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The Complete Guide To Online Focus Groups

In Brief

Online Focus Groups are an Online Market Research tool that provides deep qualitative data through the animation of online discussions between 5 to 50 respondents, typically 10 respondents. This is The Complete Guide To Online Focus Groups.

Online Focus Groups can bring to your business direct, honest and rich feedback from a preselected audience. You can use this invaluable data for fine tuning your business and marketing strategies. You can use it as well for better understanding your customers and competitors.

This allows you to establish a direct connection with your market. All this fastly and at limited costs thanks to the usage of online technologies.

On the other hand, numerous pitfalls appear when using Online Focus Groups like the lack of dynamics and spontaneity when compared to Classic Focus Groups. This is in addition to the classic limitations of any digital solution like the IT issues and the data privacy and security challenges.

Let’s start by the big picture

What are Online Focus Groups ?


An Online Focus Group is  a method for collecting qualitative data when conducting market research or any type of research. The data collection stands for animating a discussion by a moderator between different participants. 

The discussion aims at answering and debating around a very specific point. Online Focus Groups are digital as their name suggests. 

Online Focus Groups should are not in depth interviews that focus on one respondent at the same time. Indeed, in depth interviews last 30 minutes to hours with the same person, whereas Online Focus Groups interview 10, to sometimes but rarely, tens of respondents at the same time. 

Online Focus Groups should are not Online Surveys either. Indeed, Online Surveys aim to collect the data quantitatively, hence target hundreds of respondents at the same time. 

In addition, Online Surveys contains closed questions, meaning questions that correspond to a set of possible answers. 

Whereas Online Focus Groups can mix closed questions with open questions. Open questions mean questions that do not contain predefined answers and to which the respondent answers to them freely with more elaboration and details.

Online Vs Classic Focus groups

Professional moderators manage Online Focus Groups. The moderators play a crucial role in their success or failure. The discussions are performed through a text format and can be done through a video or voice format as well.

Focus groups are traditionally carried physically between participants. While Online Focus Groups are conducted online between participants. The participants can come from very different locations. They can even answer to the debate indirectly through asynchronous Online Focus Groups.

Consequently, even if they are different from their original format in many points, Online Focus Groups are still deeply inspired by Classic Focus Groups in numerous points like:

  • It requests qualitative feedback from the participants
  • The moderator is a key element for orienting the participants to provide deeper insights
  • The clients that ordered the research can observe the conversation in real time through the virtual platforms that are used for organising the conducted debate

Synchronous Vs Asynchronous Online Focus Groups

Online Focus Groups can be synchronous or asynchronous.

Synchronous Online Focus Groups happen in real time and start at a predefined time assembling all the participants at the same time. It lasts between 30 and 90 minutes and contains between 6 and 12 participants.

A moderator manages in real time the debate. The data is collected only during the period of the discussion. Synchronous Online Focus Groups are mostly used during the early stage of designing new products or services like for concept testing and customer profiling. 

A typical usage in e-commerce is to test the reaction to a given product design or packaging. Another example in the Software as a Service (SaaS) business is to test the very first wireframes and designs of a User Interface (UI).

On the other hand, Asynchronous Online Focus Groups, also called Bulletin Board Focus Groups, are not conducted in real time. This type can run for hours, days, weeks and sometimes even years. 

In this case, the respondents can answer using text posts, detailed video reviews, images or even audio tracks. Bulletin Board Focus groups collect the data continuously until the final closure of the conducted research.

A typical usage of this type of Online Focus Groups is to test the efficiency of a new marketing campaign, to assess brand image or the reaction to new products and services. It can be used as well for monitoring continuously the brand positioning by comparison to the competition regarding the pricing, the customer satisfaction and the purchasing behavior of the customers.

This helps the brands to adjust their products nearly in real time and to adapt continuously to the market and customers updates.

Online Focus Groups cost on average between $300 and $10k

Online Focus Groups cost the equivalent of 2 to 4 hours of labor per person. Consequently, the cost per respondent varies very much depending on the respondent profile, geographic position, qualifications, scarcity etc. 

It ranges generally between $20 and $200 per respondent. The compensation is made generally via coupon codes, gift cards or online payment.

Knowing that an Online Focus Group involves in its most common forms 10 to 50 participants, its cost ranges between $200 and $5000 from a respondents point of view. 

Adding to that the cost of the online platform used for organizing the research and the moderator compensation, the final typical cost can range between $300 and $10000 depending on the tools and profiles that will be employed for conducting the research.

Popularity of Online Focus Groups

Some keyword research reveals that Online Focus Groups, and more particularly Focus Groups, are pretty popular terms. Indeed, their combined research rate is almost 25k times monthly in the US and about 100k times worldwide.

They are researched mainly from the US, Europe and India. This is consistent with the general observations regarding market research in general that is popular mainly in these regions. Since Online Focus Groups are a market research means, they do not escape the rule when it comes to their geographic popularity.

A Google trends survey shows that the popularity of the related keywords to Online Focus Groups are showing a steady state popularity during the past 5 years.

On the other hand, the most popular sites about Focus Groups like, and register 10k to 70k monthly visits. 

All these facts show that Online Focus Groups are not yet a big standard among market researchers but that it’s not a completely unknown tool either.  

Online Focus Groups as seen by books

A research among Amazon Library about Online Focus Groups shows the following trends and facts:

  • Online Focus Group tools and platforms are gaining some additional popularity as an efficient and low cost research tool during the pandemic times.
  • The specialized books in Online Focus Groups are not yet very popular.
  • The books are consumed both by market researchers that look at mastering Online Focus Groups methodology and tools
  • The books are also consumed by respondents that are looking for Online Focus Groups to participate in. 
  • This last category is whether looking for online jobs or the simple fact of helping organizations, governments and corporations in gaining more insights in products or services that these respondents consume or are interested in.

What do Online Focus Groups bring to your business

Online Focus Groups bring the value proposition of both Focus Groups and Online Research at the same time. They bring the value of Focus Groups by providing your business with deep insights coming from highly targeted respondents that have a considerable knowledge of your product, business or market.

They bring the efficiency and low cost of online solutions at the same time. Hence, Online Focus Groups bring deep insights efficiently and at low cost to your business.

Online Focus Groups are generally conducted as a second or third step after a first desk research and an online survey. These first steps allow identifying one or several targeted points to be deppen further using Online Focus Groups.

You can use Online Focus Groups for testing new ideas, concepts, products and marketing materials directly and qualitatively with your selected respondents. This step allows you to avoid wasting budget and time inefficiently and guides you more quickly towards the best decisions that fit better your market and customers.

Online Focus Groups allow you to identify more sharply your customers profiles as well. This is vital for understanding their real and deepest needs, fears, desires and thoughts about your products and your competitors.

You can use this tool is great for planning and setting up the short, mid and long term strategies from a business and marketing point of view. It allows you to obtain honest, direct and rich feedback about your current status and future vision.

The pros and cons of online focus groups

Pros of Online Focus Groups

So far, you should have a pretty clear idea about the pros of Online Focus Groups. These advantages will be reminded and summarized here. On the other hand, it’s as important to know about the cons or limitations of this powerful market research methodology as well.

Indeed, regarding the pros, one can state confidently that Online Focus groups are highly efficient from the points of view of time and budget  costs, geographic flexibility and quality of the collected data.

In addition, since this kind of Focus Groups involve often anonymous participants, it provides better and more genuine feedback than live focus groups where participants can be influenced heavily by each other.

Moreover, Online focus groups leverage all the power of digital and online tools which make them more updated from a technological point of view than the Classic Focus Groups.

Cons of Online Focus Groups

Let’s take a look now at the cons or weaknesses of Online Focus Groups.

First, when conducting this kind of research, it’s difficult and sometimes impossible to observe the body language of the respondents that contains valuable data and insights on its own.

In addition, unlike live discussion, online chats lack dynamism and spontaneity which has an impact on the final delivered data. Moreover, badly worded questions can lead to biased and even wrong collected data.

On top of that, moderators end up with less structured data and insights and more work should be provided for extracting the essence of the collected insights. Moderators have less connection with the respondents hence it’s more difficult for them to be as efficient in leading the discussions as if they were physically in the same room with the respondents.

More obviously, Online Focus Groups, like any online solution, are prone to IT issues. This also true regarding data security and privacy as well that is a real challenge especially in the framework of continuously evolving and constraining rules and laws around this.

Finally, Online Focus Groups lead to a bad user Experience (UX) to its participants especially if these are more used to the traditional way of conducting Focus Groups.

The new technologies and solutions are working hard in overcoming all the weaknesses mentioned above but it’s important that you are aware of them before conducting any Online Focus Group for your business or marketing. 

In addition, these limitations exist today but do not drop all the invaluable advantages of Online Focus Groups, certainly not !



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