The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Knowing What Your Readers Want

The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Knowing What Your Readers Want

Does this sound familiar?

You spend hours brainstorming irresistible topics for your blog – then the resulting posts get totally ignored.

Another time, you throw out some random idea that popped into your head – and the comments go wild.

Or how about this…

You bust your butt creating an awesome freebie to attract email subscribers, but when you put it out into the world… crickets.

Let’s face it: You’re no mind reader.

But if you’re wondering what topics your readers are longing for you to write about, what freebie would attract subscribers in droves, or what product readers would beg you to buy, there is a way.

And it’s so obvious, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner.

The “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” Way to Get Inside Your Readers’ Heads

So, are you ready to learn the big secret to discovering exactly what readers want?

Here it comes…

You ask them.

That’s it. Pretty simple, right?

Of course, as a blogger, you can’t just reach over, tap your reader on the shoulder and ask them what they think.

The smart approach is to use an online survey.

The Simple Survey That Told Me Exactly What Content to Create Next

I realized that when my kid goes to kindergarten in the fall, I’ll finally have enough time to create a new product for writers.

But what to create? I was stumped.

So I designed a SurveyMonkey survey with six questions I hoped would spark some insights.

I posted the survey to Twitter and Facebook and sent it to my email subscribers, offering a suite of my e-books to one random respondent as an incentive to fill out the form.

Within a few days I had 380 responses and was shocked to discover that many of my readers wanted scripts, templates, and workbooks – products I had never even considered creating.

I also got requests for an email mentoring program, which I established the next week… the program filled within two hours.

Free Survey Services to Get You Started Fast

Want to mine your readers’ brains for ideas and insights like this?

Just sign up for a free survey service like the ones below, create a new survey file, and let’s get started.

  • SurveyMonkey is free for up to 10 questions and 100 responses. If you get more responses than that, you can upgrade for $26 per month. (This is the one I normally use.)
  • PollDaddy doesn’t limit the number of questions or respondents you can have, but if you want to export your results, you’ll need to upgrade to PollDaddy Pro, which is $200 per year. (I’ve used PollDaddy in the past and have been happy with it.)
  • KwikSurveys has a free option that doesn’t limit the number of questions or responses, and it lets you export the results.
  • FreeOnlineSurveys lets you create a survey of up to 20 questions and receive up to 50 responses over a 10-day period for free. If you get more responses, it costs $19.99 per month to upgrade.

Something to keep in mind with the ones that limit your responses – if you go over the limit, the system will store the extra responses for you, so they’re available if you decide to upgrade. It will not delete any responses!

Also, if you need to upgrade, you can pay for one month, get your results, and then cancel the plan if you don’t think you’ll be doing another survey soon.

How to Prepare Questions That Unlock Your Readers’ Deepest Desires

Shortly, I’ll give you some specific questions you can use to get inside your readers’ heads.

But first, let’s look at some useful tips for survey-writers everywhere.

Tip #1: Go broad not narrow.

Here’s a secret known by the best interviewers: Avoid asking yes/no questions unless you really, really have to.

When you make respondents choose between those two answers, that’s all you’ll get – a yes or no, with no insights to help you interpret them, and no leeway for your readers to choose something else entirely.

Remember, you don’t want to stay stuck in the box of what you already know – you want to learn from your readers. So you need to invite, and be ready for, unexpected answers.

Multiple-choice and essay questions are a great way to get them.

That means, instead of:

Do you like when I post about puppies? Yes/No


Which type of post do you want to see more of? Puppies/Cat videos/Gossip/Scandal/OtherΒ (Choose one.)Β 

Then – and this is really important – create an “Other” essay box where respondents can enter an answer you don’t have on the list.

(You can limit the size of the essay box so you don’t get an actual, well, essay.)

Tip #2: Force them to prioritize.

On a multiple-choice question like the previous example, you may be tempted to let readers choose more than one option.

After all, what if they like puppies and scandal? Or cats and gossip?

But allowing multiple answers is usually a big mistake.

In my experience, when you offer people more than one option, they don’t really think about it – they just choose everything that looks even remotely interesting.

For example, in the survey I ran for my blog readers and email subscribers, I let them choose as many options as they wanted for the question “What topics would you most like me to address in a product such as an e-book or e-course?”

And I should have predicted that most people wanted a little of everything: motivation, beginners’ issues, networking, marketing, and more. So it was difficult to tease out what they really desired.

Make your readers prioritize – because that’s what you’ll have to do when you start creating your content and products!

Tip #3: At some point, turn them loose.

Try including one question where you provide a longer essay box and let your readers go wild with their suggestions.

This is where I got the requests for workbooks and an email mentoring program!

If I hadn’t included this free-for-all question, I would never have noticed these needs.

The 4 Questions That Will Get You the Answers You Need

Now that you understand the basics of how good survey questions work, let’s look at some specific questions that will yield answers you can use.

Because the wrong queries can get you useless results. For example, asking “Hey, what do you guys want from me?” will elicit less-than-illuminating answers. (“A massage!” “All your products for free!” “Fish and chips!”)

As a freelance writer who has interviewed hundreds of people, I’ve discovered several types of questions that always get well-thought-out, insightful responses.

Question #1: “What is your biggest challenge when it comes to X?”

If you’re wondering what kinds of information products to create, or what to tackle in your blog posts, this question will help you figure out what’s bugging your readers. Solve these problems with your offerings and you’re golden.

Say you blog about fitness for women over 45 years old. You ask, “What is your biggest challenge when it comes to keeping fit?” and a good portion of your readers respond that their biggest problem is that they’re embarrassed to exercise in public, especially at the local gym filled with 20-year-old hardbodies.

What a treasure trove of information for you to work with! You can mine this information (more on that later) to come up with blog posts, subscriber incentives, and new information products that help your readers with their most-pressing problems.

Question #2: “What level are you at in X (newbie, intermediate, pro)?”

Asking your readers where they’re at, in terms of your blog topic, will help you figure out how much handholding you need to provide and what kinds of blog posts and products will fare best with your audience.

Let’s say you run a blog on home repair. You ask your survey respondents how experienced they are in DIY home projects and discover that the majority of them are at an intermediate level. Now you know you don’t need to explain basic terms, and can post more sophisticated DIY projects instead of sticking to basic how-tos.

Question #3: “What’s missing out there? What product/service do you wish someone would create?”

Here, you let your readers help you out with market research. What does your readership crave that you and your competitors aren’t offering?

For example, in my survey I asked the following: “What topics related to freelance writing do you feel are most needed in the marketplace right now? Is there anything you don’t see covered enough? Anything missing altogether?”

The two winners: networking and the business of freelance writing. That brings up all kinds of cool ideas for posts and books.

Question #4: “How do you prefer to learn (watching, listening, reading, doing, other)?”

This is a sneaky way to learn whether your readers prefer traditional blog posts, videos, or podcasts – or whether they need some sort of e-course or mentoring that includes assignments and accountability.

I was so glad I asked this question because I’d been feeling like a slacker for avoiding videos and podcasts. It seems everyone’s plugging these formats, but hey – I’m a writer, not a movie star!

When I saw that my readers overwhelmingly prefer to learn by reading and doing, I realized that all the effort that would have gone into other blog post formats would be better spent writing more traditional posts, e-books, and courses.

Asking how your readers learn best will help you focus your efforts where they’re most appreciated.

How to Make Sure Everyone Knows about Your Survey

The best-designed survey in the known universe won’t help you if only three people fill it out. (“Hey, one-third of my readers want blog posts on Elvis sightings!”)

You want to get a broad sampling of your target readers – not the passionate views of a small few.

Here’s how to spread the word about your survey, and then we’ll talk about how to entice readers to take action and actually fill it out:

  • Use social media. If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn, let your friends and followers know you’re running a survey. I’ve heard that you’ll get more social shares if you actually ask for them, so try including “Please RT” in your tweets. And social updates are easily missed, so don’t be afraid to post multiple times – just maintain a healthy balance with other content.
  • Mail your subscribers. You do have a mailing list, right? Send out an email to your subscribers asking them to take the survey. Tell them how much you care about what they think. Explain the benefit of responding – more content tailored to their needs. Remember, the people on your list are your core audience.
  • Tell your BFFs. Your friends know people who know people who know people. And those people know people. So email your buds and ask them to tell their networks about your survey.
  • Write a blog post. You likely have people who read your blog but aren’t on your mailing list, so you can reach these readers by writing a blog post about your survey. Instead of a simple announcement, try to wrap the news of your survey in a post that has independent value.

The more of these tactics you use, the more results you should garner.

How to Get More Responses Than You Could Reasonably Hope For

Now everyone knows about your survey – but why the heck would they take time away from Project Runway to fill it out?

The following are some tactics to entice, sway, and persuade people to spend a few minutes helping you out:

Tactic #1: Offer a goodie.

Turn your survey into a contest by promising that one random respondent will win a cool prize from you. Then use to choose the lucky winner, and later, you can announce the winner to your mailing list.

And don’t worry, you don’t need to spend a metric boatload of money on a prize. When I gave away a collection of every PDF book I’ve published, it cost me nothing but had a big impact.

Another option is to offer every respondent a little incentive, such as some exclusive content. Just make sure the process is automated so you’re not emailing 500 e-books or special reports by hand.

Tactic #2: Appeal to their better side.

Here’s something that may surprise you: People have a natural desire to help. So explain your reasons for asking for their time and many will help on that basis alone.

When I emailed my list, I was honest about the fact that I couldn’t decide what new products to create after my kid goes off to kindergarten. I asked my readers to help me out, and help me they did.

Caveat: Your reason for the survey better be a good one. Running a survey because you want to figure out how to attract more advertisers, sell more books, or generally pad your bottom line isn’t going to convince anyone to help you. When you take a poll, it needs to be because you want to help your readers.

If helping them helps you, that’s fine. But it can’t be the main or the only reason.

Tactic #3: Give them a voice.

People love to be heard, and a survey is a perfect chance for your readers to let you know what they think – good or bad.

In your emails and social media, frame your request as a chance for survey respondents to voice their opinions, be heard, and make a difference.

A bonus is that readers will feel more bonded to you if they feel they’ve helped influence the direction of your blog or your business.

Tactic #4: Keep it short.

With many people complaining they barely have time to brush their teeth (eww!), you’d probably be laughed out of town for asking if they had 30 spare minutes to answer some questions.

So keep your survey short – and let your readers know how short it is.

My survey contained just six questions, and one of them was the respondent’s name and email address (to be entered into the contest).

So I asked my readers if they would spend just five minutes to help me out and have their voices heard.

And 380 of them were happy to do just that.

Tactic #5: Give them a deadline.

Running a contest or offering a freebie gives you a great reason to impose a deadline on survey responses. If you don’t have a cutoff date, answers will endlessly trickle in, and you will never know when you’re finally ready to start sorting through the responses.

I like to keep my surveys open for less than a week – because I’m an impatient person. But really, there’s no reason to drag it out. People should be able to get to and complete your survey within a few days, especially if you let them know that you’ve kept it short.

What to Do with All That Juicy Data

So you’ve closed your survey and now you’ve got a (hopefully) big list of responses.

Good for you!

But what on earth do you do with all the info you’ve collected?

Here’s how to get down and dirty with all that data…

1) Look for multiples.

This is an easy one.

If you notice many people asking for the same thing – bingo.

For example, you might see dozens of people requesting a product you’d never even thought of before.

In my survey, I got numerous requests for workbooks, templates, and scripts, which shows me these would be good products to work on right away.

2) Mix and match the results.

Let’s say you run a food blog and you asked your readers a multiple-choice question about what kind of cooking they’re interested in. The top two responses are gluten-free baking and dairy-free recipes – so it’s reasonable to assume that your audience contains many readers who have food allergies or who are gluten-free or dairy-free for health reasons.

However, that insight alone might not be enough to create knockout content for your audience. It’s a little too broad to be interesting.

So try combining this information with results from your other questions to narrow the focus.

For example, let’s say you also discover that more than 50% of your readers have kids under the age of five.

Think what ideas that spurs for blog posts and information products: Baking for the allergic child? Kid-friendly gluten-free treats? A giveaway of a cookbook for lactose-intolerant kids?

So put on your detective hat (Lookin’ sharp!) and see what you can decipher from your survey responses. Mix and match the insights then brainstorm posts and products to fit.

3) Don’t ignore the outliers.

It’s tempting to consider only what the majority of your readers want, but the outliers can also spur great ideas.

For example, out of my 380 respondents, a whopping two of them mentioned in the “tell me anything” essay box that they’d like to see an e-course that spans six months or more.

That doesn’t mean the other 378 are not interested in a super-long, comprehensive class – just that they didn’t think of it at the time of the survey, or that they have other priorities right now.

Personally, I think this is an awesome idea that could get a lot of traction. And even if I don’t implement it right away, it’s something I could test in my next survey.

4) Keep an open mind.

Even if you think you already know what your readers want, be prepared for your survey to surprise you.

Remember the example I gave above where the women over 45 said their biggest fitness challenge was being embarrassed to exercise at the gym? If you’re like me, you probably would have expected to hear moans about hormonal weight gain, and aching joints that make it difficult to hit the treadmill. But you’d have been wrong.

And that’s what you want: To be shocked and stunned by the answers you get. Your respondents are giving you ideas on what they really want.

So don’t throw away responses because they don’t fit in with your preconceived notion of what your readers need.

The Results Are In – Here’s What to Do Next

Whew! You conducted your survey, got a bazillion responses (woot!), and pored over the results to peer into your readers’ minds.

Your brain is exploding with new ideas for what to create next.

But before you start working on new content, the following steps will help you wring the last drops of value from your hard work.

1) Give them the scoop.

If people have responded to your survey, they’ll naturally be curious about the results.

So write to your readers and let them know what you discovered – and how you’ll use the information.

For example, you may announce that you’re creating a product they wanted, or working on blog posts on topics they suggested.

This is a powerful way to start what marketer Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics calls the “pre-sell” – dropping hints about your products and services before you’ve even created them.

This is part of a long-term, slow marketing process that leads up to your eventual launch.

2) Fill in the gaps.

Sometimes the survey responses will show you not only what your readers are craving from you, but also how you can better promote what you already offer.

For instance, in my survey, I noticed something horrifying: Many, many readers asked for products I already have.

I say it was horrifying because I like to consider myself a skilled marketer – but here were 380 writers, most of whom read my blog or are on my mailing list, who didn’t know about my core products!

Your survey is a great opportunity to find out whether your readers are up-to-date on your offerings, and to remedy it if not.

In the follow-up email I sent to my list about the survey results, I mentioned that many respondents requested the same three products over and over – and hey, whaddaya know, I already have those and here are the links!

Are You Ready to Discover What Your Readers REALLY Want?

If you truly want your blog to thrive, you must get inside the heads of your readers.

But mind reading is a trick few bloggers have mastered.

So they just guess what their readers want and hope they’re not too far off the mark.

But a well-designed survey eliminates the guesswork and can reveal a treasure trove of valuable information about your audience’s wants and needs.

Sure, it takes a little work. But the insights gained from a short survey might just lead to the big break your blog has been waiting for.

So don’t hem and haw and put it off until, like, never.

Instead, accept the following assignment:

Take 30 minutes right now to open an account at SurveyMonkey (or one of the other free services) and brainstorm 5-10 questions you’d like to ask your readers.

Follow through, and you’ll soon have the information you need to start creating the content (and maybe even the products) your readers are secretly crying out for.

Because if you really want to know what’s going on inside people’s heads, there’s only one way to know for sure.

Go ahead and ask.

About the Author: Linda Formichelli has been a full-time freelance writer since 1997, writing for magazines like Redbook and Writer’s Digest and for corporate clients like Sprint and OnStar. She also runs the Renegade Writer blog, where you can find all kinds of goodies for freelance writers, both free and not-so-free. Join her mailing list to get two free e-books for writers and Linda’s inspiring and helpful Monday Motivations for Writers emails.


  1. Rob McNelis
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 07:41:33

    Nice post Linda. I like using BuzzSumo to see what content has already done well in my niche. Just another tip. πŸ™‚

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 09:04:52

      Thanks for the tip!

      • Bill Achola
        Aug 21, 2014 @ 02:33:40

        Super idea Linda, from my own thought i’d suggest offering irresistible offer would be an other trick, or what do you think?

  2. John Yeoman
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 07:52:09

    Great ideas, Linda, and eminently do-able. I’d add just one caveat: Yes, we need to give folk clear options in a survey. (Asking them to suggest ideas is futile. Either they won’t know or their ideas will be impractical.) And we also need a blue-skies ‘give us your comments and suggestions’ box. That way, we might get some ideas we’d never have thought of.

    But… if we implement those ideas, and they could significantly impact our business, we have to test them again, with another survey, before we implement them. Last year, I lost my shirt by taking an idea someone gave me in a survey and launching it without testing. It seemed, only me and that one person loved the idea…

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 09:04:28

      Very good point! For me, I tested the idea of the email mentoring service people requested by opening it up to just 25 clients for the first month, at a discounted price since these are my beta testers. I’m learning as I go along with these inaugural clients. It’s going really well so far, though, so soon I’ll probably accept another 25 clients…and grow from there.

  3. Kelvin Dorsey
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 08:11:02

    Assumption’s the mother of all…ya know! Never assume what your prospects want. Copywriters research their customers…Bloggers just ask! Jon, you never disappoint my man!

  4. Mark @ NinjaOutreach
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 08:14:43

    What a timely post we are in the process of bringing out a new software and we have been doing outreach to survey our target market it has given such a great insight and helped us add features that we would of never of come up with ourselves, which I believe will give us a edge over our competitors thanks for sharing.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:13:19

      That is so cool! What features did you add in response to what you learned? Curious to know!

  5. Kelvin Dorsey
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 08:17:24

    Sorry Linda..thought this was Jon. Ya da Gal then!

  6. Stine Halmind
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 08:27:45

    Thank’s for the insight, Linda!
    I am a complete newbee (not even near having a reason to have an e-mail-list πŸ˜‰ but this seems absolutely doable!
    And the post just keeps going – it seemed that every time I scrolled there was a new step described in detail.
    Will definitely save this post until I have an e-mail-list someday.
    @Kelvin: I got supicious where it said “my kids…” – if Jon has kids he’s done a good job hiding that (to me πŸ˜‰

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:14:01

      Yeah, this was one monster of a post, but a blast to write. Glad you liked it!

  7. Olayinka
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 08:52:37

    Nice post Jon, going into broad details for your post is better than narrow blog post.. Thanks for giveaways ideals and survey.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:14:31

      Yes, giveaways really motivate people to take your survey!

  8. Bob Marconi
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 08:57:29


    Thanks for this great info.

    Question: If you create a survey with some sort of prize attached (ebook/printed book/cd, etc.) how do you chose a winner from the responses? Maybe a random number generator or some such program?

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 09:02:38

      Good question, Bob! I use a random number generator at There are probably easier ways to do it, but that’s the one I know! I enter the number of respondents I have, get the number, then count down the list to see who the winner is.

  9. Daryl
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 09:09:00

    Great tips Linda! I think it’s important to show people that getting ideas from your readers is a PROCESS, with several steps involved from formulation to completion.

    I’d also echo the point made earlier up by John – it’s pretty important to test the reader feedback before fully implementing it, because there are occasions where what people SAY they want and what they *actually* want are too different things!

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:15:14

      Yes, very good point. As I mentioned in the comment above, I tested out the email mentoring idea people requested by rolling it out slowly to a beta group.

  10. Ash
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 09:09:45

    Wow Linda. What an AWESOME resource for survey creation. I’ve been looking for this for the longest time online and haven’t found anything that comes close!!!

    Slam dunk!

    • Leanne Regalla
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:19:14

      Hi Ash –
      You can go way into studying this, but you don’t have to now that Linda’s done this excellent post! πŸ˜‰
      But you’ll find much of this info buried in instructional design courses, train-the-trainer materials, etc.

  11. Leanne Regalla
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:15:44

    Great post, Linda! Coming up with the right survey questions can be hard, especially if you’ve never done it before. I love that you’ve given some excellent ones in this post. And Survey Monkey has been my go-to resource for years.
    Thanks for this, I’ll definitely reference it next time I want to survey my audience! πŸ˜‰

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:19:07

      I love SurveyMonkey too…they may not be the cheapest, but it’s always worth it for me to upgrade to get the full results.

  12. Timothy Rodriguez
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:17:38

    I am never disappointed in anything that is posted on this site from any of its internal bloggers to its guests.

    The information are like finding treasure, very valuable and immidiatly useful and applicable. Kudos. Great post Linda

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:15:45

      Thank you, Timothy! Happy you enjoyed it.

  13. Kevin Duncan
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:19:07


    Wonderful tips, and I especially like your intro.

    But I must disagree with your “you’re no mind reader” assertion.

    Why? Because I think you ARE are mind reader!

    “You spend hours brainstorming irresistible topics for your blog – then the resulting posts get totally ignored. Another time, you throw out some random idea that popped into your head – and the comments go wild.”

    This has happened to me and every blogger I know. How could you possibly know this if you weren’t a mind reader? πŸ˜‰

  14. Godwin Adams
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:34:50

    Doing good surveys is actually necessary to help you get into the minds of your audience. In order to really help them, we marketers have to keep creating what we know our audience needs which will produce the results they want. The emphasis here is on the word “know”.

    Good surveys helps you to know where your time and resources should be invested, as well as eliminate the guess work that produces frustrations and discouragement both on your part and that of your audience.

    But there’s another reason why I love surveys. Good surveys will actually grant you an insight into the kind of words you should use to market the products when you do create them. This is very important. You will also get to know the USP to use, as well as the hot buttons to push.

    In fact, surveys are indispensable tools in the hands of shrewd marketers.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:16:24

      Interesting thought, that surveys help you find the right words to use! Do you have an example of how that worked for you?

  15. Sonia Thompson
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:36:15

    Thanks Linda for such a detailed post. Getting feedback from our customers is also another way to make them a part of our world – which increases their emotional connection with us. A key factor in customer loyalty.

    Thanks for the reminder of how useful surveys are on so many fronts. πŸ™‚

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 11:01:07

      Nice to see you here, Sonia! Thanks for the thumbs-up!

  16. Josh Ludin |
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 11:39:35

    Love the post! it’s amazing what you’ll learn from your readers and followers. I’ve literally saved months of my life asking what my readers want before spending time developing a course nobody would have ever taken.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:17:11

      That is so cool to hear. I should have mentioned in the post that doing a survey takes time, but is a time-saver in the long run.

  17. Zara
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 15:11:44

    Hi Linda, I am new to on-line business but I just had to thank you for what is evidently really useful information. Thank you: it’s clear you have produced valuable insights and expressed them clearly for the benefit of dolts like myself. Please accept my kind regards – I wish you continued success.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 15:13:48

      Hey, I’m a dolt too — I just experiment with things to see what sticks! πŸ™‚

  18. Abraham
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 18:15:31

    This site is just like an hidden treasure for people in Nigeria. I’m glad I find this. Honestly,my bookmark page is full–just with ya posts. THUMBS UP!

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:17:36

      Wow, now I’m famous in Nigeria awesome! πŸ™‚

  19. Justin Gentry
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 19:27:36

    This is good stuff!

    I like practical posts and this nailed it. I think I’ll borrow your four survey questions πŸ™‚

    Thanks Linda!

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:18:10

      Borrow away! And those are only the four I happened to use…I’m sure you’ll come up with others that relate to your audience and your blog.

  20. Eileen Conway
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 03:20:14

    Thank you Linda. Today, just thinking about blogging. I have been informed by many you have to blog, blog what!. What I think is irrelevant. It’s what appeals to others outside of my head. That will help them in their biz- yep never assume. Great practical post- just ask-but put thought into what you are asking….. thanking you. Will do and keep you posted on outcome….

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:20:18

      Thanks, Eileen…and by the way, you DON’T have to blog. I have a post about that coming up in a few weeks on the Renegade Writer Blog. If you’re wondering what to blog about, it’s probably not the right time to start — you need a topic that you’re so passionate about that you won’t mind writing on the topic consistently for as long as it takes. For example, we’ve been doing the Renegade Writer blog for 8 years and I’ve written well over 900 posts myself! It really is a commitment, and if you don’t feel passionate about it, there are other ways to gain an audience for your business.

  21. Bryan Collins
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 06:27:59

    Great post Linda.

    How many people should I have on my email list before I decide to run a survey?

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 15, 2014 @ 08:51:32

      Ooh, good question! I’m not sure what the answer is. It seems you’d want enough people to get a good sample — but I’ll bet that can be smaller than you think. After all, even if you have only 200 subscribers, don’t you still want to know what they want? I hope others can chime in here with a more definitive answer.

      • Neneh Biffinger
        Aug 21, 2014 @ 16:07:08

        Thank you, Linda, for this thoroughly fantastic post!
        Great question, Bryan. It’s like, what comes first – the chicken or the egg? You need a good list to get responses, but you need to know what the reader wants to get a good list. I only have 25 blog subscribers, sad I know. And, 130 “contacts” for my newsletter. I just posted my survey on social media yesterday (with only 2 responses, so far) and plan to send out the emails today. So, we’ll see.
        If y’all are interested in being heard, I would love your feedback on my survey before August 31st.
        There is an opportunity to receive a free Potty Mouth Tours t-shirt or hat!
        Thanks, again, Linda!

  22. Kristy Rice
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 09:32:28

    Had to share with you that I JUST completed the survey from you and Carol about publishing ebooks maybe two emails ago! This post gives great insight into that process and I love the actionable advice, as always.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 15, 2014 @ 09:42:45

      Nice to see you over here, Kristy! I haven’t seen Carol’s survey yet but I know it’s been very helpful to her!

  23. Jo
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 09:44:30

    Hi Linda,
    great post. One question: how big is your email list, and your social media following? What I want to judge is your conversion rate to get those 380 responses… Do you need 10,000 people on the list? That would mean that I can expect just a couple of answers which will not help me very much… πŸ˜‰

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 15, 2014 @ 10:00:08

      Another good question! I have 4,800 people on my list and maybe 5k Twitter followers. However, I don’t think you can put too much stock in other people’s numbers. Maybe you have only 500 subscribers but they’re super-engaged. Maybe your Twitter followers love retweeting your stuff. Bloggers’ situations are all so different that I wouldn’t make a decision based on someone else’s results. Hope that helps!

      • Leanne Regalla
        Aug 15, 2014 @ 10:10:17

        My first “survey” of my list was just around 1000 subscribers (I encouraged feedback from the beginning). All I asked was what was their biggest challenge. I got 30-40 responses, which was definitely good enough to start seeing trends and commonalities, and plan for the next several months.

        I answered every single one personally, and many of those people became clients. Hope this helps. I think the worst thing you can do is not try, regardless of your current list size.

  24. Mai
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 12:45:29

    I think I was one of the respondents in the survey you’re talking about, Linda. πŸ™‚ I learned a lot from this and though it isn’t applicable for me just yet, I’ll be sure to remember everything I’ve learned here once I get my own blog and mailing list running. Thanks a lot!

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:20:50

      Thanks so much for taking my survey, Mai! I LOVES reading the insights I got from my readers.

  25. Carol J. Alexander
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 13:29:15

    Great post, Linda! Almost another textbook. I have done surveys, even ask when someone subscribes to my newsletter to respond with their toughest homesteading challenge. But you gave me a lot more insight into the process and ideas of what more to ask and how to hone my questions. I’m printing this for further study. πŸ™‚ Thanks.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:21:42

      Hey, nice to see you here, Carol! That’s a cool idea to ask your new subscribers what their toughest challenge is. I know Carol Tice has done that and it reveals some really great insights.

  26. Shauna L Bowling
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 15:30:56

    Excellent post, Linda! This is something I need to seriously consider in order to increase my readership. I think what has been holding me back is the prize. I haven’t written any eBooks (only a self-published poetry book). I suspect I lack confidence in coming up with an eBook people will want to read. However, since my niche is green living and environmental issues, asking my audience what they’d like to see addressed will inspire me to provide specific information and just may well lead to ideas for a focused compilation.

    Thanx and congrats on making Jon’s hit list. (I mean that in a good way. Only the best grace his pages!)

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 15, 2014 @ 15:44:47

      Is there anything else you can offer? Can you spare a few bucks to provide maybe an e-book or two that would interest your readers? Or if your readership is fairly big, can you find a third party that would provide the prize for you in exchange for a plug?

      Glad you liked the post!

      • Shauna L Bowling
        Aug 15, 2014 @ 15:52:52

        Linda, I’ll have to think about it. My readership is pretty small. I’ve always thought of myself as providing a service as opposed to a product. However, you’re a writer also and do both. You’ve definitely given me food for thought (and maybe my kitchen table)!

  27. Darcy Kavanaugh
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 18:31:12

    A very timely and informative post Linda! I will definitely use these tips for my first survey. Keep up the exceptional work.

  28. Geniece Brown
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 20:52:54

    My big thing right now is actually growing my email list. So once that grows more, I’ll dig more into what my audience wants. Keeping the survey short is smart. I all of sudden get the tired feeling when I open a survey with a humongous list of questions. I fill out more surveys that are short, sweet and to the point!

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 09:23:05

      Good to see you here, Geniece! I know how you feel. I don’t mind filling out surveys, but they need to be SHORT. I don’t think we’re all as pressed for time as we make out as a society, but we FEEL like we are and we don’t want to spend 20 minutes on a survey!

  29. Debra
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 22:56:56

    Thanks so much for writing this article, Linda! Your suggestions will really help me to finish fine-tuning what my readers really want. I’ve conducted various informal surveys or questions with my readers, which have been helpful, BUT I wish I had outright asked “What product or service do you wish someone would create?” because the generic “What is your biggest challenge?” hasn’t been as useful for me.

    I was fortunately able to sit down in person and interview a few of my local readers for nearly 30 minutes each, which opened up whole new ideas – as 2/3’s of them asked for a specific type of support I didn’t realize they might want. Now I need to confirm these ideas with my wider audience.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 07:07:17

      Wow, how cool that you could interview your readers in person! That must have been fascinating.

  30. Debashish
    Aug 16, 2014 @ 04:00:15

    Great post on how to use surveys to get in the heads of your readers, Linda.

    I have only one question. Considering that the “beginner” tag shows up before the headline, I assumed that the post would be about a sort of hack (I know well enough to not expect a magic pill!) to know what readers want. But conducting a survey, like you suggested, requires one to already have an audience. And as a beginner, that is big roadblock. Am I wrong to assume this?

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 07:06:24

      Thanks for your question! Yes, to do a survey you need people to survey. But don’t forget that they don’t all have to be your current readers…you can also reach out through social media and your friend network to find people to take your survey.

  31. Ryan Biddulph
    Aug 16, 2014 @ 19:07:44

    Hi Linda,

    A simple, honest survey, asking the right questions, gives you all you need to know regarding your next product. This I can see from your AWESOMEly thorough post. Well done.

    For me, I created my new eBook after receiving so many comments. People wanted to travel, and blog, or to blog from paradise as I do. I just started a blog last month based on that premise and did the same with an eBook.

    People will give you all of the feedback you need to know if you’ll simply ask them the right questions. This works well if you’ve built a huge, responsive list or readers/friends/mentors through multiple channels.

    Hit ’em up and sweetening the pot with a nice goodie sure doesn’t hurt as most folks are big on getting something valuable for the time they choose to spend completing your survey.

    One of the biggest keys is to be clear, but as you said, to be broad. Don’t box yourself in. If you interviewed someone with a Yes/No format, or gave the person no room to branch out and chat, the interview would be dull.

    A survey is an interview, in essence, so use the same approach to get the feedback you’ve looking for.

    Thanks Linda, fab post!

    Tweeting now.

    Enjoy your weekend.


    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:12:22

      Good point…a survey IS like an interview. That’s how I think of it when I develop questions. I’ve been interviewing people for 17 years so it’s only natural for me to do it that way.

  32. Godwin Adams
    Aug 16, 2014 @ 19:48:21

    Hey Linda,

    You’re right that even with 200 subscribers one can still do a survey. However, for me, I think the ideal number is 1000. Here’s my reason for that:

    1. When you have a couple hundred subscribers, doing survey at that point won’t be too helpful to them and to you because you are likely to get less response from the exercise. And when you factor in the probability of differing opinions of the few response gotten, you may likely not have anything tangible that your audience will need when it grows. In other words, you will have to conduct another survey again within a short while.

    2. With a subscriber list below 1000, doing survey at that point may not be a good use of your time. Even though you may be giving them what they want, chances are they may not interact with your contents in a way that grows your business.

    So my take on this is to keep the subscribers if they are below 1000 and use the time and energy to grow your list further. With a list of 1000 people, you stand a better chance of getting more ideas which will be more beneficial.

    That is just my little addition.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:13:32

      Thank you…very good insights! Though I think we need to keep in mind that you have more than your subscribers…you have your blog readers as well as social media — your friends AND their friends…and so on. But I agree with your points!

  33. Kulwant Nagi
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 12:09:55

    Oh my goodness..

    I never thought about running a survey on my blog to know what my readers want. I have seen people using various types of surveys on their blogs but I never thought that it can be a good idea to generate articles also.

    This happens with every writer when they start writing and people never care about their stuff.

    Few days back I read one article on CopyBlogger which was about how to become something different than others. I enjoyed that article and learnt many new things.

    This article is a mind opener for all those people (including me) who are still trying hard to write an article which our readers would love to read and share.

    Thanks for the big tips.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:11:12

      Glad the post helped! I know, when you’re a new writer it’s hard t know what to write. But as you gain experience and readers, it will become more clear. You’ll get to the point where you have so many ideas you CAN’T write them all up!

  34. Carsten
    Aug 17, 2014 @ 17:26:17

    Thanks Linda,

    Great stuff and exactly at the right time. I thought about an online survey and your post just solved some questions i had!!!

    of course you are right, assume just makes an ass out of u and me πŸ™‚

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:09:57

      Yeah, and who wants to be an ass? πŸ™‚ Let us know how it goes with your survey.

  35. Kostas Chiotis
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 04:24:39

    H Linda, thanks so much for sharing your insights with us. I think it can be difficult to encourage people to answer surveys, but your pointers are sure to help. I also like some of the advice you have given for analysing the results and will be putting those into practice in the near future.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:09:21

      Circle back and let us know how it goes!

  36. Joe Arak
    Aug 18, 2014 @ 16:06:08

    Thanks Linda for a generous primer on using surveys. I thought of another way to encourage participation using people’s universal desire to reciprocate.

    In the emails sent out inviting people to take the survey one could include a link to download a free gift like a special Guide, White Paper, Check List, or Template created especially for this purpose.

    Researchers might include a crisp $2 bill along with a printed questionnaire to encourage recipients to participate. Studies show when you give people a gift up front they tend to obligingly act and return the favor – in this case by filling out the survey.

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:08:52

      VERY cool idea…thanks so much for sharing it!

  37. Marius Lixandru
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 17:26:59

    Awesome article Linda. is one of the best articles I’ve ever read.
    thanks so much for sharing your experience to us.
    I will also keep an open mind!

    • Linda Formichelli
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:08:14

      Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

  38. Sandy James
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 18:18:34

    Linda, I’m interested in your email mentoring program. Can you tell me more?

    • Linda Formichelliq
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:06:30

      Aagh, all the comment notifications have been getting stuck in my spam box, so I apologize for the delay, everyone. Sandy, thanks for asking. I’m offering email mentoring and will soon be opening it up for more students. I set office hours on Monday and Wednesday where I respond to my mentees’ questions about freelance writing. So far, I’ve helped my students hone article ideas, figure out how to get organized, determine whether and how to publish an e-book, recommended markets to pitch, and even contacted an old editor of mine in helping a student with a pitch…and more. I charged just $40 per month for the first group as they were beta testers. I’m not sure how much I’ll be charging for the next group, but it probably won’t be too much more. If you like, you can sign up for the email mentoring waitlist on my blog at Thanks again!

  39. ScrewtheSystemJoe
    Aug 20, 2014 @ 10:43:42

    Great article Linda.
    Was wondering where you stand on the balance between creating innovative content and content your readers reply too in surveys?
    Sometimes a reader/buyer might not know what they want until the writer/creator comes up with something innovative that blows them away. Do you ever use that approach or do you usually just stick with responses you’ll get from surveys?

    • Linda Formichelliq
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 09:07:37

      Hi, Joe! Good question. I do a mix. I have SO many ideas and things I want to write about that I definitely will write those up…but I keep my survey respondents’ needs in mind as well when coming up with new post ideas. I hope that helps!

  40. Linda Formichelli
    Aug 21, 2014 @ 16:12:30

    Neneh, I just took your survey…good luck with it!

    • Neneh Biffinger
      Aug 21, 2014 @ 16:29:40

      That’s fantastic! And, it really only did take about 5 minutes. Thank you for participating!

  41. Gail
    Sep 07, 2014 @ 14:17:04

    Full of great ideas to use right away. Especially LIKE: your opening to the post; getting a glimpse into your process, how it fueled immediate actions; the questions that shaped what you offered and how; getting alternative options to create surveys. Thanks. Linda!

  42. Nathan Cooper
    Sep 18, 2014 @ 09:55:23

    Thank you for sharing this detailed post, Lynda, it helps a lot, amazing work. Best regards, Nathan.

  43. Andrew Park
    Sep 19, 2014 @ 15:35:25

    I like the ideas here, and starting broad is a good idea, but ultimately, winning at the content game day-in, day-out seems like it’s going to come from specificity and laserlike focus on niches. Surveys are a good idea too so long as they’re short and quick–a single multiple choice poll with radio buttons is just fine for your usual attention-span-impaired reader…anything longer really seems to run the risk of losing participation through attrition. Great blog.

  44. Andrew
    Jan 21, 2015 @ 05:09:03

    Hi Linda, I am blogging from past many months and I am really enjoying my blogging journey but now I was getting bored and frustrated because I was unable to create more content and I didn’t know what to write. One of my friend who is reading your blog regularly shared your blog link to solve my issue. You have covered everything in details and thanks a lot for showing me path via which I can directly engage with my readers and ask for the content which they would like to read and put them on my website to increase more engagement.