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Mobile-First Survey Design: Getting It Right

By Katharine Johnson

Concept of a Mobile-First Survey Participant

It is estimated that over 5 billion people worldwide will be mobile phone users by 2019 (Statistica, 2018) and this gives us, in the market research industry, incredible scope to gain high-quality scalable insight be it reflective or in real-time. Whether people are on a train, waiting in a queue or even relaxing on the beach they are often accessing their emails, messaging services and the internet on their mobile device.

Running insight surveys via mobile is not a new practice; mobile internet usage surpassed desktop usage in 2015 (OfCom, 2015), but designing and programming them correctly remains an elusive art form. According to tech giant Microsoft, only 9% of those who provided feedback to them (in mid-2017) provided it via mobile - the company recognized they were missing a sizable portion of their customer base and have since made a concerted transition to ‘mobile-first design’, a move being made by more and more customer centric brands.

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Running insight surveys via mobile is not a new practice; but designing and programming them correctly remains an elusive art form

Looking to follow suit? Below, I detail the key points to remember when designing mobile-first surveys to increase response rates, enhance insight, and tap into the invaluable feedback of your wider consumer/customer sample wherever and whenever you need.

Mobile-First Survey Questions

1.  Make sure questions are short, clear, and very easy to read and understand. Simple language will increase response rates and encourage feedback of a higher quality.

2.  A full survey should take no longer than 10 minutes for a participant to complete (unless the incentives are particularly high). Shorter surveys at greater frequency, produce more insightful feedback in real-time. Additionally, more frequent surveys allow us, as market researchers, to be agile and adapt.

3.  Ask single choice or multiple choice rather than complex grid or table style questions to minimise effort and thus increase engagement.

4.  Use clickable answer formats rather than drop-downs and sliders, etc. to reduce the amount of time required per question.

5.  Avoid open text questions that require answers to be typed; as well as the time factor here, it can be difficult for the participant to think of a succinct answer to fill the allocated space quickly and with ease on a mobile device.

Drop-out rates for mobile surveys are greater than those of laptops or desktops so a well-designed survey will give optimal results.

Mobile-First Survey Visuals

1.  Do ensure that your survey looks exciting and enticing but always avoid large images, files or video content that require any degree of data to download / stream / view. 4G access is still limited in many areas. Survey content that is rapidly accessible to all will increase response rates.

2.  Following on from point 1, minimise the number of image / video feedback upload requests made of participants throughout the survey. Consider which are really necessary in relation to your research objectives and which are more ‘nice to have’.

3.  Ensure that any visuals you do use, emojis for example, are universal and easily understood. This is key in terms of insight accuracy as well as the participant experience.

4.  Design the survey to be compatible in portrait and landscape view; mobile devices allow for a seamless change in orientation and a mobile-first survey should follow suit.

5.  Do embed the media necessary for survey completion within the survey itself. Avoid the use of pop-ups or click-through options to new windows wherever possible; the fewer screens needed to complete a mobile survey, the greater the response.

Mobile-First Survey Software

Participants are more likely to disengage with a survey if it isn’t compatible with their mobile device and are extremely unlikely to restart the survey on another device therefore:

1.  Choose your mobile survey platform carefully; check that the technology you have chosen allows for the dedicated programming of mobile-first surveys with a purpose built mobile optimised survey tool.

2.  Ensure that your mobile survey tool is compatible with ALL mobile operating systems: Google Android, Windows phone, Apple iOS, etc. to maximise response rates.

3.  If a participant was to access the survey on another device, such as a laptop or tablet would the interface look the same? Different screen layouts can influence participant responses so if you think you may have responses from non-mobile devices ensure the interface is identical across all.

4.  The survey should be easy to access via either a click-through on a website, email, etc. or a QR code and more recently smart watch alerts. Instant access is fundamental for in-the-moment response.

5.  Survey question answer submission should also be via finger click and not require additional scrolling effort. Limit horizontal scrolling to reduce bias to answers on the left-hand side of the screen.

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Participants are more likely to disengage with a survey if it isn't compatible with their mobile device and extremely unlikely to restart it on an alternative device

Mobile-First Survey Limitations

All survey formats have their advantages and disadvantages. When deciding whether a mobile-first survey format is right for your particular market research initiative, consider the following limitations:

1.  Surveys completed on a mobile device may incorporate selected groups only; the younger generation, for example, are still more inclined to partake than other generations, so consider your sample requirements. If you need to engage with the non-smart device user generation, a mobile-first survey may not be the best choice.

2.  Participants often need internet access to complete a survey, so if you know that mobile internet access is limited in a particular area, use either a mobile research tool which allows data to be collected offline for upload when the internet can be accessed or a fixed line, i.e. desktop approach where an in-the-moment response is not required.

In Conclusion

To gain high-quality mobile-first insight, immediate participant engagement is crucial. There is no leeway for error. Although the amount of time we spend on our mobile devices is increasing, our concentration per screen is diminishing therefore:

  • Keep mobile-first surveys extremely simple, very brief and accessible to all
  • Make them visually attractive with minimal data requirements
  • Ensure the survey navigation is intuitive and that questions flow
  • Use incentives to support and highlight at the outset

Most importantly, and I can't emphasise this enough, test your survey on a mobile device before it goes live. 

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Katharine Johnson

Katharine Johnson- Research Associate

Personal Bio: With a PhD, vast experience in both international and domestic research and marked relationship management skills, Katharine brings business critical insight to both our B2B and B2C clients.

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