Online Surveys - Not As Cool As They Used To Be

Evolution doesn't have to take millions of years. Things can evolve dramatically over a short period. Take technology, for example. Compare the phone you have now with the phone you had ten years ago - they're probably wildly different! As a result of the evolution of the phone, you have likely evolved how you use technology in your day-to-day lives (wow, I guess biological evolution doesn't have to take millennia).

However, here's the thing. Evolution isn't about systems becoming more complex over time - it's about adapting to the environment. As such, the online survey has devolved.
I remember when I got into the research game in the late 90s, online research was just getting started. Initially, the survey tools were basic and rudimentary, just like those horrendous 90s websites. As time went by, researchers realized a survey broadcast in an online environment had practically limitless potential - we could use the online environment to design extraordinarily engaging and fun survey experiences. We got incredibly creative with question presentation. Why ask a respondent which video was their favorite when you could get them to drag videos into "good" and "bad" piles and then sort them into the order of preference?

An overabundance of new survey tools was born, each one competing on the complexity and capabilities of authoring unique and exciting studies. The mid-2000s was the golden age of creative online research.

Let's fast-forward ten or fifteen years to this "online surveys not as cool as they used to be" article. What happened?

Technology, and how we humans use technology, evolved rapidly over a period of years. Laptops replaced desktops. Moreover, smartphones replaced laptops. Sure, we still rely on traditional computers in the workplace, but the smartphone is also an integral and essential part of our work lives. However, when we're at home, what do we use more? The smartphone, of course! We look up recipes, check our email, message our mates, read the news, and yes, take surveys from our cell.

In fact, when it comes to taking online surveys, the majority of us opt to take them on our iPhone or Android device. As researchers, we've had to adapt to the mobile environment, and that means we've had to evolve (devolve?) our online questionnaire into something less-cool. We haven't had to compromise data quality, but we have had to rethink how we ask questions.

A mobile environment is an unforgiving place. The landscape in which we populate our survey is a much smaller place. The mechanism that our respondents navigate and respond to our questions, the finger, is relatively imprecise. The combination of the input mechanism and small interface means that fancy drag, drop, and drill-down exercises are no longer practical and engaging - they are confusing and frustrating. Matrix questions which render wonderfully and are fantastically efficient on a computer reduce to an ineffective jumble on a smartphone.

So how do we counter the limitations of the mobile environment? We have to rethink how we write surveys.


Guidelines for Engaging Mobile Surveys

1. Adopt a "mobile-first" mentality - start out with the mindset that most people will take your survey on their smartphone.
2. Reading patterns differ on mobile devices - people are more likely to scan text and ignore complicated words and phrasing.
3. Brevity and simplicity are your allies - to address the above point, make sure your questions are short and will make sense to an 8th-grader.
4. Be conscious of where the respondent is taking the survey - people use their smartphones everywhere and anywhere. They could be on the couch watching TV, on the train on the way to work, in the get it. You're competing for attention. That's why points two and three are so important.

Mobile surveys have revolutionized our reach as our respondents no longer need to be in a specific location to take the study, and that indeed is a great thing. With that said, we as researchers must adapt our questionnaires to the mobile environment and continue to pay attention to technological advances. After all, evolution may render this article useless in five or ten years...

At Evolve, we are experts in marketing research, mobile usability, and the user experience. We'd love to work with you on your next research project and design a study that works for you and your target audience. Follow the link to contact us.


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Posted by EvolveKev

Kevin is all about research. Qualitative, quantitative, UX, you name it. When he's not researching, he's to be found laying down beats in his studio and hanging out with his dogs (and girlfriend). Woof.

Topics: Research Tips