A lesson from Google: prioritising mobile-first survey design

Google started penalising non-mobile-friendly websites in 2015. This coming January it’s going a step further by ensuring all site content is easily accessible on mobile. Failure to comply will risk moving sharply down the search rankings. ABA has long been trying to improve the survey experience for mobile users, and with mobile/tablet completion on our QGen software overtaking desktop for the first time we think we need to get even more serious!

Total surveys on ABA’s QGen Survey Software:  

It’s apparent that this rise in mobile-based participation isn’t all about young people – it’s a trend supported by the fact that older people are increasingly adopting this approach.

Total surveys on QGen by age: 

Surveys not quite cutting it on mobile

If you want a representative sample with good quality feedback you have to wise up to crafting surveys in a mobile-first way. Completion via this medium is naturally more likely to happen on the move and in a more distracted frame of mind. The experience, therefore, has to be engaging and easy.

This need to hold people’s attention is evidenced by some loud warning bells around flat-lining and speedsters. We screen these out but this of course means lost sample. Part of the problem is that respondents find the experience less enjoyable on mobile, where surveys can feel trickier to read and more time-consuming. This results in a higher drop-out rate versus desktop users.

% Scoring excellent 

Simple steps to mobile-first success

ABA’s QGen software has responsive mobile design as standard, but we still need to get better at creating surveys that take full account of how they will appear on mobile devices. Here are 5 things we’re pushing for...

Get shorter! It’s the holy grail!

Whilst there are big differences in response rate by brand, survey length has even more influence! Try to link up respondents to internal data where possible (e.g. their gender) to cut out unnecessary padding


Abide by mobile design principles:

  • make sure survey fits screen, has limited wasted space, uses slightly larger text, has no squashed scales, and features scalable, compressed pictures

  • ensure things work on both horizontal and vertical screens

  • use buttons as large as possible to avoid inaccurate click
  • include text-boxes that appear large on the screen
  • minimise scrolling, pinching and stretching

Review certain question types: grids, scales and boxes

  • Scales >11 points need rethinking/redesigning


Don’t get too clever: drag and drop really is a drag on mobile and, whilst we’re firm believers in the importance of adding a gaming element, this shouldn’t be at the expense of survey usability


Consider modular design: ask groups of questions to certain groups of respondents so no-one has to answer every question; crucial in long surveys where you need a big sample to play with!