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How To Design An Effective Mobile Survey

Person holding a cellphone

From in-person, to paper and pencil, to online, those of us who have been in the market research industry for years have seen big changes in how surveys are administered. As Bob Dylan once sang, “for the times they are a changing”- but I beg to differ. The times have changed already. The newest change in administering surveys? Making those surveys mobile friendly.

Here are a few tips for ensuring that your survey is optimized for being taken on mobile devices:

“Brevity is the soul of wit” – Watch Your Length

Mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.) typically have smaller screens than a traditional desktop computer. As a result, online surveys that seem quick and easy to complete on a desktop can become long and arduous on a mobile device. As “brevity is the soul of wit”, you will want to apply the principles of brevity to both the length of your interview (as in the number of questions asked) as well as the length of the questions themselves. It’s a good idea to keep question wording as direct as possible. As an example, instead of asking “What is your gender?”, you can simply ask “Gender?” with the appropriate multiple-choice responses.

Survey Layout

Certain types of questions that look great on a PC or laptop may not look quite so nice on a phone or tablet. For example, large “grid” type questions with multiple scale choices and lots of attributes to rate on that scale should be recalibrated to fit on mobile screens. Either reduce the number of attributes to rate, or at the very least break them up onto multiple screens. Lots of scrolling down in a mobile survey can be frustrating.

Similarly, questions that require a large text box (i.e. open-ended questions) should be used sparingly on mobile interviews. Typing on a small mobile keyboard is problematic, and as with a large “grid” question, the respondent may have to scroll. Keep text boxes manageable. Also, consider an audio option for collecting open ended responses. Instead of typing their answers, respondents can simply speak their answer into their device’s microphone. This is faster and less likely to contain errors. While this option may not always be feasible, it should at least be explored.

“Make it simple, but significant”- Consider several survey sections

Bite-sized survey sections may be best. That is, break the survey into smaller pieces with a very short intro that has the respondent focus on a particular topic (i.e. where did you purchase and why). As Mad Men has taught us, “keep it simple, but significant.” Having distinct sections of the survey could help keep mobile respondents more engaged and help with overall participation incidence.

One of these things is not like the other – test your survey on multiple devices

As Sesame Street has taught generations of children, “One of these things is not like the other”. Due to the variance between screen sizes and operating systems among mobile devices, different devices will display your survey differently. The upshot is that it is important to test your survey on multiple devices- from desktops, tablets, and phones, as well as across multiple browsers and operating systems.

Additionally, images may not be displayed the same way on different devices. If you need to show images in your survey, a good idea is to have a thumbnail (or small image) that expands into a full-screen image when clicked upon. That way the text and thumbnail can be shown together, but the option of more image detail is available as needed.

Don’t ask unnecessary questions

Chances are you are conducting your survey through a panel provider. If so, do you really need to include questions about the demographics you are interested in tracking? Most of the major panel providers have recent demographic info on their panel participants. You may be able to append this data without having to ask these questions in your survey. This goes back to the survey length concern mentioned earlier.

The ubiquity of mobile phones as peoples’ primary way to access the internet means that for conducting good research, a mobile-friendly survey isn’t just a “nice to have”, it’s a “critical to have” component. Following best practices like those we’ve outlined here, as well as general best practices when designing and testing your survey will help ensure that you get quality, actionable data from your research. Working with experienced teams like the research group at The Stevenson Company will help you align your survey for the best results possible.

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TraQline's Dave Stevenson, PH.D President & CEO
Dave Stevenson, PH.D
President & CEO

Before launching The Stevenson Company in 1995, President and CEO Dave Stevenson managed worldwide research for product development, distribution, advertising, and customer satisfaction. His roles, first as head of the marketing section of General Motors’ worldwide product planning group, and later as director of GE Appliances’ global economics and market research team, give him extensive experience in consumer as well as business to business marketing solutions. Mr. Stevenson holds a Ph.D. in statistics from Southern Methodist University.