Mobile First Surveys: Tips To Design More Mobile Friendly Surveys

Philip Cleave
June 27, 2023
Picture depicting a survey optimised for a smartphone user

When you think of online surveys, particularly if you’re targeting a business audience, it’s likely that you’ll visualise someone completing one on a desktop or a laptop. Yet around 30% of people are already filling out surveys on their smartphone, with that figure only set to grow further in the future.

So, if you’re not doing it already, you should always consider the needs of mobile users as standard when you’re designing online surveys.

From your survey layout, length and question types to your fonts, navigation and testing. There’s quite a bit to think about. So, to help you this blog provides some useful tips about what to include and exclude if you’re to create a more engaging and successful mobile first survey.

1. Survey length

While the length of a survey is important for any audience that you’re trying to reach out to, it becomes even more crucial for those looking to complete it on a smartphone. This is because the screen size is much smaller than other devices and those accessing your survey via a smartphone are more likely to be on the move.

Subsequently, if you’re to encourage more people to take it and not abandon it when they’re completing it, you need to keep your survey short and concise.

Some best practices to help you with this include:

Keep your questions short and simple

When it comes to completing a survey, there’s nothing more frustrating than being faced with questions that are too complex or long. And this becomes even harder if you’re trying to make sense of them on a small screen.

Consequently, you’d be better off keeping your sentences short, your answer choices as limited as possible, and trying not to ask too much in a single question, otherwise you’ll risk respondents skipping questions as they scroll through.

Think about running a follow-up survey

If you really feel you need to ask a lot of questions, but don’t want to make your survey too long, you could consider running a follow-up survey.

To help ensure you don’t miss out on the most valuable insight, you could then include your most crucial questions in your first survey, followed up by those that are nice to have in the follow up survey.

To try and maintain reasonable response rate for this second survey, you could also think about offering some sort of incentive for people to take it.

Avoid unnecessary questions

It might sound obvious, but you must try to avoid unnecessary questions at all costs.

For example, if you’ve already asked a respondent to fill in their date of birth, you shouldn’t be asking them about their age in a subsequent question.

Doing this will not only increase the length of your survey but frustrate the respondent and increase their likelihood of abandoning it.

2. Survey questions

While it’s likely your already aware of the many different types of survey questions available to collect the data you need, you may not be so up to speed with what’s required when you’re trying to build a mobile friendly survey.

So, let’s take a look at the types of questions that work well for a mobile survey and those that are best to avoid.

Mobile friendly questions

Multiple choice questions

When they’re designed well, multiple-choice questions make it quick and simple for respondents to select the answer they need without having to worry about typing.

Smartphone device screens are great for reading short bits of text and minor interactions like clicking, making multiple choice questions a great option for improving completion rates.

Demographic questions

There’s no evidence that demographic questions are any less mobile-friendly than other formats, so you can certainly include them in your survey.

However, some people can be a bit sensitive about this type of question, so if you’re going to use them, use them sparingly and include them at the end of your survey. If you do this, it’s less likely to increase your survey non-completion rates, as it could if you included it at the beginning.

Non-required responses

With most survey software including our own you have the option to get respondents to answer a number of mandatory questions, before they can submit all their answers.

This can be useful if you have some crucial data you need to capture from your target audience, but it should be used sparingly, otherwise you risk annoying respondents who may leave your survey and damage your response rates.

A good rule thumb to remember with mobile surveys is that length, accessibility and engagement are vital. So, always try to make sure you only include what’s most important.

Non-mobile friendly questions

Matrix questions

Although it’s part of the multiple-choice family of questions, matrix questions, which are typically displayed in a grid of rows and columns are definitely not mobile friendly.

Not only do they include lots of content in one question, but they also need to be well-spaced out to accommodate all this information, making them only simple to read if you’re viewing them on a large screen.

Open-ended questions

While open-ended questions are extremely valuable for gathering detailed feedback and opinion, they need to be completed on the right kind of device to make them a strong viable option.

Without a decent size keyboard and hampered by a small screen, it can be extremely challenging to write long passages of text on a smartphone, making the use of open-ended questions extremely off putting for someone trying to complete your survey.

Mandatory questions

We’ve already talked about some of the limitations of using mandatory questions, which are often not particularly mobile friendly too.

So, if you’re to maximise your survey completion rates, it’s prudent to make as many of them optional as you can.

3. Survey navigation for mobile

When it comes to building an engaging survey that’s optimised for mobile use, your survey design, format and layout are vital.

So, you need to be continually thinking about how your users interact with their mobile devices and be able to reduce any annoyances and user strains that this audience may perceive.

Here are some points you need to think about:

Scrolling vs paging

Consider the scenario where you’re planning to run a customer satisfaction survey featuring twenty multiple-choice format questions and you also need to identify the best way to arrange and organise them for mobile use.

A key decision you need to think about is how many pages your survey will run on. While you might want to include all twenty questions on one page, you may also consider dividing up your questions, so that you have four questions over five pages.

While this may not seem that important, it is when it comes to survey optimisation. This is because scrolling and paging can each have a different effect on issues such as survey abandonment rates, the decision to skip questions and survey completion times.

Generally, the paging approach is viewed as more effective than vertically scrolling, with any questions that require horizontal scrolling making response times even worse. So, try to aim for more pages and limit the need for horizontal scrolling.

Minimise your use of rich media

Today’s digital surveys can include almost any type of content, including digital images and videos. However, the more rich media you include the more megabytes of data it will require to load your survey page.

So, if you know that a large proportion of your survey respondents are likely to taking your survey on a smartphone, and they could be accessing it from anywhere with widely varying levels of connectivity, it’s best to avoid too much digital media. After all, you’ll want as many people to answer your survey as you can and page buffering or loading problems could seriously hamper this.

Use progress bars

Progress bars can help to keep respondents engaged and less likely to abandon your survey, as they can see exactly how much more they need to complete.

However, you still need to think carefully about where to position this survey bar if you’re to get the most effective use from it and not distract respondents from completing your survey.

Consequently, there’s a strong argument for placing progress bars at the bottom of your screen rather than the top of it, which is more commonly used.

4. Mobile font size

Although, you’re already well supported with this if you’re a SmartSurvey customer, as our default themes are responsive and mobile-friendly by default, which makes surveys as simple to take on a mobile, as they are on a desktop, it’s still prudent to be aware of mobile font issues.

The reason for this is that different brands of smartphones typically have different screen sizes and resolutions, making it challenging to know exactly how your font will look on every screen. Consequently, a good general rule to maximise your on-screen legibility, is to increase your text size.

You also need to give some consideration to the font types that you use for your survey. Sans-serif fonts like Verdana and Arial are very readable and generally work well for most mobile surveys. However, there are also more specialist serif fonts, like Merriweather, that have been specifically designed to aid in the legibility of digital documents. So, a serif font like this could be a good alternative if your survey contains longer passages of text.

You should not overlook the text colour you use either. While it may be tempting to design a colourful survey, dark text on a plain white background is always going to be optimal for reading on a small screen.

5. Testing your survey

Before issuing a mobile survey, it’s essential to pilot it, so you can ensure it functions properly and is responsive on a wide range of mobile devices.

The first thing you need to do is use the preview function to see how your survey looks on a small screen.

Checking the page speed on mobile devices is also really important, as nobody likes slow-loading pages and you run the risk of losing respondents if your page stutters.

It’s a really good idea to test your survey with a small pilot group and get some feedback on how the survey looks, feels, and loads on a mobile device. Doing this will help you to:

  • Gauge how much scrolling time is needed to complete your survey – so you can keep it down to a minimum
  • Identify any bugs or bottlenecks in your survey respondent experience, which you can fine tune
  • Compare audience experience across different types of mobile devices such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones
  • Pinpoint areas of your survey that might increase the potential for survey abandonment

6. Timing your survey

Having done everything you can to make your survey design as good as it can be for mobile use and fully tested it, you're ready to issue it.

However, don’t rush into it, because as with everything we’ve already discussed in this piece, you need to think about timing of your survey distribution carefully, as it can make a difference to how many people see and respond to it.

The reason for this is that there are a range of factors that can influence your timing from who your audience is and what device they’re using to access it from to previous results you have had when issuing past surveys.

For example, if you were targeting a business rather than a consumer audience, you’d be more likely to reach them during normal business hours, compared to a consumer audience who can only respond to consumer surveys outside they’re normal working hours. And within that there’s lots of subgroups to think about such as young and old, employed vs unemployed audiences and the list goes on.

So, all these kinds of factors need to be considered if you’re to have the best chance of making an impact with your chosen target audience. For more details on the best times to send a survey, you might like to read our blog post on the best times to send your survey.

Compared to other digital media, designing surveys for mobiles does require a degree of consideration and planning. However, with a bit of time, care and effort across the areas we’ve discussed you can increase the success of your next mobile survey.

Deliver more impactful mobile surveys

While there’s a lot you can do to optimise your survey for mobile users, you still need to be using the right survey tools. Fortunately, our mobile-responsive survey themes ensure our customers and their survey respondents can enjoy the same quality experience irrespective of what device they’re using.

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