As online survey respondents change, researchers must adapt

Industry Trends

The landscape of  survey respondent recruitment and engagement is quickly changing. Recent research conducted by Lucid, Dynata, Kantar and Toluna in conjunction with the Market Research Society shows that the makeup and attitudes of survey respondents are continuing to change year over year. In 2021, respondents are increasingly likely to take surveys via their mobile devices. Furthermore, with new sources of sample supply becoming increasingly prevalent, these non-traditional respondents have very specific preferences around survey design, survey length and survey questions. In short, respondents are becoming less tolerant of long, tedious surveys that are not optimised for mobile use.

These changes are important for researchers to understand because, with the prolific use of sample marketplaces, researchers compete against each other for respondents’ time and answers. So, what can researchers do to attract and engage respondents? The first step is understanding who respondents are and what they want.

Who is taking online surveys? 

Respondent profiles by gender (US, UK, AU)

The research effort between MRS and the four panel provision organisations revealed that, among survey respondents, gender is split evenly overall. When age is brought into the mix, we see that respondents under 40 skewed female while respondents over 60 tended to be male.

As a whole, 55% of respondents are under 50 years of age. However, the largest single age group is over-60s, which make up nearly 30% of survey takers. The preferences of respondents are likely to change more drastically as the younger respondent population grows older.

Respondents have varying levels of experience when taking online surveys. As you would expect, experience level increases with age. With nearly half of respondents taking surveys for less than a year, this indicates the opportunity (and the need) to improve respondent experience. In fact, 15% of respondents had been taking surveys for less than a month and for 3.7% of respondents, this was their first survey ever. So, when designing your survey, keep in mind that it is possible that a respondent has never taken a survey before, and try to ensure an easy experience for them.

Where are survey respondents coming from? 

While online survey panels are still a primary source of respondents, many survey respondents are coming from non-traditional sample suppliers. Non-traditional suppliers may be website publishers, rewards or loyalty programmes, games, apps, or other online communities with users who are eligible to complete surveys. That means respondents from non-traditional sources are coming to surveys from different places with different expectations, and it is very likely that they have less familiarity with surveys.

To understand this trend by the numbers, consider that panels now make up only 37% of Lucid’s suppliers. Other leading sources include Rewards Communities (22%) and Affiliate Networks for publishers (13%).

New sources of supply offer many benefits. Inexperienced respondents are often less likely to manipulate or rush through a survey, and they can offer novel perspectives and experiences that would not otherwise be heard.

However, it’s important to remember that these types of respondents are not joining a platform with the intention of taking a survey. So, if the experience of taking a survey isn’t pleasant they are even less likely to do so.

Furthermore, for suppliers such as games, apps and rewards programmes, their platforms are mobile-first experiences, so the majority of respondents from these sources access surveys from their phones. In fact, 27 Lucid suppliers are either exclusively mobile or have over 90% of their survey entrants using mobile devices.

What trends are we seeing with mobile surveys? 

The number of respondents taking surveys on their mobile devices has increased again, from 34% in 2019 to 37% in 2020. Desktop completes have decreased accordingly, down to 57% in 2020 from 61% in 2019.

Mobile conversion rate also improved in 2020. Conversion rate is defined as the ratio between the number of people who began a survey and the number of people who completed the survey.  Mobile conversion rate improved to 97%, up from 86% in 2018. This was true across all genders, countries and ages.

Looking to the future, we expect the percentage of respondents taking surveys on mobile devices to increase further as older generations (who prefer desktop) age out of the survey respondent population. In the future, the proportion of respondents on mobile devices may be as high as 50%.

Mobile optimisation has been a topic in the research industry for a long time. With more respondents taking surveys on mobile devices each year, the conversation has become even more important.

Mobile respondents have different needs 

It is important to account for the needs of respondents on mobile devices for many reasons, particularly to ensure that your survey is feasible. What makes mobile respondents different? Compared to the general respondent population, mobile respondents tend to be younger and more female. Mobile users are also attitudinally different, as they are (predictably) more likely to adopt new technologies. This is not necessarily related to age: when weighted for age, the outcome is the same. Thus, a survey that is not mobile optimised may inadvertently skew results by alienating these populations.

Unfortunately, this is probably already occurring in many instances. The research shows that mobile phone users were less likely to complete a survey than desktop users. This indicates that researchers must optimise their surveys for mobile to improve representativeness and reduce participant and panel attrition.

What does the modern survey respondent want in a survey? 

So, what do respondents actually want out of a survey? A second study was conducted, asking respondents this very question. The results show, in addition to mobile optimisation, that respondents have strong preferences with regard to survey length and question type.

Shorter Survey Length 

Respondents consistently demonstrate that shorter surveys are better. In this case, respondents to our survey indicated that the ideal survey length is between five and ten minutes.

But, importantly, there is a limit to the “shorter is better” rule. Respondents preferred 5-10 minute surveys over those that took less than five minutes. This may be because respondents enjoy the opportunity to express their opinion, and feel that they cannot do so as thoroughly in a five-minute survey.

When it comes to the longest survey that they would be willing to complete, most respondents said their maximum was 20 minutes. I predict that this timeframe will shorten to a maximum of 15 minutes over the next couple of years.

Simple Survey Questions 

We also asked respondents about what types of questions they prefer to answer. An overwhelming 66% prefer yes/no questions where only one answer is allowed. Similarly, respondents also enjoyed simple agree/disagree questions. This stands in contrast to last year, when respondents preferred interactive questions amidst lockdowns that may have made them eager for surveys that were more engaging and entertaining.

The least popular type of questions among respondents were questions that asked them to upload a photo or video. This is the same result as last year. It’s possible that respondents do not know how to upload photos or videos, or that they fear privacy and data leaks. Perhaps uploading photos or videos is simply a cumbersome process that takes away from the convenience of completing a survey on a mobile phone.

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