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Have you surveyed your audience lately? If not, how do you really know that they're satisfied with your content? There might be big or small changes that you could make to your content which could open the doors to greater success. You won't know unless you ask.Reader surveys are an important tool for online content publishers, and they should be conducted frequently. Fortunately, there are many free and affordable tools that even smaller online publishers can use to gather research data about their audiences.Depending on your budget, tools like PollDaddy, SurveyGizmo, and SurveyMonkey are popular online poll and survey tools that are easy to use to collect data about your content audience. You can publish your survey on your website or blog and ask your readers to complete it online. Some of these tools also offer options to send your survey to your email list, so only certain people can access it.Begin your survey with some qualifying questions, so you can segment the respondent audience and better analyze your results. For example, a question that differentiates respondents as daily readers of your content versus weekly, monthly, less frequent, or first-time readers is extremely important.Next, use a combination of multiple choice and open-ended questions to gather information about what your readers like about your content, what they don't like, what they'd like to see more of, what they think is missing, where they go for content other than your site, and so on. Your goal is to not only ask them about your content but also about their content wants and needs that they get from competitor content. You might be missing opportunities to deliver valuable content to your audience, but you won't know if you don't ask them.You should also use ranking questions to identify reader preferences. For example, ask your audiences to rank the other sites that provide content like yours in order of preference. Also, ask them to rank the type of content you offer and the topics you cover from favorite to least favorite.Finally, use rating questions to gauge how much your content and matters to your audience. Rating questions also help you understand which of your audience's wants and needs are most important to them. For example, while they might claim that the video content on your competitor's site is their favorite thing, they might also rate the importance of video content very low. What seemed like an area of content that you should prioritize based on the responses to your ranking question could drop down on the priority list when you cross-tabulate that result with the results of your rating question.Bottom-line, don't focus on the answer to a single question and use that as the basis of your content strategy going forward. You need to compare responses, segment your audience, and look for trends over time to determine if your audience's perceptions are changing and how your content is affecting them. Remember, your success doesn't peak when someone reads your content. Your success can grow even higher if your audience is affected by your content and is moved to take action after they read it, listen to it, or view it.Image: Gary Mcinnes