Focus Groups Vs. Surveys: Which One Should You Choose?

focus groups vs surveys

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We talk a lot about focus groups on Stan’s Gigs, but there are plenty of other market research avenues to choose from (we cover those on the blog too). Shop-alongs, product reviews, clinical trials, and even online focus groups.

A common type of online studies are online surveys. Aside from the obvious (them being online) there are some other significant differences that you should consider when choosing which to go for.

We think there’s a time and place for both, but personal preferences and circumstances definitely influence which one you may choose on the regular. So, are focus groups or online surveys better for you?

Keep reading to find out!

What’s the difference between focus groups and surveys?

The main difference between surveys and focus groups is actually the method of research that is used. Focus groups are a form of qualitative research, which means that data 

On the other hand, surveys fall under quantitative data – which is the more straightforward ‘hard’ data. 

An easy (and too oversimplified, but I’m not writing a scientific dissertation, here) example is the different methods of storytelling.

Focus groups are like in-person story-telling. It’s dynamic and interactive. If you want to extract the data (story), there are some extra steps involved, like writing it down, then interpreting, editing… all making it meaningful for an outside reader. In doing this, you lose the interconnected experience.

Surveys are basically the written book. The data is ‘coded’ for the reader to process, and just needs to be organized/analyzed in a way that’s meaningful to the researcher. There is still an exchange of information, but the interaction is removed so each party relies on effective communication. 

These differences may sound a bit technical or irrelevant, but they directly affect the experience of participating in these market research studies.

Focus Groups

If you’re a regular reader of ours, you already know the spiel on focus groups. They come in different forms but live, in-person focus groups are the most popular type.

A focus group consists of around 4-12 people of similar interests and backgrounds that give feedback on a product or service. A moderator will lead a discussion to extract valuable information from participants that the company will use to enhance their offer.

Focus groups are designed to be interactive and informal by nature to encourage the most honest and forthcoming environment possible. Most companies will provide incentives outside of the honorarium to breed goodwill. Prizes, refreshments, and free products/samples are common additions to the experience.

If you value human interaction and influencing companies in a direct way, focus groups are likely your best bet. 

However, they are a bit harder to perform from both the organizer and participant side. Focus groups take a lot of effort. They are expensive and time-consuming for market researchers to conduct. For participants, the qualification process can be a deterrent for some people. It also requires some forethought to set up appointments, drive to the location, etc.

Between the two, though, focus groups are the more rewarding (in my opinion). They pay more – most you can expect anywhere from $50-200, and it’s a fun, social way to give back to society by influencing the market.


Surveys are typically conducted online in a traditional questionnaire format. Surveys can be about a wide range of topics, products, and services. They can ask all of the same questions as focus groups, but of course businesses cannot dive deeper by asking follow-up questions. 

It’s important that the survey is well-written and designed for both the business and participant. Businesses must take what to say at face value, since they can’t ask for more details. And for the survey-taker, it’s a frustrating experience if questions aren’t clear or concise.

There are a lot of benefits for surveys though. Since they are mainly conducted online, you can participate from anywhere. 

However, because they are lower-cost and not as labor-intensive (for both parties), they also do not pay as well. High-quality surveys typically pay between $5-30 depending on length and content. We don’t recommend going any lower than a $5 payout (trust us, there’s plenty out there).

Keep in mind that surveys are typically shorter in length and not as time-consuming as a 1-2 hour focus group. Exceptions aside, you can get through a couple an hour. So even if a survey is only $5, if you can get through 2 or 3 in 1 hour that’s not a bad shake!

So… Which is Better?

There’s not a clear cut answer if focus groups or surveys are better… it’s all about preference. Personally, focus groups are more fun and suit my lifestyle. But I definitely take online surveys when in a crunch or to supplement my income some months.

I still always recommend people sign up for online surveys, even if they’re gung-ho on focus groups. Because let’s be real – focus groups aren’t a once-a-week type of thing. And qualifying for them can be pretty taxing over time.

Online surveys are a great way to stay involved making some money, while not having to commit the time and energy focus groups take. Choose from our list of the best paid online surveys to cut your energy and time even more.

I know some people are perfectly happy with spending a few hours a week earning an extra $100 a month completing online surveys for a night or two out. They appreciate being able to participate from home at a low-engagement level.

Others grow frustrated with the low payouts of online surveys and would rather spend their time qualifying for a couple high-paying focus groups a month.

I think the best strategy is one that includes both in-person focus groups and online surveys. Focus groups are usually too far in-between to rely on their own, and online surveys are too low-paying to make a decent side-hustle all on their own.

However, both are legit, engaging ways to make money. Choosing one over the other really depends on your time and money goals. 

What do you think? I’m curious to know if focus groups or online surveys are more your speed. Or maybe you are serious about pursuing market research as a side-hustle and will incorporate both? Tell your thoughts in the comment section! 

‘Til payday!

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