It’s not news that everyone is doing more on mobile devices than ever before – using one’s phone to look up sports scores, browse social media, and check email has become commonplace. It follows that many people also choose to take surveys on their mobile devices whether we intend them to or not. At Turnkey, we often see 25 – 35% of survey responses come through on mobile devices. But when respondents take a survey on a smartphone, does the dropout rate increase, or does the quality of the data suffer? Is the formatting of the survey conducive to keeping a respondent engaged and honest?

When writing surveys, it’s easy to think only of the respondent experience for those who take the survey using a computer. We draft the questionnaire on a computer, program the survey on a computer, and test the survey on a computer. When taking a survey on a computer, we can include many questions, and can use a variety of question formats that have no trouble fitting on a computer screen. However, the respondent experience changes drastically when you consider that same survey on a smaller screen of a smartphone, or a tablet. As such, it is important to design surveys that are optimal to take on any type of device.

In order to improve the experience for mobile respondents, the formatting of all survey questions should fit on the smaller screen of a mobile device, and require as little scrolling as possible. Some question types will not fit on a smaller screen and will have to be reformatted. For example, a matrix question where respondents rate a number of items on the same scale works well on a computer screen, but is difficult to view on a smaller screen. In this scenario, one alternative is to split the matrix into individual rating questions. However, the tradeoff is that rating each item individually on separate pages takes much longer than answering them altogether in a matrix question.

The other thing to keep in mind when designing surveys for mobile devices is the length of the survey. Dropout is higher among respondents who take surveys on their mobile devices than for those who use a computer. When people are taking surveys on mobile devices, it’s especially important to keep the survey focused, and not include any more questions than are necessary to get the information desired. If the survey is too long, dropout rates will increase, and the quality of the data could suffer. Respondents may start to rush through the final the questions and pay less attention in order to finish the survey.

It may sound obvious, but it is a good idea to test all surveys on a mobile device before deployment. Testing will help identify any problems with the formatting on the small screen, and shine a spotlight on any questions that are difficult to answer. It will also give a sense of how long a survey takes to complete on a mobile device so that adjustments can be made to shorten it if necessary. By optimizing surveys for mobile devices, we can keep respondents happy, regardless of how they prefer to take surveys, and increase the likelihood of them completing other surveys in the future.

Here are several articles with more information on best practices for mobile surveys:

From Kinesis Survey Technologies, “Evolving Best Practices in Mobile Surveys and Online Administration”.

From WBA Research, “Best Practices in Mobile Survey Design: The Impact of Mobile Phones”.

From Quirk’s, “Going mobile with your survey? Get off the grid”.