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Broken Link Building: The Complete Guide

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Broken Link Building: The Complete Guide

Broken link building is one of the most popular link-building tactics around. It’s the fifth most widely used tactic according to Aira’s annual state of link building report, which crowdsources opinions from over 250 digital marketing professionals.

But it’s not entirely foolproof, and there’s some nuance to doing it well.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to get backlinks from broken link building.

But first, let’s cover the basics.

Broken link building is where you find a dead page with backlinks, create a similar page, then ask people linking to that page to link to you instead. The idea is that they’ll swap the link because they don’t want to send visitors to a broken resource.

It would be fair to say that SEOs are somewhat divided when it comes to this question.

In one video, Mark from Authority Hacker said:

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an almost pointless tactic, and you shouldn’t waste your time with it.

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If you dig through the comments on that video, one stands out:

YouTube commenter blaming Ahrefs for making broken link building sound so easy

Let’s set the record straight:

Broken link building isn’t easy. Sometimes it works well. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Is this because there’s something inherently wrong with the tactic?

No. It’s because link building is hard to execute well—whatever tactic you use. The better you understand the tactic, the more likely you are to have success.

Broken link building is a four-step process.

  1. Find broken pages with backlinks
  2. Vet the backlinks
  3. Create a replacement page
  4. Do outreach

1. Find broken pages with backlinks

It’s impossible to find highly-linked broken pages without SEO tools. Even if you find dead pages manually, you’ll need a backlink checker to see how many links they have. You can use Ahrefs’ free backlink checker for this, but life is much easier with full access to Ahrefs.

Keep this in mind as we go through the tactics below. You’ll need Ahrefs for ¾ of them.

Here are the tactics:

  1. Look for your competitors’ broken pages with backlinks
  2. Look for broken pages about a topic
  3. Look for broken links on competing websites
  4. Look for broken links on resource pages (doable without paid Ahrefs)

a) Look for your competitors’ broken pages with backlinks

Many of your competitors will have at least some dead pages because everyone moves, deletes, and reorganizes content over time. If they forget to redirect old URLs when doing this, their backlinks will point to broken pages.

Here’s how to find dead pages on your competitors’ websites:

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  1. Go to Site Explorer
  2. Enter a competing domain
  3. Go to the Best by Links report
  4. Filter for “404 not found” pages
  5. Sort the report by Referring domains from highest to lowest

For example, there are 134 dead pages on Content Marketing Institute’s website, and some have backlinks from over 50 referring domains.

The Best by Links report in Ahrefs' Site ExplorerThe Best by Links report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Your job is to sift through these pages for topics that make sense to create content about.

For example, the first page about “what is content marketing” makes sense for us because we have an entire blog category about content marketing. It’s the kind of topic we want to build links to.

If you don’t find a relevant broken page on one competitor’s website, repeat the process for others.

TIP

If you’re unsure who your competitors are, enter your domain into Site Explorer and go to the Competing Domains report. This shows other websites ranking in Google for the same keywords as you.

Competing Domains report in Ahrefs' Site ExplorerCompeting Domains report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

b) Look for broken pages about a topic

Broken link building has traditionally always been about the method above. The disadvantage of this method is that you limit yourself to finding opportunities on a handful of sites.

The ideal solution to this problem would be searching the web for broken pages with backlinks about a particular topic. The only tool we’re aware of that allows you to do this is Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, a searchable database of billions of web pages.

Here’s how to use it to find broken pages about a topic:

  1. Enter a broad topic
  2. Switch the search mode to “In title”
  3. Hit search
  4. Filter for broken pages only
  5. Filter for pages with at least 20 referring domains

In the example below, there are 188 broken pages with at least 20 backlinks about content marketing:

Broken pages with 20+ referring domains in Ahrefs' Content ExplorerBroken pages with 20+ referring domains in Ahrefs' Content Explorer

To confirm a broken page, click the title to open it in a new tab.

Example of a broken pageExample of a broken page

TIP

Eyeball the “Page traffic” column to find pages that are more likely to have high-quality backlinks. If the page used to have traffic, its backlinks might have been helping it to rank.

Broken page that had organic traffic in the pastBroken page that had organic traffic in the past

If the page never had traffic, the backlinks might not be great.

Broken page that didn't have organic traffic in the pastBroken page that didn't have organic traffic in the past

c) Look for broken links on competing websites

Most websites frequently link to pages on other sites, and some of these will break over time. That means your competitors are likely to link to broken pages.

Here’s how to see broken pages your competitor is linking to:

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  1. Go to Site Explorer
  2. Enter a competing domain
  3. Go to the Broken Links report

For example, robbierichards.com is linking to 32 dead pages:

Broken outgoing links in Ahrefs' Site ExplorerBroken outgoing links in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

To see which have the most referring domains, export the report, paste the broken URLs into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis tool, and sort by total referring domains.

Using Ahrefs' Batch Analysis tool to see how many links point to broken outgoing linksUsing Ahrefs' Batch Analysis tool to see how many links point to broken outgoing links

Here are a few potential broken link building opportunities in the screenshot above:

  • Google’s discontinued mobile-friendly test tool: 2,654 RDs
  • SEJ’s guide to the Google Hummingbird algorithm: 462 RDs
  • Chatmeter’s list of local SEO stats: 276 RDs

d) Look for broken links on resource pages

Resource pages curate and link to resources on a particular topic. They’re a good source of broken pages with backlinks for two reasons:

  1. People rarely update them, so they often link to dead resources.
  2. They list helpful resources which often have links from many other sites.

To find resource pages in your industry, use one of these Google search operators:

  • KEYWORD intitle:resources inurl:links.html
  • KEYWORD intitle:links inurl: resources.html
  • KEYWORD inurl:resources intitle:resources

For example, here’s how we might search for resource pages about link building:

Searching for resource pages in GoogleSearching for resource pages in Google

Then you need to check for broken links on these pages, which you can do for free with Ahrefs’ SEO toolbar.

  1. Visit the page
  2. Click the toolbar icon
  3. Go to the “Links” tab
  4. Click “Check status”
  5. Filter for broken links only
Finding broken links on a page with Ahrefs' SEO ToolbarFinding broken links on a page with Ahrefs' SEO Toolbar

To see the total backlinks to these pages, export the list of URLs and paste them into Ahrefs’ Batch Analysis Tool.

Using Ahrefs' Batch Analysis tool to see how many backlinks point to broken pagesUsing Ahrefs' Batch Analysis tool to see how many backlinks point to broken pages

2. Vet the link prospects

Many people jump straight to creating a “similar” replacement page after finding a dead page with backlinks. This is a mistake for two reasons:

  1. Your broken page may not have any good backlinks. In which case, there’s no point pursuing the opportunity or creating a replacement page.
  2. You need to understand why people linked to the dead page to create a replacement page. This is how you keep your content and outreach in sync, which leads to higher success rates.

You can figure out both things by vetting the page’s link prospects.

Here’s the process in a nutshell:

a) Check link quality

If a broken link-building opportunity is unlikely to lead to high-quality links, it’s pointless pursuing it. So the first step is a quick spot check to see whether the dead page has desirable backlinks.

Here’s how to see a page’s live backlinks:

  1. Go to Site Explorer
  2. Enter the dead page’s URL
  3. Go to the Backlinks report
  4. Set the grouping mode to “One link per domain”
  5. Set “Show history” to “Don’t show”
Using the Backlinks report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer to check link qualityUsing the Backlinks report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer to check link quality

Then you can eyeball the report to get a sense of backlink quality.

You can do this by reviewing each link manually, but that’s inefficient for a spot check. It’s quicker to filter the report for links with attributes that tend to align with quality.

Everyone’s criteria will differ slightly here, but these four filters are a helpful place to start:

  • Dofollow’ links only. This excludes most low-value links such as those from directories, forums, and blog comments.
  • Exclude subdomains. This excludes links from places like blogspot, which are often low-quality and spammy.
  • DR 5+. This excludes links from very low-authority websites.
  • Domain traffic: 20+. This excludes links from websites with little to no traffic.

For example, if we add these filters to the backlink report for the page above, the number of backlinks drops from 100 to 29:

Filtering for good backlinks in Ahrefs' Site ExplorerFiltering for good backlinks in Ahrefs' Site Explorer

That’s because the dead page has many desirable links, such as this one from celebanswers.com:

Example of a good backlinkExample of a good backlink

But it also has many low-quality and spammy links like this one:

Example of a bad backlinkExample of a bad backlink

It’s up to you to decide whether a broken page has enough desirable links to make creating a page and doing outreach worthwhile.

b) Check link reasons

Understanding why your broken page got links helps you add points that allow you to create compelling outreach angles. This is crucial for improving the link success rate for your campaign, so the next step is to eyeball the filtered report for link reasons.

Here are the two broad types of link reasons you’ll see:

  • General links are where people recommend the resource as a whole. You can’t see why they linked to that specific resource from the link’s context.
  • Deep links are where people recommend a resource for a specific reason. You can see what that reason is from the link’s context.

Here’s an example of a general link to a broken page about calculating your net worth:

Example of a 'general link' where the reason for linking isn't clearExample of a 'general link' where the reason for linking isn't clear

You can see that although they recommend the resource, it’s impossible to tell why from the link’s context. The anchor is “here’s an amazing post.”

There’s not much you can learn about creating a “better” page from these kinds of links.

You can learn more from deep links like this:

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Example of a 'deep link' where the reason for linking is clearExample of a 'deep link' where the reason for linking is clear

This time it’s obvious why they recommended the resource: it explains how to grow your net worth.

We can confirm this by looking at how the page used to look in the Wayback Machine:

Checking how a dead page used to look in the Wayback MachineChecking how a dead page used to look in the Wayback Machine

Identifying deep links helps you create a compelling replacement page, so note them down alongside how many people link for the same reasons. Search the Backlinks report for relevant ‘footprints’ in the anchor or surrounding text to find this.

For example, we can search this page’s backlinks for words like “increase,” “grow,” or “improve” to see if this advice led to other links.

It looks like it did:

Looking for others linking for similar reasonsLooking for others linking for similar reasons

Here’s what our final notes might look like for this page:

Example link reasons for a broken pageExample link reasons for a broken page

3. Create a replacement page

Now you know why people linked to the dead page, it’s time to create a suitable replacement.

Let’s go through how to do that in three steps.

a) Create a rough outline

Although you don’t want to copy the dead page word for word, you do want to create something similar. This means crafting a piece that fulfills the same purpose and talks about similar things.

You can get a better sense of what the dead page discussed using the Wayback Machine.

For example, this page explains how to calculate your net worth in three steps, gives a few example calculations, and has tips on how to improve your net worth over time:

Looking at what the broken page is about via the Wayback MachineLooking at what the broken page is about via the Wayback Machine

If you were pursuing this broken link opportunity, you’d want to use a similar outline.

Here’s what that might look like:

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  • H1: Net Worth Explained: How to Calculate and Improve It Over Time
    • H2: What is Net Worth?
    • H2: How to Calculate Your Net Worth
      • H3: Step 1. Do x
      • H3: Step 2. Do y
      • H3: Step 3. Do z
    • H2: Example Net Worth Calculations
      • H3: Example 1: x
      • H3: Example 2: y
      • H3: Example 3: z
    • H2: How to Track and Improve Your Net Worth
      • H3: Tip 1: Do x
      • H3: Tip 2: Do y
      • H3: Tip 3: Do z

b) Bake in linkable points

Remember the work you put into vetting link prospects for deep recommendations? Now’s the time to add them to your content so that your outreach angles make sense.

In this case, we covered most of these in the basic outline.

TIP

Make sure everything you include is accurate. For example, if a deep link references an out-of-date statistic, include a more recent statistic.

c) Find other ways to improve it

Most of the links to your dead page are likely to be general links. In other words, they’re people referencing the content for no clear reason.

You can’t do much to tailor your content for these people because you don’t know what they liked about the original piece. But you can make overall improvements.

For example, adding a template would probably improve our piece on calculating net worth.

Improving the content allows you to strengthen your value proposition to general linkers by adding a “why”:

  • Without improvement: you have a dead link > here’s a replacement
  • With improvement: you have a dead link > here’s a replacement > here’s why it’s a good replacement

Here are a few simple ways to improve content:

  • Simplify: Make it more accessible and easier to understand.
  • Visualize: Demonstrate concepts with graphics.
  • Templatize: Add a plug-and-play template.
  • Rectify: Fix issues with accuracy.

4. Do outreach

Outreach is where you pitch your replacement resource to those linking to the dead page.

This is usually done in one of two ways:

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  • Shotgun outreach. You send the same email to everyone with no personalization.
  • Sniper outreach. You send unique, personalized emails to everyone.

Both of these approaches have their pros and cons.

Shotgun outreach is a pure numbers game. Conversion rates will be low, but you’ll get some links with enough prospects. It’s also risky. You can quickly burn bridges and get your domain blocked.

Sniper outreach converts better but takes more time and effort. You can easily spend a whole day sending a dozen emails.

Given the steps we’ve gone through so far, we recommend a hybrid approach.

Here’s how this works:

Instead of sending a unique or identical email to everyone, you segment prospects and create a personalized template for each group. This is why we spent some time identifying general and deep links. The way you target them should be different.

Pitching deep linkers

Each segment of deep linkers deserves a unique template.

For example, we have three segments for the net worth page:

  1. People referencing advice on growing your net worth
  2. People referencing the definition of net worth
  3. People referencing how to calculate net worth

Here’s a simple template for the first segment:

Hey [Name],

Just came across your post on [Topic] and saw that you recommended advice on growing net worth from [Dead page author].

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Looks like that page no longer works.

Not sure if you’re still updating older posts, but if you are, my guide expands on that advice and gives a few extra tips.

Here’s where I found the link on your page:

[Screenshot]

No pressure. Just thought it might be useful 🙂

Josh

Here’s one for the second segment:

Hey [Name],

Just came across your post on [Topic] and saw that you recommended this process for calculating net worth from [Dead page author].

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Looks like that page no longer works.

Not sure if you’re still updating older posts, but if you are, my guide has a similar process but includes more detail on how to estimate the value of your assets and debts (super important for an accurate calculation!).

Here’s where I found the link on your page:

[Screenshot]

No pressure. Just thought it might be useful 🙂

Josh

Both of these are pretty typical and could use a bit more creativity. But hopefully, you can see how creating personalized templates like this can potentially improve the results of your broken link-building campaign.

Pitching general linkers

As there’s no clear reason why these people linked to the dead page, you can only send them a generic pitch. This should follow the same formula as with deep linkers. The difference is that the value proposition will be a generic one.

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You can use the improvements you made to the dead page for this.

Here’s an example template for our page:

Hey [Name],

Just came across your post on [Topic] and saw you recommended this guide to calculating net worth from [Dead page author].

Looks like that page no longer works.

Not sure if you’re still updating older posts, but if you are, my guide explains a similar process and includes a free template to make life easier.

Here’s where I found the link on your page:

[Screenshot]

A few other reasons why I think my guide is better (completely biased, of course):

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  • More details on estimating the value of assets and debts
  • Extra tips for growing net worth
  • Flowchart to create a custom growth plan

No pressure. Just thought it might be useful 🙂

Josh

This template is the best we can do for general linkers because we don’t know why they linked to the original page.

Final thoughts

Link building tactics are just streamlined ways of finding link prospects with a reason for contact. In broken link building, the reason is that they have a dead link on their site. In the skyscraper technique, the reason is that you have a “better” page. In other techniques, it’s something else.

No technique will work well without a strong value proposition. That’s why we recommend using custom outreach templates for different segments of prospects linking to the dead page.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.

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SEO

Top 6 Free Survey Maker Tools For Marketers

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Top 6 Free Survey Maker Tools For Marketers

The number of online surveys has risen dramatically in the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center.

From short social media polls to lengthy feedback forms, it’s never been easier to survey your target audience and find out what exactly they’re thinking.

When it comes to free survey makers, you have plenty of options to choose from.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is you have to wade through your options to figure out the best survey tool for you.

In this article, I’ve done that dirty work for you.

Below I outline the top six free survey makers, with a simple bulleted list of their pros and cons, so you can quickly select the best one for your needs.

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But first up, the caveats.

What You’re Missing With Free Survey Makers

When something’s free, there’s usually a catch. The same goes for free survey makers.

Free survey tools, or the free plan offered by a paid survey tool, often come with the following limitations:

  • Limited export options. You may not be able to export your survey data for review in Excel or Google Sheets. There may be a PDF-only export option or no export ability at all.
  • Limited analytics. Free survey tools often skimp on the analytics. You may be left to your own pivot tables and Excel expertise if you want to create anything fancy from your survey data.
  • Limited survey functionality. This runs the gamut, from a limit on how many respondents or questions you can have per survey, to only allowing so many question types (e.g., multiple-choice, long-form, etc.).
  • Limited extra perks. By perks, I mean those other features that make software from good to great. With survey makers, that might mean easy-to-access support, the ability to embed surveys in email or webpages, multiple user accounts, or integration with other email marketing or CRM software.
  • No branding. Free survey makers give you their tools for free. In return, you provide them with free brand awareness. Don’t expect to be able to swap out their logo for your own. You’ll probably be stuck with their branding, along with a prominent link to their site throughout the survey or on the thank you page (or both).

If any of the above is a dealbreaker for you, you should plan to drop a little dough on a paid survey tool. That’s why I’ve also included the starting price for all six of the tools featured below.

In case you end up having to upgrade later, it’s easier to do so from a tool you’re already familiar with.

Top 6 Free Survey Tools

Without further ado, I present the best free survey makers you’ll find today. These are listed in no particular order.

1. Google Forms

Screenshot by author, June 2022

Do you live and die by your Google Drive?

Great news: Google also offers free survey software via Google Forms.

Alright, I know I just said these were presented in no particular order, but I’ll openly admit Google Forms is my personal favorite. Just look at all of the features they include in their free plan!

All you need is a free Google account to get started.

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Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited questions.
  • Unlimited responses.
  • Export to Google Sheets.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Ability to embed images and YouTube videos.
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website and share to social media.
  • Survey analytics, updated in real-time.
  • Integration with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides.
  • Unlimited collaborators.
  • Customizable survey templates.
  • Free branding.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Enhanced security and collaboration options.
  • Integration with your existing Google Workplace account.

Price: Completely free. Google Workplace pricing starts at $6 per user per month.

Best for: Anyone and everyone, for business or casual use.

2. SurveyMonkey

surveymonkeyScreenshot by author, June 2022

SurveyMonkey is the online survey tool. Established in 1999, it’s still the most well-known online survey software.

Despite the limitations of its free plans, SurveyMonkey continues to be popular thanks to its intuitive interface and brand recognition. Notable clients include Allbirds, Tweezerman, and Adobe.

One nice perk is that you can test out any of the paid features with your free plan. (You just won’t be able to actually use it in your live survey until you pay up.)

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions.
  • 15 question types.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Over 250 customizable survey templates.
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website.
  • Mobile app.
  • One user.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions, question types, and responses.
  • Data exports – this is a biggie!
  • Custom branding.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Team collaboration.
  • Advanced security (single sign-on, HIPAA compliance).
  • A/B testing.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $16 per month for individuals, $25 for teams.

Best for: Those who want a tried-and-true survey maker with all the features you could ask for.

3. Typeform

typeformScreenshot by author, June 2022

Many online survey tools are designed for the general public.

Readers of Search Engine Journal will be happy to hear that there’s a survey tool created just for us. Typeform was built specifically with marketers, UX researchers, and business owners like us in mind.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

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  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions per survey.
  • 10 responses per month.
  • Basic question types.
  • Basic reporting and analytics
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website.
  • Integrations with MailChimp, HubSpot, Trello, Google Sheets, Zapier, and more.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Custom thank you screen.
  • Custom branding.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Team collaboration.
  • Ability to accept payment.
  • Ability for survey respondents to upload files.
  • Integration with Facebook pixel and Google Tag Manager.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $29 per month.

Best for: Enterprise users, UX researchers, and marketers hoping to track customer behavior.

4. Zoho Survey

zoho surveyScreenshot by author, June 2022

Zoho Survey is part of the same Zoho suite of apps that caters to sales, HR, IT, finance, and virtually any kind of business user you can think of.

Given their tenure creating SaaS software for business, their survey tool is just as robust as you might expect. Customers include big names like Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and Change.org.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions per survey.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Ability to embed surveys in email or website, or share to social media.
  • Export to PDF.
  • 250 survey templates.
  • Password protection and HTTPS encryption.
  • One user.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Ability to export to XLS or CSV.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • Team collaboration.
  • Real-time responses.
  • Multilingual surveys.
  • Integration with Google Sheets, Tableau, Shopify, Zendesk, Eventbrite, and others.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $25 per month.

Best for: Zoho users, or anyone who needs an extra level of security for their surveys.

5. Alchemer

alchemer survey makerScreenshot by author, June 2022

Alchemer is an advanced survey maker developed for the enterprise client.

Paid features include custom coding so you can customize every single element of your survey, from the survey URL to the form logic.

They stand out among free survey makers for being one of the few (besides Google Forms) to offer unlimited questions and Excel exports in their free plan. Clients include Disney, Salesforce, Verizon, and The Home Depot.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Three surveys at a time.
  • Unlimited questions.
  • 100 responses.
  • 10 question types.
  • Export to Excel.
  • Customizable templates.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited responses.
  • Unlimited question types.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • Ability to embed surveys in websites.
  • Export to PDF, PowerPoint, or Word.
  • Ability for survey respondents to upload files.
  • Survey analytics and reporting.
  • Ability to accept payment.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $49 per month.

Best for: Enterprise users needing to create long surveys with advanced logic and question types.

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6. Jotform

jotform survey makerScreenshot by author, June 2022

With over 10,000 templates, Jotform takes the cake as the survey maker with the most form templates on our list.

Jotform also stands out for letting you accept payments with the free plan (although you’re limited to 10).

This popular survey maker includes clients as wide-ranging as AMC and Nickelodeon to Redfin and the American Medical Association.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Five surveys.
  • 100 questions per survey.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Ability to embed surveys in email or website.
  • Export to PDF or Excel.
  • 10,000 survey templates.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • HIPAA compliance.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $29 per month.

Best for: Users who want a template for every kind of survey possible.

Which Survey Tool Will You Use?

There truly is a survey maker for everybody.

The above options are all solid choices. Which one works for you may depend on your organization’s needs and your personal preferences.

Take advantage of the free trials and see which one you like best.

More Resources:

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Featured Image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock



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