Market research in Ireland has been slow to transition to online research. Just as companies were familiarising themselves with online surveys delivered through email, the world had already moved on. The average person in Ireland spends between over 4 hours on their smartphone every day, and just like that, online has moved to mobile, completely changing the survey experience for the user.
The issue is that most researchers are suffering from ‘square peg-round hole’ syndrome, trying to apply the methodologies of traditional online surveys to a solution that demands a fundamentally different approach. Below, I explore some of the key tips for building an effective online survey designed for mobile-respondents which now make up between 30-40% of respondent traffic.
As discussed in previous blogs, the attention span of respondents has decreased significantly. This means that traditional online surveys have died a quick death, and any survey longer than 10 minutes will see engagement rates fall dramatically. This is further heightened when carried out on a smartphone, as distractions take charge via alternative push notifications dragging the respondent in different directions.
The future of surveys should be short, clear and direct. Researchers should make every question count, and appreciate the time spent by each person within the survey, valuing their time as a priority. The ideal survey length ranges between 4-8 minutes depending on the complexity of the questions asked – our rule of thumb is anywhere between 20-30 questions is the goal to maximise the return from your research!
A central flaw to most surveys is unnecessary complexity. Researchers have the tendency to over-complicate survey design, spending more time over-thinking the depth of questions, and nowhere near enough time thinking about the people actually filling out the survey. Online surveys should be easy to understand, using a language that the respondent can easily comprehend. If possible, use language that the respondent group you are targeting is familiar with, so they are not slowed down by jargon.
In practical terms, an effective online survey should have a logical flow. Always provide options/potential responses where possible, particularly in the beginning, as respondents are familiarising themselves with the topic at hand. Use scales, rather than complex question types, to help respondents measure their feelings and answers accordingly. Simplicity and clarity will always deliver much higher quality in the long-run.
One of the reasons why response rates have fallen so dramatically in recent decades is that there has been a shift in power towards the consumer, and while other industries have adapted to the personalisation demanded by today’s population, online surveys have not. Market research holds a top-down focus, neglecting the actual people partaking in the research. Ultimately, in pursuit of research perfection, these researchers are finding low quality, low engagement and a disconnection from real people.
Survey design is all about flow. The flow dictates the user experience for online surveys, so start by framing the survey with straightforward questions that help each respondent understand their reason for being part of this research. Spike their interest, and group similar topics together, making the survey conversational and enjoyable to go through. In terms of where to start with building a survey, we always recommend starting with what you are trying to prove or find out. What answers are you looking for, and how can you build backwards to the beginning of that research journey?
Something that you have to understand early with online surveys is that you will rarely get it right the first time. Like everything, it is an iterative process and every survey should be drafted and re-drafted based on the feedback you receive from colleagues, and most importantly test respondents. Be your own biggest critic, and place yourself in the shoes of the respondent to understand how you can leverage them most in the short space of time that you have their attention.
The simplest way of achieving survey validation is pre-launch testing with a sample respondent group. This builds a culture of respondent-centricity, allowing each person to go through the survey and offer you feedback on the length, simplicity and design. In the long-run, this process of continuous feedback and improvement will save you time, money and effort as you fine-tune your survey design.
A crippling mistake many researchers make is that after weeks of designing a survey, selecting their target audience and going back and forth with the client, they launch their online survey into the abyss without a plan. Timing has become one of the single most important factors for increasing completion rates in online surveys, and an area often neglected by researchers.
The simple fact is that people are incredibly busy, all with differing schedules and a very limited time frame that they may be available to partake in an online survey. Thus, potential respondents must be notified when suits them, through a medium that suits them. Simply put, researchers need to ask their panel exactly what time frames suit them to partake in research, or track engagement based on previous surveys to maximise the timing of each survey.
In addition, launching online surveys via email does not suffice, the future of engagement is through push notifications, but that’s a different discussion.