I would like to add a couple of surveys to recently deployed sites and I really need to know how a visitor found the experience. Ideally I would have a number of participants to interview but I'm currently unable to do this.

My plan currently is to have a simple lightbox window when a user first arrives requesting that they complete my survey (includes an external link). That's all fine. What I need to know now is what the best approach is to get the same users to enter information when / just before they leave the site.

It's a tricky technical problem but I'm worried about negatively impacting the usability which would either drive participants away or be reflected in the responses.

From what I can see a typical approach is to open a new window. Another option would be to use onbeforeunload javascript to request that the user stays on the site long enough to complete the exit survey. If you are unfamiliar with this javascript start writing a response (a single space will do) and try to navigate away from this page. The alert box (which is not very customisable) that appears is called by this function. In my version it will only appear when you leave the domain (or, unfortunately, refresh the page).

A further complication I have is around the multitude of devices I need to support. I can't imagine that opening a new window for this purpose is every welcome or recommended on a mobile phone (especially).

So that's my problem.

Is there an understood best practice for exit surveys?

Update: I left off a small bit of possibly important information - I would like to gather the same data before and after I overhaul a site. So client X comes in with a website circa 1990 and wants a 'refresh'. I'd like to gather information to find out what current users are (dis)content with and develop from there. Then I need to gather information after the new site goes live to check how I've done and what issues remain.

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    You know what's really annoying? Surveys that pop up after using the site for literally 5 seconds. How am I supposed to judge my experience with no time to use it? It's not just me, everyone I know finds these irritating too.
    – Wander
    Sep 21, 2012 at 16:08
  • @Captain exactly! I don't want to guess how long a user has been using the site. I could store a cookie with a first hit time and then run something based on a combination of time elapsed and number of pages hit, but it would all be rather random! Sep 21, 2012 at 16:17
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    One thing to bear in mind is that just because a window is being closed, that doesn't mean the user closed that window specifically - they could be closing an entire browser, with your site in just one tab. In those cases, beforeUnload events and alerts can be particularly jarring and out-of-the-blue. Sep 23, 2012 at 21:15
  • @JimmyBreck-McKye that's a great point - I didn't think of that Sep 24, 2012 at 8:11

2 Answers 2



Users have goals. Let's say you want to buy a hairdryer. Let's suppose you have some vague idea on what kind of hairdryer you want.

You type into Google: "Hairdryer shop"

Let's suppose your site comes up first (or second)

Instead of diving into hairdryer specifics, there's a popup asking you, "hey, you seem to be new here, we've just opened this shop. What do you think?"

I guess you'd think: "get away! I just want to buy a hair dryer. Besides, I've just arrived, I know nothing of all this stuff, what do you THINK I care about your site?"

Then, let's say that the hairdryers on the page are not your type, so you decide you want to go back to Google results, to look at the next result.

"Hey, so, how was the site like? Would you fill us a survey pleeeease?"

Get off, I just want to get this hairdryer buying done!

The same goes for information sites.

If you want to get users opinion either watch them silently, so that you can watch them in "real-life situations", or go out to the streets and pick up some and do a proper testing.

You can fill in the same kind of form for a price of a coffee or a beer. Just make sure it's you who fills the actual form out then, ask the questions out loud.

Sure, it's an emulated environment, but I never understood the "we don't have money for testing" thing... Yeah, sure, it's not the same as a proper focus group testing, done by a company, in a lab, for $150 a piece, but if you do it carefully, you can get nearly the same amount of information for just a few cups of coffee and perhaps some chocolate bars.

If you don't like to pick up people from the streets (I live next to a university dormitory. Students are easy to persuade), you can try to gather them online.

Half a dollar per user. I guess it's worth it.

  • Thanks for the response, definitely agree with lots of it. In your opinion does the type of website and user group make a difference? I have a site for very specific trades people around the world. I cannot afford to travel to each hub, find some people who likely use my site (or one like it) and question them. I have some other sites which would benefit from the 'walk-in testing' you describe (my office is on a busy university street). I was thinking of taking the same approach to all sites, but maybe I can do away with surveys in most instances... Sep 24, 2012 at 8:09

For starters, I would recommend against using popups to actually invite users to take part in a survey. They are just really intrusive and as enter link description herethis article on Smashing Magazine points out

Pop-ups interrupt the browsing session of the visitors and require an instant feedback. Respect your visitors.

With regards to how you can collect information

  • Keep a large prominent button inviting users to provide feedback about the site. This doesnt have to be intrusive but should be noticeable enough for the user to be able to see it.To quote this blog about web surveys

Make Appealing Invites. Create a Did You Find What You Needed On Our Site? button and display it prominently at the top of your page. A button like this can still lead to a user survey, but it reads more like a welcoming invitation to offer feedback.

  • Place it a position where users might be able to provide some valuable inputs about your site. As captain rightly pointed out, a survey which pops up 5 seconds after I land on a site is just plain annoying and even if I am inclined to give a response,I wont have much to say. To quote the above mentioned blog article

if you are looking to improve the online shopping experience, only invite purchasers after they have reached the checkout page. If you're looking to collect information about why customers are leaving your URL empty-handed, only invite users who leave without making a purchase.

  • Keep it simple : If your user does agree to take part in your survey, keep it simple. The more fields he has to fill in,the more are the chances of him leaving.To quote this article

conversion rate improves by almost half when the number of form fields are reduced from four fields to three

With regards to creating user surveys for mobile, I strongly recommend against using popups there. To quote this article

I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me more likely to close down a website on my mobile browser than an errant popup image. Although these graphics can be useful on traditional websites in terms of capturing new subscribers and driving conversions, they’re an absolute nightmare in a mobile environment.

As you’re developing your mobile website version, make sure all popups are turned off. Heck, even if – after reading this article – you decide not to take advantage of all the benefits mobile website versions have to offer, consider turning off popups on your main site (or using a tool that deploys them on traditional browsers only) in order to avoid irritating your mobile visitors.

Your best approach in this case would be to perhaps use a call to action button to invite users to submit a survey.

Here are some additional resources for you to read

Customer Feedback: Persuasion and Usability Matters

Best practices for e-commerce consumer surveys: part one

  • Thanks for your answer! I was thinking about the call-to-action button approach but wasn't sure it worked for an exit survey - would you suggest combining my two surveys into one 'how was the experience' form? Sep 24, 2012 at 8:10

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