How to Make a Living Online as a Survey Panelist
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How to Make a Living Online as a Survey Panelist

EPF April 17, 2016

When you come to Elite Survey Sites, you hear about how you can make $3,000 a month doing paid surveys. While that sounds great, there is a certain formula you must follow. If not, you will be one of the many making just $30 to $300 a month for all your hard work!

First, set aside 15 minutes and read this thoroughly …

We are going to cover a lot in here:

  • How to calculate your average hourly earnings,
  • How to make the most possible per hour,
  • How to pick the best-paying survey offers,
  • How to find new survey panels to join, and,
  • How to determine which panels to trust.

But first, let’s cover a few general things …

How Much Do Paid Surveys Really Pay?

This is a hard question to answer.

Most online paid surveys reward users in points for completing the entire survey. There is no compensation based on the amount of time spent. Therefore, you might find yourself making pennies if a survey takes forever to complete.

That is why we are going to show you how to calculate your earnings. You do not want to give up your chance at a legit income just because you take the wrong surveys. With our advice on how to pick the best-paying ones, your hourly earnings will increase.

Elite Survey Sites recommends both affiliated and non-affiliated survey panels, basically if you are a company we know users can trust we will cover you. But we have noticed the average earnings among our referred visitors; some sites pay more to certain demographics, and we will help explain that to you!

Again, these 15 minutes could be VITAL to your chance at a real income off online paid surveys — do not skimp out on reading this post!

How Much Will You Make an Hour Off Paid Surveys?

Sometimes we break down the expected hourly pay rate at particular survey panels. In our recent review of Populus Live we did just that. It was found that users stood to make around minimum wage, a far cry from $3,000 a month but still not bad at all.

So for Populus Live, they claim every 5 minutes of time earns you £1 (approx. $1.42 USD) but it is the panel that estimates the completion time. If you take longer or shorter than expected, this will affect your pay rate.

So £1 per five minutes is £12 an hour, which is way more than minimum wage in the UK; it is even more than the higher minimum wage found in London. Yet, if it really takes 10 minutes instead of five the pay drops to £6 per hour. Suddenly it seems less appealing, and it even goes under minimum wage.

In that example, we found most Populus Live survey takers average £8 to £12 per working hour.

This means what was advertised was not necessarily earned by many of their users. And the same is true for most panels; expect to make less than they claim. You should always account for overage by assuming it can take as much as twice as long as they estimate. So if a one-hour survey pays $10 and takes two hours, suddenly you make just $5 an hour.

Watch over time to see which particular survey panels send short, or well-estimated, survey offers. These are the ones you can rely on for your ‘bread and butter’ as you know you are likely to earn what you are expecting to make from them. As such, you will be filling your available time with surveys from these types of panels quite often.

How to Make More Off Online Paid Surveys

The best way to increase your earnings is to try and qualify for focus groups. You can even cold contact their support and ask, “Hi, I am wondering if you ever send out focus group invites? If so, is there anything I should know about qualifying for them?” … if you are lucky that message will get you onto their exclusive list.

But usually getting paid focus group invites from survey panels will require being active at their panel. This means taking their surveys, preferably on a regular basis. The way each panel grabs their focus group participants varies. Some will have paid surveys that are secretly qualifiers, others use Omnibus survey results, etc., so basically you want to be active everywhere.

In the course of a month, it is easy to complete many surveys across various platforms. If you are serious about making a good side income off paid surveys, you will be playing the field like this. And whenever any of the panels you are at gets a huge contract — you suddenly have first dibs at a great-paying gig.

Many paid survey websites have referral programs for their users. This is an easy way to earn a few points, dollars, or maybe even ongoing commission off the referred party. As you can refer people both online and offline, this income boost could come from family members, friends, work partners, and etc., from all over the globe.

As far as filtering low quality panels goes, besides avoiding scams, the one thing to consider is how often you get screened out and how it happens. Some survey sites will screen you out within 30 seconds, others disqualify you mid-way through the survey. If you are lucky, you will still get paid a small amount for getting screened out — whether in points or sweepstakes entries.

Sometimes you will also have the choice to take sweepstakes entries as your reward, such as monthly draw tickets. Usually you are better off just taking the points though.

The monthly draw concept is cool, but most of the time you and millions of other survey takers are just throwing pennies into a well. That said, YouGov UK does give £5,000 in cash monthly to the top five draw winners — and also reward points to hundreds more.

How to Diversify Your Time — Picking Surveys

It is really hard to decide how to cut up your time. This is why many survey takers will just sign up for a few panels. While it seems like a good idea, you can make a lot more being a member everywhere.

By having many paid survey site accounts, you can freely choose which surveys to do based on which pay the most at the time. This is a safe strategy — except, you have to be careful when you consume time on sites with higher withdrawal minimums.

To break up your time perfectly, it is important to assess the deadline for each survey. If it does not close for another few weeks, why bother with it now? Many panels do not even reward you until the survey actually closed, and if that’s the case it actually pays to procrastinate!

Your goal is to learn roughly what you make an hour at each panel. After you have a good feel for the various sites you are working at, it will be easier to diversify your time. You will not have to think about points and time as much; because most panels either pay too little, an acceptable amount, or quite a bit.

Where Can You Find Paid Survey Panels?

There are many ways you can go about finding paid survey panels.

But consider this: there are both online and offline opportunities!

Finding online paid surveys:

Finding offline paid surveys:

  • Check Craigslist, GumTree, Kijiji, OLX, etc., for local offers,
  • Look in your municipal and state newspapers, and, or,
  • Search for ‘focus group’ studies in your area.

Remember, a focus group is pretty much the same as a survey. The biggest difference is that it is done in person, and sometimes the questions are dynamically changing. This is to get the best possible information for the clients; a rinse-and-repeat survey form does not always generate usable details.

So, especially locally, you should be looking for paid focus groups too!

How to Spot All the Paid Survey Scams

There are many ways you can go about identifying paid survey scams.

The best advice we can give is to vet survey panels in a similar fashion to how our writers do when deciding whether to recommend them.

Elite Survey Sites will look at the following when reviewing a panel:


How long has the company been in business? The Whois information might tell you the domain has been registered for many years, but how long has the site been up?

Most of the time you can get to the bottom of this by using to view archived images of the site from previous years. This will show you how long a particular panel has really been around for — and how they presented themselves in the past.

Pro tip: When looking for info on the business behind the site, some later-deleted data might be findable through archived pages.

  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) Rating

What is the company’s BBB rating? Are they actually a BBB-accredited company? If so, when were they first accredited? How many complaints do they have — and how many were closed, versus unanswered? Are there any good or bad user reviews posted on their BBB profile page?

Those are all important questions to ask yourself. But keep in mind there might not be many indicators on their BBB page, and they may not even have one, if they are a newer company.

Plus, you have to be careful. Some scam survey companies know how to hide their real business name pretty well. We will give an example, although the company is not fraudulent.

Populus Live is one of the survey panels we recommend to our readers. The panel name is actually ‘Populus Live’ but searching for a BBB page with this term will return nothing. When you go to the ‘About Us’ page on, it says, “Thank you for visiting, part of Populus.” … This is the answer, as searching for Populus in BBB returns the actual company behind the panel.

You might have to do some crafty background checking like that also.

  • CASRO Directory

If a survey panel is established and legit, chances are they are CASRO-listed. This is because CASRO upholds the ‘code of standards and ethics for survey research’, making paid surveys fair and effective for both companies and panelists.

You can go to and check the member directory to see if a particular panel is listed with them. If it isn’t, this does not necessarily mean the panel is going to scam you. There are thousands of online paid survey websites, and even some that are CASRO listed are not ‘the best’ overall.

Many survey panels join CASRO because it increases their resources. For example, there is a highly specific liability insurance plan that they offer to market research companies. The big players in this industry see CASRO has a huge part of their business; so if a panel wants to compete with the best, CASRO will likely be involved at some point.

  • Googling for Commentary

We never recommend believing what any one person says in an online discussion forum. If there is a recurring pattern, or if some higher-status members vouch, then we lend some trust to what’s said.

Finding this commentary can help you save countless hours on paid survey scams. It can also make it easier to increase your earnings; many forum members talk about what they have earned at various panels, who screens out the most, and much more.

Here is the main way to Google for this type of information:

‘ panel name ‘ + “inurl:forum”

The parameter in quotation marks is to limit search results to only URLs containing “forum” which narrows it down mostly to actual forum threads. From there, you can read the titles and descriptions to get the context down, select the most interesting pages and investigate further.

  • Survey Review Websites

Elite Survey Sites is a little different, we are not as inviting to user-posted reviews as our competitors. This is because we undergo an expert analysis process for every company we cover. As you can see from our list of security checks here, we are dedicated to reviewing panels while considering all factors possible.

So you can count on our reviews. But that does not mean information on other survey review websites cannot help either. And if there is a new panel you cannot find here — it is worth digging info elsewhere to see whether they are reputable.

Again, use the Google search parameters. You will be able to find reviews of specific panels easily this way. Just search for: ‘ panel name ‘ + “inurl:review”

It would be ideal if tons of users are commenting on a review verifying the panels’ greatness. But if that does not line up on other sites, something fishy might be going on. So use a bit of common sense when trying to determine whether you can trust what you are reading; before gambling with information, check to see if we have covered the panel you are interested in … and comment requesting a review if it’s not already here!

  • Whois Search

You can also go to and look for information on the owner of the domain behind the survey panel website. This is often made private, but sometimes it isn’t. Whether private or not, you are still entitled to find out when the domain was registered and last updated, and also when it is expected to expire.

If owner information is available, you can copy specific details to Google to search for more information. Addresses, company names, full names, and phone numbers are all good terms to search to learn more.

There are other ways to vet survey panels, but simply do some investigative researching and see what you find. The question on whether you should trust a particular panel usually gets answered once you scavenge the Web for a few minutes anyway.

With that said, another important thing … maximizing your earnings!

Here’s the Trick … Don’t Just Do Surveys!

There is no shortage of get-paid-to sites on the Web. If you have the spare time, you should be looking into ways to make money all over. If you have a skill, offer it on, or if you just like getting paid for easy work, maybe will interest you.

But if you want to stick close to paid surveys, there are a few other areas to consider:

Focus groups. You can earn as much as $100 in an hour doing paid focus groups. These offers are rarely advertised; most survey panels invite their panelists to partake in the groups. It would be worthwhile to join the panels that are known for sending focus group invites. But remember, you need to keep active at these panels. In the event you get even one or two invites a year, it is worth the hassle — even if the surveys do not pay very well.

Mystery shopping. You typically make $25 to $100 per assignment. It could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to complete the task. However, some require lengthier stays — such as hotel reservations. Quality mystery shopping jobs will reward you generously for completing the task, as well as compensate you in excess for any food and/or mileage required.

Product testing. You often find product testing opportunities in online survey panels. Sometimes the company will only have the odd invite to send out though. If you do get the chance to test a product, you often get to keep it for free. Plus the assignment could easily reward you anywhere from $5 to $50 for your time.

Study participation. You can find many different types of studies that are being ran, whether in your state or somewhere else in the US. The specifics vary, some are risky to your health and sanity, but you can bank upwards of $300 a day being a ‘test subject’ if you are lucky. It would be worth watching for these opportunities — of course, the safe ones … like virtual reality testing!

Writing assignments. Through sites like,, and, you can make anywhere from $5 to $50 for an hour of your time. This is more ‘skill-based’ but it can translate to greater work opportunities later. The content mill style sites that were listed are all great for beginners; you do not have to scavenge for clients, just take simple jobs for easy money.

In the end, scaling your get-paid-to efforts into other areas will increase your overall monthly earnings. Stick with it and learn how to capitalize on the best-paying opportunities in various fields to make the most you can.

Conclusion: Paid Surveys, a Full Time Job or Not?

We are aware of countless survey panelists that have earned $1,000 to $5,000 in a single month. These numbers are not life-changing for anyone in a country with higher living costs. Unfortunately, most of the higher-paying surveys, and most surveys in general, are just available to residents of ‘pricier’ countries.

So it is hard to make a real living if you do not fall in the right demographics. And if you do, it still requires being very specific as to which survey sites you join.

But here’s the thing … the people who make $3,000 in a month, they rely on a particular few panels and surveys they took on to reach that point. If it were not for certain opportunities they found, chances are their income would be in the $1,000 to $1,500 range instead.

You can dramatically increase your earnings by knowing how to play the system.

If this post taught you anything, it’s exactly how to do that …

But this is a never-ending battle; if you want to really make ~$3,000 a month off paid surveys, you really should read up on our ‘Paid Surveys Cash’ guide. If you thought this post was detailed, our guide will literally walk you into a new job as a survey master!

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