Creating an Anonymous Survey

A Guide to Anonymous Surveys

Definition: An anonymous survey gives your respondents confidence to voice their opinions without being identified. An anonymous survey does not store your respondents' IP address, location, device, or submission date. Each anonymous survey includes a seal at the top where respondents can click to learn how their identities are protected. You can create an anonymous survey using the anonymous web link or using an automated email collector.

When to Use Anonymous Surveys

Employee Surveys

One of the most common uses for anonymous surveys are to capture honest employee feedback. Anonymous employee surveys can help encourage new ideas, increase productivity, and reduce turnover. SurveyKing gives you the ability to run anonymous surveys on a quarterly or annual basis, helping your organization benchmark and compare results over time.

Academic Research

Anonymous surveys are perfect a way to capture feedback from university students. Anonymous academic surveys can also be used in k-12 to evaluate courses, faculty peer reviews, and parent feedback. The data captured from anonymous academic surveys can be used to improve the learning experience or even identity new after school actives.

Special Projects

You might need to interview at risk groups, such as immigrants. Anonymous surveys are a perfect way to collect value feedback while protecting the identities the group. Oftentimes these groups are not familiar with online survey tools, so seeing the anonymous seal on surveys given them the confidence needed to give honest feedback.

How to Create an Anonymous Survey

To create an anonymous survey, you can either use an anonymous survey link, or an anonymous email collector. Both options have their own advantages. An anonymous survey link is the easiest method and can be included in an email or posted to social media. An anonymous email message is sent from the SurveyKing platform and is ideal when you want to be able to send reminders and easily filter and segment results by certain criteria.

An Anonymous Survey Link

The anonymous survey link is the easiest way to collect anonymous survey responses. Large organizations can add custom data to the link to capture additional data points. To help ensure anonymity, only one anonymous link is available per survey. Steps needed to create an anonymous survey link:

  1. Navigate to the "Distribute" page of your survey.
  2. Click on "Anonymous Link."
  3. From here you can copy the link and place it into an email or on a website. You can additional custom data variables to the link as needed.

The Anonymous Email Collector

The anonymous email collector is ideal for employee or academic surveys. You can upload a list of respondents and send an email invitation out. The benefit to this method is our system will automatically track who has completed and not completed the survey. You won’t have access to see which respondents have or have not completed the survey, only a button that says, "Send Reminders". Custom data can also be included with this collector type.

To ensure anonymity, there is only one anonymous email collector per survey. If you wanted to send out a new campaign, such as a second-round employee survey, you would want to click the "Clear Messages" button. This will reset the anonymous email collector. Note: This will NOT delete survey responses.

  1. Navigate to the "Distribute" page of your survey.
  2. Click on "Anonymous Email Message."
  3. From here you can add email address and any custom data into the upload grid. An Excel upload could also be done for a quicker upload.
  4. You can choose to either send the email immediately (with a five minute delay), or schedule it for a future date or time.
Important! Many survey platforms, such as SurveyMonkey, still show email addresses with completion dates, even when the “anonymous feature” is marked. This could be used to indirectly identify respondents. Other platforms also allow you to create multiple collectors and mark them "anonymous", meaning employers could create multiple links to indirectly track answers.

How Anonymous Surveys Protect Identities

An anonymous survey does not store your respondents' IP address, location, device, or submission date. This ensures that respondents cannot be indirectly identified by the survey administrator. SurveyKing also takes additional measures that other platforms ignore, to help further ensure anonymity.

Taking an Anonymous Employee Survey? Ask fellow employees to see their survey link. All links should contain the same set of characters. For example, "surveyking.com/a/eqirtg7" is a link to anonymous survey. Custom variables can be included like this live example surveyking.com/a/eqirtg7&c1=Dallas Office. The important part is the "a/eqirtg7." Anything else after this is a custom variable and is protected with k-anonymity.

Identities are protected with the following measures on SurveyKing:

  • IP addresses and device information are not stored.
  • The submission dates of responses are not visible.
  • Custom data added to the URL (for large surveys / studies) are protected with k-anonymity.
  • Table rows for individual results are randomized, making it impossible to indirectly track the last respondent who answered the survey. Respondent numbers on these tables are also hidden, eliminating the ability to indirectly track respondent answers.
  • All anonymous surveys include an "Anonymous Seal" at the top of each survey.
  • Internal logs of anonymous surveys strip away the query string, adding an extra layer of protection.

Using Custom Data with an Anonymous Survey

Custom data is important for large scale studies, such an employee survey for a multinational organization. A large organization may want to segment their data by employee location. Asking employee location on the survey may subconsciously trigger mistrust, leading to skipped questions or unreliable answers. Custom data is the solution to this problem, and this data is protected using k-anonymity to protect identities.

Below are some interactive examples of anonymous survey links with custom data appended to the end of link.

Example: surveyking.com/a/eqirtg7&c1=Dallas Office

Custom data can also be used to help benchmark results. If your company sends out a quarterly employee survey, you could add "qtr1","qtr2",etc. to the link and then setup a comparison on your reports for each quarter. This would quickly allow you to compare quarterly results while maintaining anonymity.

Example: surveyking.com/a/eqirtg7&c3=QRT1

K-Anonymity Explained

K-anonymity is how respondent identities are kept anonymous when custom data is included with the survey. This feature works by hiding response counts and statistics that do not meet an aggregate total of at least fifty.

With the employee survey example, if there is only one employee in the "Boston" office, you would not be able to filter or segment the results based on office location. Only if there were fifty or more employees in “Boston”, would the filters or comparisons show data.

Viewing answers indirectly via filters or comparisons would also be impossible using k-anonymity. Sticking with the employee survey example, if there is only one employee in the "Boston" office and fifty employees in the "Chicago" office, you could filter by the "Chicago" office and subtract that data from the total to figure out the answers from the "Boston" employee. In this situation, k-Anonymity detects that there is only one response from the "Boston" office, and thus no results would be displayed.

Best Practices & Tips

Anonymous surveys are best used where respondents feel that their answers may have negative repercussions.

  • Prior to sending the survey, convey to your respondents that the survey is anonymous, and that the SurveyKing system is being used. When your employees see the anonymous seal, they will be comfortable giving their opinions. Many employee surveys simply state "This survey is anonymous" without using the anonymous link, leading to distrust.
  • If sending an employee survey, try not to ask questions that relate to identities, such as names, departments, or locations. Not only will this cause distrust from your audience, it will also add unnecessary length to the survey. If possible, add this data dynamically with custom variables and let k-anonymity take care of keeping the identities protected.
  • Ask questions that have been obvious pain points to your organization. For example, you could ask, "What do you think of the recent changes to the paid time off policy?." With anonymity guaranteed, employees will feel comfortable sharing their true feelings, and your organization can work on addressing issues that are brought to light by the candid responses.
  • Include question types like MaxDiff or Click Ranking. These are ideal for anonymous surveys, since they help determine preference; honest preferences will give your organization actional feedback.