Since 2010, page views via mobile devices have risen by 980 percent. With that, the number of surveys that are taken on smartphones or tablets is increasing -- but are you making it possible for people to complete surveys on their mobile device?

“Mobile” is no longer merely a special topic for market researchers who have a particular affinity for technology. It has become an integral part of market research. The rapidly growing number of “conventional” online questionnaires accessed through mobile devices will force every market researcher to tackle the mobile issue in 2013.

But what does that really mean? To illustrate, below is a real-life example:

When Online Surveys Accidentally End Up on Smartphones

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You are sitting at an airport, checking your email. While doing this, you find an invitation to participate in a customer satisfaction survey, which at that moment would be a welcome diversion.

You open the survey in your smartphone browser. Unfortunately, you cannot read the invitation text because it is so tiny on your high-resolution display. But that’s no problem -- you enlarge the text by a touch of the screen.

The survey sounds interesting, so you decide to take part. After you have finally found the continue button and have managed to actually press it after several attempts, you are all set.

The first question uses a scale ranging from 1-10 and asks how satisfied you are with a particular offer. You are very satisfied and would like to award the maximum number of points. Instead you click on the “6,” because unfortunately the right-hand side of the scale of 10 is cut off on your device. So all you can see is a scale of six. But you don’t know that. How could you?

The next question is entertaining: “Please place 4 products on the shelf according to your preferences.” What products? What shelf? All you can see is a small, broken icon in the middle of your screen. Because your smartphone does not support Flash, unfortunately you cannot answer that question. You’re thinking, “Oh dear. But, okay, I’ll give it one last try.” You press the continue button.

The highlight of any questionnaire now unfolds in front of you: the matrix question. A masterpiece of methodical efficiency. So much information in such little space. And those tiny buttons! Without a second thought, you give up, and instead switch your browser to check the daily news.

The Problem Areas of Conventional Online Layouts

The experience that has just been described unfortunately too often becomes reality when online layouts are displayed on mobile devices. The problems encountered can be defined as:

  • Unsatisfactory user experience
  • Lower response rates
  • Poor data quality

The reasons for this are the following four problem areas of conventional questionnaire layouts:

1. Size of the text and select buttons are too small

Surveys are usually optimized for desktop monitors and are consequently too small when displayed on smartphones or tablets. The direct result of this is a lower completion rate. In the medium term, this also has an adverse impact on participation rates due to the negative experience.

2. Lack of touch functionality

More problematic than a bad display is when questionnaires are not touch-optimized and buttons are therefore hard to press or do not work at all.

3. Incorrect results due to scales that are cut off

What is even more problematic is when response options are incompletely displayed on mobile devices. For example, if a scale of ten is visible only as a scale from 1-6, a desktop layout then leads not only to frustration and survey dropout, but also to real errors in measurement.

4. Use of Flash animation

It is well known that Flash does not run on market leading Apple smartphones or tablets. What is less well known, however, is that starting with version 4.1, Android no longer supports Flash either. So there is obviously no future for any types of questions using Flash.

The Solution: Mobile First! Responsive Design for Questionnaires

Fortunately, a solution is available to meet these challenges: the magic word of the moment is known as responsive design.

Responsive design is the technical implementation of an adaptable questionnaire layout using HTML5 and CSS3. This so-called adaptive questionnaire automatically adapts to fit the screen size of the device that is being used -- regardless of whether it is a desktop monitor, tablet or smartphone.

Optimization should not be limited to the visual display alone, but should also take the usability into account. After all, a questionnaire not only needs to look good -- it has to be easy to use.

The following four criteria allow you to recognize a good adaptive questionnaire:

1. It can be read and used on any screen

What is important to note in this context: both the resolution and the screen size must be taken into consideration in order for texts and images to be displayed optimally. Otherwise they will appear much too small on a high-resolution smartphone display, and much too large on a desktop monitor. What is also important, particularly on small touch screens, select buttons must be convenient to use.

2. It is touch-enabled and clickable

There are differences not only in display sizes but also in the way that data is inputted. Make sure that the questionnaire supports both touch screens and the conventional mouse. You can easily test by ranking question types, for instance.

Furthermore, the entire range of response options -- and not only the select button -- should be clickable.

3. Matrix questions

As anyone who has ever tried to answer a matrix question on a smartphone display knows, it is impossible. That is why matrix questions should automatically turn into a series of individual selections below a certain screen size in order to remain usable.

4. HTML5 instead of Flash

Neither Apple iOS nor Google Android (starting with version 4.1) support Flash. These types of questions are therefore not displayed. Multimedia question types should be programmed in HTML5.

Everything is Going to Be Alright

Due to the dramatic increase in mobile Internet use in recent years, smartphones and tablets have long become a part of everyday online market research. This trend is sure to continue.

Yet there is no reason to be concerned, because the solution is available in the form of adaptive layouts and is just waiting to be used.

Image courtesy of alexmillos (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read another perspective on mobile surveys, check out Dave King's Customer Engagement: Mobile Matters