On my train ride home from work, I did a quick informal survey. I scanned the train to see how many people were on their phones versus picking their nose or just staring into space.

Of the 28 people I saw, 18 were on their phones. Using advanced stealth tactics, I spied to see what a few were up to, and the results didn’t surprise me.

One was reading her ebook.

A few people texted on their favorite messaging app.

A younger-looking couple looked at some pics of themselves on the beach.

And one woman played a Zynga game.

The Mobile Takeover

Mobile computing has taken over the planet. Mobile devices are now the dominant technology, overtaking desktop computer users. According to Comscore, Pew Research (and my own eyeballs) the number of people using mobile devices is growing every day, surpassing desktops as most used computing device:

mobile surpassed desktop

Okay, you probably knew that already. But perhaps you didn’t know to what degree it’s happening.

According to Comscore’s 2016 Cross Platform Future in Focus report, mobile devices everywhere represent 2 out of every 3 digital minutes. Take a look:


See the black line? It represents digital time spent on desktop computers, and it’s falling down as mobile’s dark blue line trends up. So for the foreseeable future—plan, design, and develop for mobile platforms.

And if you’re heavy into research and using online surveys to reach hard-to-get people, you may even want to prioritize designing for mobile devices first.

Here are some tips to keep in mind before distributing your next survey.

1. Be mobile optimized

Survey software should automatically detect the device, screen size, and adjust the layout accordingly. Remember that if a respondent is pinching to zoom, your completion rate will take a hit.

Every survey is a mobile survey—first and foremost.

2. Understand your audience

Are you trying to reach boomers, millennials, gen x’ers, or a mix of all three? What devices are they likely to be using? Are they tech savvy? Do they need an incentive or are they motivated to give you data because of some other self-serving reason? The answers to these questions influence how you deliver your message and how deep you want to go in your survey.

Know your audience.

3. Test your survey

Before sending out your survey, test it. Make sure it works on all devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. Get raw feedback from testers. Were your questions clear? Was there a question that took particularly long to answer?

Finally, be sure to take note of the time-to-completion. Let potential respondents know in advance how much time they’ll need. If you don’t tell them it’s long from the get-go, many people will get started and drop out.

Test everything. Set expectations for how long your survey will take, either in the email or survey introduction.

4. Avoid horizontal scrolling

Horizontal scrolling with surveys may work on desktop, but on mobile it’s an absolute no-no. Here’s why: answering questions during a survey requires all your respondents’ attention. Anything that distracts or creates more work for them should be avoided at all costs.

If your survey allows for horizontal swiping, something like a Kindle book, it might produce a better user experience. Vertical scrolling provides a more familiar experience. Think of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, or Google search.

When it comes to scrolling, avoid horizontal—keep it vertical.

5. No grids or matrix questions

Grids, also known as matrix questions, have serious drawbacks on mobile devices—especially smartphones. Grids often require both vertical and horizontal scrolling, meaning that not all questions and response options may be visible at once. These issues generally cause smartphone respondents to leave the survey in frustration.

No to grids

Bug Insights conducted an online study and collected a total of 633 responses. Here’s a little taste of what they discovered:

In a recent survey we tested the abandonment rate for grid questions relative to other survey questions. We found that survey-takers are three times more likely to abandon surveys when they reach a grid question relative to other question types and this is consistent with what we have seen for other studies.

Grids may also result in bad data. What happens when a respondent hits survey fatigue and then gets bombarded by a list of matrix questions? There’s a tendency to just click to get the dang thing over with. If respondents aren’t thinking deeply about your questions, then it’s what’s the point.

Don’t put the respondent to sleep or make them leave by throwing a long list of thoughtless questions at them. Survey fatigue is real. Be more considerate.

6. Short and shorter

When I say short, I mean don’t ask too many questions. The longer the survey, the more likely you’ll lose respondents, especially on mobile. Smartphone screens are small, so shorter questions should improve data quality.

When I say shorter, I mean minimize the wordiness of each question. Consider how long each question is. If you can shorten the text, do it. For example, convert this:

Wordy survey question example

To this:

Shorter survey question example

It might seem insignificant, but mobile screen space is valuable. Keep your questions tight to reduce cognitive load.

Finally, shorten response options. I know, sometimes you want to get it all out, but segmenting your responses will probably give people a better experience. For example, instead of asking everything at once:

Kitchen sink

Break it up like this:

Break it upYou can follow this up with more specific options to keep drilling down. Make it easy for people to respond without thinking too much, unless it’s unavoidable (like when you need open-ended questions, for example).

Shorten the number of questions. Shorten the question length. Shorten response options.

7. Send people directly to the survey

Don’t make people enter access codes, usernames, or passwords to access surveys. It’s just one more barrier toward completion. For an easier user experience, take respondents directly to their survey so they can begin immediately.

Eliminate needless friction wherever you can.

There it is. 7 quick tips to consider before sending out your next survey. Good luck.