Online Research Panels

Surveys in Panel Studies

A panel study is a type of continuous survey data collection method with predefined well-known subject profiles, also called panelists. These people usually volunteer to work with the panel in exchange for some benefit, typically money for each survey answered or some award that is accumulated as "miles". In addition, a panelist may volunteer to work with the panel for free when the cause being researched by the Study is in his or her personal interest.

Once the panelist is recruited to participate in a panel, he fills out an extensive form where declares a set of relevant information that will serve to define his-her initial profile. In this initial screening, the panelist is asked about his-her Age, Sex, Marital status, Race, Nationality, Skin color, Height, Weight, Social status, Educational level, City and area where he/she lives, personal and other preferences, lifestyle, identity and political preference, habits and daily routine, uses of certain products and categories, consumer behavior, etc., etc.

With this valuable information the panelist may participate in a study or in several studies, where his profile is key to understand the behavior of the category we are researching, for example, what brand of car does he prefer, what kind of use he gives to a certain product, etc. We can tab-cross these answers with demographics variables and personal data we already know in advance, as Age, Sex, Region, Consumer profile, beliefs and attitudes, etc.

Advantages of Panel Studies

  • Rich in crossoever data, because we can cross-tab any question we ask by all kinds of socio-psycho-demographic variables that we already know in advance.
  • Ease and speed for obtaining information. Since normally the panelist is easy to locate, we just send him an email with the online survey and collect his answers in minutes.
  • Panel virtualization. The people in the panel or "Audience" do not need to be at once in a physical location. With the help of the internet and online questionnaires we can access the opinions of thousands of panelists. Thus, online panels have expanded and popularized in the last 30 years and nowdays with a global reach.

Disadvantages of Panel Studies

  • The panel is expensive. Since maintaining a base of panelists willing to participate requires providing some form of incentive. Typically, online panel companies pay between $1 and $20 for each completed questionnaire.
  • Bad data. There are people who hunt panels, because "it's a way to make extra money". The problem is that some panelists provide false information to be eligible in various studies at once, to have more chances of getting an fixed income. This situation does not only corrupt our data, but discredits the survey as a tool, and the Market Research Industry as a whole.

What types of research are best suited to a Panel

Not all marketing studies are candidates to be conducted by the panel technique. Thus, before incurring in the high cost of a panel, it is necessary to evaluate the various data collection techniques we could alternatively apply in our study.

Studies that research sensitive topics or categories, such as abortion, incest, pedophilia, condom use, , deodorant use, personal habits such as brushing teeth, showering, waxing, etc., or socially acceptable but objectionable habits, such as the use of liquor, marijuana and tobacco, tend to be more appropriate for panel studies.

Another factor is the researcher's budget. Typically the panel can cost up to 10 times more than a simple Ad-hoc survey (low cost self-administered online survey) and up to 5 times more than a CATI (telephone survey) or CAPI (mobile device face-to-face survey). If budget is large enough, the researcher has 2 options, either to set up their own panel or hire the panel services from a third party. Setting up a panel involves recruiting the panelists, defining and negotiating an incentive, creating a registration form and a prepare a database for queries.

Hiring a panel implies evaluating the different market options or companies that provide fixed samples, which have panelists related to the category or problem we are studing, and who are located within the geographical area that interests us, for example, if we are studying the use of video games by adolescents between 12 and 20 years old, of medium to high social class, living in the city of Cincinatti. We need the panel company to find these exact profiles.

Therefore, the most commonly used panels today are:

  • Smoking panels
  • Food and beverage tasting panels
  • Specific product panels.
  • Advertising panels which evaluate the quality and frequency of advertising
  • Political opinion panels
  • Expert panels, giving opinions on certain topics
  • Consumer panels of any category or product
  • Omnibus Panel giving opinions on various categories or products

The panel Study Survey Softwares

Currently most low-price online survey providers, such as Survey Monkey, QuestionPro, Survey Gizmo, e-Survey, Voxco and Rotator Survey, etc. offer interfaces to connect with online panel companies. Once the researcher hires the service of the panel company, the next step is to build the questionnaire that we will apply to the panel. Typically, the way to connect our survey with the online panel company is by routing the survey once it has been finished.

When modeling a panel survey with Rotator, we must program it so, when it is completed, the survey is redirected to the panel provider server, for example: If we want to create a survey and send it to our panelists, we must create a unique url for each panelist, like this






Note to the right of the url, the field "?Id=P1", this indicates that the first url will be sent to panelist with id P1, the second to panelist P2 and so on.

Invitations should be done by personalized email to each panelist, either from our email account or using the email delivery service provided by the online panel company itself.

Next, our panel supplier must give us the connection url, which typically has this format:[id]

This is the URL provided by the panel vendor. At the end of the URL, we have the field [id], there our survey system will automatically insert the unique ID that identifies the panelist, which has been declared at the beginning of the survey by the argument? Id=XX

The advantage of this technique is that the panel company does not have access to our data, since they only have access to the panelist's ID and socio-demographic data, as well as any other data about the lifestyle declared by the panelist at the momment of registration. All survey responses will be recorded on the server where the survey resides, but our data will not travel to the panel company's server.

Worldwide Panel Research Companies with a ressonable price

Since the 1990s, and with the rise of the Internet, thousands of market research companies dedicated to maintaining online panels have been created. Among the most moderate priced outstanding ones we could mention:

Video: Developing and managing an online panel

Video: Panels Online for Market Research

Video: Experimental Research Design