Editor’s note: Al Fitzgerald is president and founder of Answers Research, Inc., Solana Beach, Calif.

With well over 600 million Internet users worldwide, there is no questioning the viability of online surveying to collect market research data. A steady general growth along with huge usage percentage leaps in the U.S., Europe and the Asia-Pacific region have allowed marketers to maximize scant research budgets and include otherwise cost-prohibitive samples in a study’s scope.

This online expansion has occurred despite a common economic slowing, and as consumer and business users continue to recognize the value online communication provides - with sure-sell features including real-time data transaction and the elimination of time and space consuming paper trails - we can only expect a continued rise. To ensure an online study delivers actionable, timely and cost-saving results, marketers must be mindful of the vast number of pitfalls that can trip up even the most seasoned researcher. These snares can occur at any phase in the research process but are easily circumvented by careful planning by project managers prior to beginning any online study.

Because large phone rooms are not needed for online data collection, companies have been tempted to “in-source” studies for which they would typically hire an outside data collection firm. In theory, this provides huge research budget savings by having an in-house IT department program and host the survey. In practice, it can stretch an internal research department too thin.

Even an online study completed strictly via e-mail can be a time-consuming event. In this case, recruitment is conducted via e-mail with the survey included in the invitation. Respondents need only e-mail back their answers and the internal market research team can keypunch results to slice the numbers and conduct analysis. Most e-mail studies, however, involve sample procur...