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I'm wanting to build a usability survey on a website that's used by mortgage brokers.

It's a website where users will come not to browse, but to find mortgage product information while a client is sat there with them; so it's usually a short visit. The survey cannot be targeted as it's an unauthenticated website.

How soon after page load is the best time to pop up an invitation for a short survey?

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Never, really. It's something people aren't exactly going to like. But if there is a reward, then people can tolerate it. – DA01 Jan 30 '13 at 18:57
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Don't use a popup survey unless it if for critical information and you have no another way of getting it. And there are negligible situations where this is the actual case.

You are essentially doing something that hurts UX, in order to find out some information about your UX. The best way to do this is to sit down with some potential users and do a proper UX test with them. This is fairly easy and fast to do as you don't need statistically significant numbers to gain an insight into this.

I won't go into how to do a test, as there are questions on this site which cover it well already.

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If the broker is sitting with a client, I would highly recommend against this method. Their primary attention will be on their client and they will not be able to devote any time towards your survey (and if they did, they would look really unprofessional in front of a client don't you think?) If you must go this route, I would say to display the pop up on the very last page (assuming there is such a thing, like a 'results' sort of page or something like that), where their primary goal has already been achieved. It's still unlikely that they will respond in front of the client, but they may leave the window open and return to it later. Even then, I would design the survey so that it's embedded into the pop up itself and their only two options are to submit their answer or close the window. Keep in mind that even in the best circumstances the response rate for these things are very low.

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So essentially, a broker would sit down with a client discussing product information until a popup appears at the end for a survey?

This bothers me in multiple ways:

1) As JohnGB described, this is not UX friendly. Popups or actions that the users are not expecting behave similarly to bad advertisement practices.

2) Surveys are not nearly as effective or informative as a personal UX test. Especially if it's a popup survey. The user may click on anything to remove it.

3) If I was a broker with a client, the last thing I would want is a popup blocking or even distracting me from what I'm doing.

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