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Why Your Online Surveys Must Be Mobile-Friendly

Posted On  January 17, 2019

Think of all the everyday tasks you do on your smartphone. You check your e-mail. You transfer money. You book travel. You buy new shoes. You get into Twitter feuds with complete strangers. The bottom line is that we officially live in a mobile-centric world. Things that you accomplished in person or on your desktop computers not too long ago are more easily achieved today on your handheld device.

So from this researcher’s perspective, I can’t help but wonder: WHY AREN’T YOU DESIGNING YOUR ONLINE SURVEYS TO BE TAKEN ON SMARTPHONES?!

Mobile-Friendly Surveys Are Lagging

In theory, the rate of online surveys taken on mobile devices should be in line with mobile rates for overall online behaviors, but data shows that’s far from the case. According to market and consumer data provider Statista, 43% of all online traffic in the U.S. was served by mobile devices in Q3 of 2018. But according to our survey partner Toluna, only 33% of online surveys in the U.S. in December 2018 were started through mobile devices.

Why the discrepancy? First, many surveys are deemed “not mobile compatible,” which means smartphone respondents either aren’t sent the surveys, or they’re terminated when they arrive. In other words, sample providers protect their panelists by not asking them to take surveys that are too long or provide a poor user experience on smartphones. Secondly, experienced respondents have learned that many surveys are rough on mobile so they don’t bother to start one unless they’re within arm’s reach of their desktop with a lot of time to kill. Both of these factors undermine the representativeness of your respondent pool. If your sample doesn’t properly represent your market, you’re likely to draw the wrong conclusions and make the wrong business decisions.

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To be clear, some study types (e.g., wordy print ad tests and complex choice models) simply should not be done on smartphones, since the amount of required pinching/zooming/scrolling would invalidate the visual stimuli. In those cases you may be willing to sacrifice representativeness. But in most cases, there’s no excuse for fielding a survey that’s not mobile compatible. If your web-recruited studies are seeing markedly less than 40% mobile participation, your study is probably not obtaining a representative sample due to it being too long or complex.

If anything, you should strive to over-represent mobile participation, since those respondents tend to be fresh (i.e., not professional or jaded) and they’re unlikely to be bots or click farms.  And in cases where your target audience or category skews particularly young or active, mobile rates approaching 75 percent are appropriate.

Check Your Survey for Adverse Symptoms

So how do you know if your survey is not mobile-friendly? Like any good doctor zeroing in on a diagnosis, you’ll want to test for symptoms. Here are three dead giveaways:

  • You can’t fit all of the rating scale points on one phone screen.
  • You have to scroll more than once to get to the bottom of the list of response options.
  • You could stream an episode of Veep in less time than it takes to answer the survey!

As much as mobile usage has skyrocketed in the last decade, you can expect it to continue growing in the next 10 years. The quicker you can successfully adapt all of your surveys to mobile audiences, the richer and more reliable your insights will be.


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