Closed Panels

Closed Panels are invitation-only communities where participants are recruited through specific criteria to ensure the panel consists of a targeted demographic or interest group. Access to these panels is restricted to those directly invited or have passed through a screening process.

Closed panels are often used for specialized research where the quality and relevance of the panelists are crucial. They offer more control over the panel composition and can provide higher-quality data for niche markets or specific research objectives.

Open Panels

Open Panels allow anyone to join without an invitation or extensive screening process. These panels are more accessible and can grow quickly, offering a broad and diverse pool of respondents. However, the ease of access might lead to less engaged participants or a higher possibility of fraudulent responses.

Open panels are suitable for general market research where a wide variety of opinions and backgrounds are needed, and the research isn’t limited to a specific demographic or interest group.

What is the purpose of a panel study?

Let’s take the case of 3D TVs (not the ones sold now).

The TV manufacturers assumed everyone would love them based on the success of ‘Avatar’. But it turned out to be a colossal dud. This is why extensive market research with effective market research software is essential.

Also, another point to note is that you will make incremental changes to products over time due to feedback from the customer. A panel study is the quickest way to test these changes before they hit the market.

Why use online panel surveys?

Online panel surveys have become increasingly popular for various research needs due to their numerous advantages over traditional survey methods. Here are several reasons why researchers and organizations might choose to use online panel surveys:


Online panels reduce the need for physical materials, postage, and in-person staff, making them a more cost-effective option than traditional mail, telephone, or face-to-face surveys.

Speed and Efficiency:

Data collection through online panels can be significantly faster, allowing for the rapid deployment of surveys and quick turnaround on results. This speed enables timely decision-making and insights.

Access to Specific Target Groups:

Online panels, especially closed and specialty panels, provide access to specific demographic, geographic, or interest-based groups that might be difficult to reach through other means. This specificity can improve the relevance and accuracy of research findings.

Wide Geographic Reach:

Online panels can easily include participants from diverse locations, enabling national or global research efforts without the need for travel or localized resources.


High-quality Data:

Many online panels are managed to ensure active and engaged participants. Through screening processes and quality control measures, panels can offer reliable, high-quality data from respondents who match the study’s criteria.

Flexibility in Survey Design:

Online surveys can incorporate various question types, from simple multiple-choice to complex matrix questions, as well as multimedia elements like images and videos. This flexibility can enhance the survey experience and improve response quality.

Convenience for Participants:

Participants can complete surveys at their own pace and convenience, increasing the likelihood of participation and completion. This convenience can lead to higher response rates and more representative data.

Real-time Data and Analytics:

Online panel platforms often provide real-time data collection and analytics capabilities, allowing researchers to monitor response rates, analyze data as it comes in, and adjust survey strategies if necessary.

Longitudinal Studies and Panel Management:

Online panels facilitate longitudinal studies, where the same participants are surveyed over time. This capability is valuable for tracking attitudes, behaviors, and trends changes.

Environmental Benefits:

By eliminating the need for paper and reducing travel, online panels are a more environmentally friendly option compared to traditional survey methods.

Types of online survey panels

  1. General Consumer Panels: These panels are composed of a wide range of participants from different demographics and backgrounds. They are used for general market research across various industries.
  2. Specialized or Niche Panels: These panels focus on specific demographics, interests, or sectors. Examples include panels for healthcare professionals, IT professionals, gamers, or specific age groups. Such panels provide insights into particular markets or consumer segments.
  3. B2B (Business-to-Business) Panels: Comprising professionals and decision-makers in various industries, B2B panels are used to gather insights related to business products, services, and industry trends.
  4. Ethnic or Cultural Panels: These panels are tailored to gather insights from specific ethnic, cultural, or linguistic groups, offering perspectives that general consumer panels might not provide.
  5. Geographically Targeted Panels: Focused on participants from specific locations or regions, these panels help researchers understand local preferences, cultural differences, and regional market trends.Online survey panel
  6. Youth and Teen Panels: Comprising younger participants, these panels offer insights into the preferences, behaviors, and trends relevant to the youth market.
  7. Parent and Family Panels: These panels include parents, sometimes along with their children, to provide insights on family-oriented products, services, and trends.
  8. Health and Wellness Panels: Participants in these panels are often interested in health, wellness, and fitness topics, making them ideal for research in these areas.
  9. Technology and Innovation Panels: Focusing on tech-savvy individuals, these panels are valuable for gathering feedback on new technologies, digital products, and innovation trends.
  10. Financial Services Panels: Comprising individuals interested in financial topics, these panels are used for research related to banking, investments, insurance, and financial planning.

Each type of online survey panel serves a unique purpose, allowing researchers to tailor their studies to specific audiences or industries for more relevant and insightful data.

How to build an effective online survey panel

Use these three stellar tips to build your online survey panel:

#1. Have clear expectations from the online survey panel

First and foremost, your research objective should be well-defined and transparent. Then, you will have to choose the relevant audience and have a set expectation from your online panel. For example:

  • Does it measure users’ behavioral patterns and attitudes?
  • Should the respondents be experts in your niche or have a general idea about business?
  • Are you planning to build a community for a particular business purpose?
  • Is the data collection immediate or at intervals?

#2. Narrow down the expertise of your panel members

While the panel provider does this, here are a few steps you can follow if you’re planning to create a survey panel yourself.

  • If you already have a contact database, you can recruit via email or text message. If you don’t, you can ask people to opt in via social media, apps, or your landing pages.
  • When someone opts in, trigger a survey to gather data about their profile. It will help you build a database of demographic details.
  • With this database, you can choose research panelists based on their ability, interest, and expertise in the subject.
  • After you select your panelists, you can send them a welcome email explaining why you chose them and the benefits they’re eligible for.
  • Give them a clear idea of what you expect from them, how their responses will help your organization, and when you will be contacting them.

Did you know that you can make all these aspects easier with automation? For example, you can automate every step of your research with SurveySparrow’s online survey software, from recruitment surveys to emails and reports.

#3. Keep expanding the panel member count

Here are the reasons why:

  • Sometimes, you might not get many responses from your existing research panel.
  • What’s more, as your business matures, it becomes necessary to recruit more panelists to reflect your expanding audience.
  • Your panel members may not respond equally. Some may drop out after the initial enthusiasm. Others may join the panel, but they won’t complete any surveys, while some are there only for the incentives. That’s why you have to update your survey panel periodically.

online panel survey infographic: steps to create a credible panel

Advantages of online survey panels

There are multiple advantages for a company that has a readily available group of panelists for data collection. The advantages include:

1. Quick turnaround on fieldwork

Data is collected online and almost instantly. Thanks to online survey software, you can process and analyze that data almost instantly as well.

2. Cost savings on panel studies

Compared to other methods like phone calls, online survey panels are a cost-effective solution as the provider conducts recruitment, profiling, and appropriate incentives. A B2B panel usually costs more for the expertise and higher compensation than a consumer panel.

3. Geographic Diversity

Online survey panels often comprise respondents from different regions or countries. This allows you to gather a diverse set of opinions and ensures a more comprehensive understanding of market conditions across various geographies.

4. Reduced Researcher Bias

Since the surveys are administered online and standardized for all respondents, there’s less chance for researcher bias to creep in. This ensures that the results you gather are more objective and reliable.

5. Adaptability

Survey instruments can be quickly updated or modified based on ongoing feedback. If you spot an issue with a particular question or need to add more information, online panels allow for rapid adjustments without disrupting the entire survey process.

6. Higher participation rates

Panel members get incentives for their feedback, which helps boost the participation rates. What’s more, panel members are people who have opted in to take your surveys. So, they will be more interested in your survey than the average respondent.

online survey panel

7. Constructive feedback on your features:

A dedicated panel is a boon for the product development cycle. That’s because they are involved in your product from the beginning. In addition, their user experience from previous stages helps them to give more insightful feedback.

8. Measurable changes in perception:

An online panel will give you a realistic, long-term view of your business. For example, by periodically using Voice of Customer surveys, you can measure the changes in user perception. Tools like SurveySparrow’s NPS will help you gauge overall satisfaction and enable you to drill down to the root of a specific problem.

9. Rich ROI on online survey panels:

The best part about employing an online survey panel is that you get exceptional ROI due to the highly targeted and qualified respondents. Moreover, due to previous interactions and familiarity with your brand, the respondents are more willing to talk to you.

Why SurveySparrow’s online panel is a must-have!

Conversational Surveys for Higher Engagement:

SurveySparrow transforms traditional surveys into engaging conversations. This unique approach can lead to higher completion rates as participants find the interactive format more enjoyable and less tedious, encouraging more thoughtful and comprehensive responses.

Real-Time Analytics for Immediate Insights:

The platform offers powerful real-time analytics, enabling users to access and analyze data as responses are submitted instantly. This feature allows for quick decision-making, with the ability to monitor trends, measure response rates, and assess survey effectiveness on the fly.

Advanced Segmentation for Targeted Research:

SurveySparrow supports advanced segmentation, allowing researchers to tailor their surveys to specific groups within their panel based on demographics, past responses, or behavior. This precise targeting ensures that the data collected is more relevant and insightful, leading to more accurate conclusions.

Automated Workflows to Streamline Processes:

The platform’s automation capabilities save time and improve efficiency by scheduling survey distributions, sending automatic reminders to non-respondents, and managing follow-up communications. This automation ensures consistent participant engagement without manual intervention.

Multi-Channel Distribution for Wider Reach:

SurveySparrow enables survey distribution across multiple channels, including email, social media, SMS, and web embeds. This flexibility ensures that surveys reach participants through their preferred channels, increasing accessibility and participation rates across diverse audiences.

Integrated Panel Management:

Beyond just survey creation and distribution, SurveySparrow offers integrated panel management tools that help maintain an active and engaged panel. This includes features for recruiting new panelists, updating panelist information, and segmenting your panel for targeted research efforts.

This article describes the concept and purpose of survey panels, the definition of an online survey panel, its advantages, and tips for creating one.

Once you follow all the steps outlined, you have a good starting point for long-term market strategies. Good luck!

Mathew Maniyamkott

Guest Blogger at SurveySparrow

Regular contributor to various magazines. Passionate about entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, and productivity.

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