Insider Insights and Tactics for Mobile-First Survey Design

February 27, 2017

A lot has changed in mobile technology–and mobile surveys–since we originally published this whitepaper in Survey Magazine in 2011. Which is why we’re revisiting it with updated statistics, new insights, and best practices for designing mobile-optimized surveys and reaching your increasingly mobile audience.

Our smartphone is our link to the world – it’s our way of getting information and connecting with others. Researchers and marketers alike must adapt – by putting their surveys literally in consumers’ hands with mobile-first thinking.

What is Your Mobile Survey Strategy?

Mobile has its own rules, standards, technologies, and challenges. But the reality is that if you create email surveys or embed surveys on your website, you’re already creating surveys that are being viewed on a mobile device.

The fact is 73% of all emails are now opened on a mobile device.1 And the widespread adoption of smartphones combined with increased internet access and speeds resulted in users spending 65% of their digital time on mobile (including tablets), compared to just 35% on desktop.2

So here’s the real question: How do your email and website surveys look when they’re served up on a smartphone or tablet?

Email is the most common way surveys are distributed; if your survey isn’t compatible with mobile devices, it can affect your survey’s response rate, and if it doesn’t work at all, you’ve frustrated what could be your largest audience.

Advances in mobile technology have created exciting new ways for marketers and researchers to connect with their audience – it’s not just the tech savvy reading email and web browsing on their mobile anymore. It’s everyone.

Designing surveys for mobile isn’t just about designing for a smaller screen – it’s about leveraging new mobile and survey technologies developed just for these devices to create a rich user experience that’s seamless and engaging.

Increasingly, many companies are turning not to mobile-optimization of their desktop designs, but adjusting their thinking to be mobile-first to capitalize on the fact that your audience, whoever they are, is mobile.


5 Reasons You Should Be Using Mobile-First Surveys Right Now

  1. Increase email survey response rates. Recipients who open your email on their mobile can take your survey on the spot, right from their mobile.
  2. Increase website survey responses. Website visitors using a mobile browser can easily take your embedded surveys.
  3. Get the most out of Point-of-Sale surveys. Use a shortlink or QR Code to encourage consumers to take a quick survey on their phone while they wait or just after sale.
  4. Get real-time feedback. Email surveys immediately after a recent visit or purchase for a quick phone response. Chances are, your email will be opened and your survey taken on a mobile device.
  5. Tablets, iPads, iPhones, smartwatches… an entire generation of new mobile device generation has arrived. Embrace it and use it to your advantage!


Adopt Mobile Technology and Boost Your Response Rates

As more than half of your emails will be opened on a web-enabled mobile device, it just follows that you should invest the time to ensure your surveys are optimized for mobile viewing.

Consider this all too common scenario: someone opens your email and clicks on your link to take your survey from their phone and they can’t see it or it is difficult to navigate. It’s unlikely they’ll try again later on a computer. Chances are you missed out on getting their response if they hit a roadblock the first time.

Your response rate will go up, and you can get more timely feedback.

If you’re trying to reach 25-34 year-olds, you can’t overlook the power of going mobile. 93% of people within this demographic are active smartphone users. For individuals aged 18-24, that number is 94%.

Surprisingly, at least considering how many companies are still focused on desktop design, 20% of 18-24 year-olds and 10% of 25-34 year-olds identity as mobile only users–meaning they never or only rarely use a desktop or laptop to access the web.2


An Online Survey Platform Designed With Mobile in Mind

At Alchemer, we’ve been helping our customers optimize their surveys for mobile since 2009 when we created a survey theme that could be auto-detected by BlackBerry phones. We continue to embrace all things mobile, and every year develop new, innovative survey features and advanced functions that are custom made to be compatible across all mobile devices.

There are a lot of things to take into consideration in designing for mobile devices, including screen size, questions that require a mouse, unrecognized fonts, and problems with JavaScript, to name a few. Fortunately, making sure your survey looks great and works perfectly on a mobile device doesn’t mean sacrificing how your survey looks or functions on a desktop computer.

Alchemer’s development and design teams have designed and tested each of our themes across all email and mobile browser platforms to ensure surveys display and function correctly. All of our pre-built themes auto-detect the user’s mobile browser and automatically serves the compatible mobile version of your survey.

When creating your own custom themes, we recommend following the same best practices for mobile survey design as our team of professionals.


Designing a Mobile-Optimized Survey: 8 Best Practices

  1. Avoid large images
  2. Use standard text fonts
  3. Keep survey pages short to minimize scrolling
  4. Keep text brief
  5. Avoid complex table questions
  6. Design clickable elements to be big enough to tap with a fingertip
  7. Limit and thoroughly test all Custom Scripting and JavaScript – not all mobile devices can handle it
  8. For surveys on mobile sites, avoid using pop-ups and new windows. Embed the surveys instead.

When it comes to mobile surveys, there are really just three key rules: keep them simple, brief, and, most importantly, accessible.

The best mobile experiences are delivered in bite-sized chunks that are easy to navigate.

When you’re thinking about the mobile experience, make sure to the email, survey, and any links you might include at the end of your survey are optimized for a mobile device.

Ask yourself: does the website you’re directing respondents to afterwards serve up a mobile site, or is it an older website that a mobile user likely can’t see or navigate? If the answer is the latter, take steps to improve the experience for your survey takers, even if that means creating a custom Thank You page to streamline the experience.


Be Truly Mobile With Offline Data Collection

Mobile surveys don’t stop at email or website visits. With Alchemer, you can bring mobile surveys directly to users with limited or no internet access.

Offline surveys make it easy for you to collect data in the field, even when internet access is non-existent. Whether you’re conducting a survey in rural Africa, at an outdoor event, or canvassing a neighborhood during a political season, you can bring your Alchemer survey with you.

To make this possible, we created a powerful survey tool that lets you collect data offline.


Create Your Own Offline Surveys in 7 Steps

  1. Create a survey in Alchemer.
  2. Choosing the Offline distribution method provides you with a survey link.
  3. Email the link, then launch the survey using an iPad, tablet, smartphone, any other mobile device, or even a laptop. (IMPORTANT: Launch when your device is connected to the internet. Once it’s launched, you will not need access to the internet, but you will need access to launch the survey.)
  4. The device’s browser automatically downloads the survey to its memory.
  5. Now, without an internet connection, a user can access the survey using the browser. The survey is saved in your device’s memory.
  6. The survey is fully functional and can be conducted virtually an unlimited number of times. Responses are saved locally, on your device.
  7. When you have an Internet connection, responses can be uploaded via our API directly into your Alchemer account.


As always, check our documentation for any unsupported survey elements and test your offline surveys thoroughly before you bring them into the field with you. This way, you’ll know that every element works as expected.

Take advantage of the technology that’s in the hands of respondents, and create ways to engage with them on their terms. More and more this means connecting with them through their mobile device – and we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible. The technology is evolving. And so is Alchemer.


1. MovableInk, The Retail Consumer Device Preference Report: Q3 2016, 2016

2. ComScore, 2016 US Cross Platform Future in Focus, March 2016

Original story published in Survey Magazine (SSI), 2011.

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