In The kNOW: Going Mobile

Group of friends using mobile phone

I used to feel naked all day if I forgot to put my watch on in the morning before heading out. Now, if I somehow manage to leave the house without my phone, I’ll return to get it. I don’t even wear a watch anymore. We use our phones for everything; news, weather, calendar, email, shopping, socials; the list goes on and on. Our phones connect us to our personal and public worlds. According to Google Analytics benchmarking, mobile devices drove 61% of visits to U.S. websites in 2020, up from 57% in 2019. (Globally, website visits via mobile devices were even higher, 68.1%). And that’s pre-pandemic. Tech industry leaders believe over 80% of internet users use mobile devices to surf the net now. So, it stands to reason that how we gather insights about consumers should be as mobile-friendly as possible.

Fortunately, when it comes to qualitative research, you have many mobile-friendly options and you should pick the one that allows you the options and features you need for your study, like share screen, record screen, etc. Truth be told, the most significant benefit of qualitative methods regarding software/tools/platforms is that you, the researcher, can require the participant to use the device you choose. So, for our discussion today, we’ll focus on quantitative research, specifically surveys.

While I’d love to give you a simple checklist of what to do for mobile-friendly surveys and call it a day, I know that’s not always realistic in every situation. Your real-world objectives and analysis requirements may make some mobile optimizations harder to accomplish than others. But there are some easy considerations and tactics you can engage.

First, off pick the right platform. Make sure to choose a research tool platform that is mobile-responsive. Make sure it’s a platform that automatically adjusts the layout to make your survey fit varied screen sizes. Luckily, the most popular survey platforms have implemented auto-adjust screen improvements. Another improvement most platforms have implemented is a progress indicator, but ensure it displays regardless of screen size. (The prevailing thinking is that progress bars reassure participants that they’re making progress and motivate them to finish the survey.) Another feature, auto-advance, can also improve the survey-taking experience on a mobile device. Most platforms default to a ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the screen/survey page, but to ease advancement on a mobile survey, consider enabling auto-advance to keep things moving with one less button to push.

There are other mobile optimizations that only some platforms may have invested in. Two improvements that make surveys easier on participants using a mobile device are the ability to enlarge tap targets and offline access. Check to see if the platform allows you to adjust the size of buttons and response options so that fingers easily tap them. Also, check to see that you can add enough space between options to avoid accidental selections. Offline access may or may not be available, depending on the platform. Offline access allows participants to complete the survey even if they lose internet connectivity temporarily. Investigate how the platform(s) you’re considering handles offline access to understand the participant experience best.

Beyond platform selection, there are some measures you can take to improve the survey-taking experience on mobiles. First off, avoid using complex media file types like Flash. Not all mobile devices support every file type. Stick to simple and universally supported media types for images/videos in standard formats like JPEG, MP4, etc. Likewise, keep your design clean and uncluttered. Avoid excessive graphics and large images that can slow download times and ensure font sizes are appropriate for mobile devices. Also, keep your survey as concise and to the point as possible. Try and avoid long paragraphs that require a lot of scrolling.

An imperative step to take for mobile-friendly surveys is testing. Test your survey on various mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) and different operating systems to ensure functionality and compatibility. Don’t forget to include your iPhone AND Android friends/colleagues in your testing endeavors. Consider conducting an official pre-test with a small group of participants using mobile devices to identify any issues or improvements needed.

Now, let’s discuss the steps you can take to improve survey-taking on a mobile device that often pose a challenge. Many researchers say you MUST shorten your surveys to get better completion rates. Sure, they’re not wrong. Shorter surveys do indeed achieve better completion. But throwing out questions isn’t always practical. After all, you need to know what you need to know. If you can’t throw out questions, they’ll suggest you split your survey into two or three separate surveys. But that limits your analysis capabilities. Now you can’t create groups and subgroups and analyze their answers across surveys if you need to.

Another suggestion many make that can pose a challenge is optimizing question types for mobile screens and functionality. Simpler question types like multiple choice, rating scales, and single-line text entry are better suited for mobile surveys. But often you need to engage more complicated question types like matrix, drag and drop, open-end, and others to illustrate participant sentiment best and achieve your research objectives.

In both cases, survey length and question complexity, the best advice I can give is to do the best you can for participants. You can do things like split a matrix question into two simpler ones. Or change your 7-point Likert scale to a 5-point scale. Put yourself in the participant’s shoes and get creative.

When creating mobile-friendly surveys, do your homework, enact the tactics you can, and test, test, test. Make sure to know exactly what your participants will experience and then make the necessary trade-offs to strike the best balance between survey goals and user experience that you can achieve.

If you’d like to know more about making your research mobile-friendly or would like to discuss a custom, holistic research strategy for your business or brand, feel free to contact us.

Our ‘In the kNOW’ series tackles the burning questions we all want to know about right NOW. If you have questions you think we should ask, topics we should explore, or things you’d like to learn more about, shoot me a note at