PC Tips and Tricks to make your life easier

Archive for March 3rd, 2011

Add Stickiness To Your Site With Online Poll And Survey Widgets

March 03, 2011 By: lilybird Category: Webmaster/Design

In my article last week, I talked about using free online poll services and having them on our websites or blog sites to attract visitors. The most common type of widget consists of mutually exclusive radio buttons and lets voters select one answer from a few choices. A more advanced widget allows for checkboxes in which voters can check more than one items for a specific question. I also mentioned one site ( that stands out among others because it also offers poll widgets that allow for the use of text boxes and dropdown menus.

If you are serious about your poll results, you may wish to prevent your poll from being taken by a voter more than one times. There are many methods that can be used for this. However, some approaches require users to register first in order to take a vote. They are more geared toward having a formal survey or test, and are impractical to be used in a poll widget. Excluding those methods that require registration, two ways are suitable for using in poll widgets – web cookies or IP addresses.

A web cookie is a piece of data resided in user’s computer. After a voter takes a poll, the widget sets a cookie to indicate the poll has been taken so it cannot be taken again. A cookie can have an expiration date so the poll widget can use that to allow a user to retake a poll after a certain period if that is desired. This is a very simple way to prevent multiple voting, but there are a few problems with it. First, a cookie is bound to a machine (to be more specific-to a browser.) If more than one person is sharing one machine then all together they just get one vote. Second, if a voter uses multiple browsers, for example, having both Internet Explorer and Firefox programs, then he/she can vote multiple times. The other problem is that a savvy user can just disable the use of cookie from his/her browser or reset the cookie to get away from being limited. Although practically not too many people may be doing things like that, we know technically cookies can be easily bypassed.

A more sophisticated way of preventing multiple voting is by using the IP address. An IP address is a unique numeric ID used for identifying computers or devices connected to the Internet. After a user takes a poll, the widget records the IP address of the user and saves that information to a list on the server. Whenever a voter casts a vote, the widget checks the list first to determine whether that same IP address already exists to prevent multiple voting that way. Since this information is stored on the server side instead of on the voter’s computer, voters cannot temper with that information the way they can with the web cookie. However, such a mechanism puts a great burden on the server that offers the poll widget because it needs to save and compare information for each and every vote. For this reason, there are not too many widgets or survey websites that provide this option.

Other than preventing people from making multiple votes, you might also wish to prevent a script (computer program) from messing with your polls. If you plan to use the result of your polls for more than just for entertainment purposes, blocking scripts can be a good idea since they can cast large numbers of votes in a very short period of time and dramatically affect the poll results. Script blocking can be achieved easily by putting a CAPTCHA on the widget. This is a type of challenge-response test used to block non-human (i.e., the script) users. It is usually in the form of displaying a distorted word and requiring users to identify the word. Another format for this is to display a randomly generated, simple question like “What is two plus two?” and ask users to respond. Be aware that a CAPTCHA on the poll does require a little more involvement from the voter so it can discourage votes. However, I guess the quality of the result must be higher because now more votes come from people who really wish to participate instead of from those who just cast votes for fun.

IP address logging and CAPTCHA are advanced features. These types of functions usually are supported in formal surveys, tests and questionnaires instead of in poll widgets. Up until now I have found only one vendor, that offers such options with free poll widgets.

In the next topic, I am going to talk about viewing reports on poll results. Until then, happy polling.

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