First Impressions Count: Engage Survey Respondents Early to Maximize Response Rates

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Minimizing respondent dropout is critical to ensuring a healthy participation rate for your survey. Respondents abandon a survey for any number of reasons. They may lose interest, get distracted by another activity or encounter a technical problem with the survey.

Survey abandonment almost always occurs in the first pages of a survey

Figure 1 illustrates a typical example showing the page by page dropout rate of a 15-page survey.

The majority of dropouts occur on the first page.  This is a respondent’s first impression of the survey as they discover what it is all about and make some decision about whether to continue. Many do not continue. The second highest number of abandons occur on the next page. Here, respondents are still in the evaluation stages, considering whether they are invested enough in the survey or will abandon it.

When we get to the second half of the survey, fewer dropouts occur. By this stage, the respondent is engaged in the survey and has decided to see it through completion.

Figure 1. Page by Page Dropout Rate in a 15-page survey

The first few questions set the tone for the rest of your survey

What the data shows is that respondents are most vulnerable to dropout at the beginning of a survey.  One would want to then pay particular care to engage respondents here by avoiding any survey dropout triggers.  Questions that require a lot of reading or thinking should be saved for later. Instead, make early survey questions easy to read, fill out and visually appealing.

  1. Avoid open ends. Open numeric age question are common in screeners; best to move them as further back if possible
  2. Cut down lengthy introductions or questions
  3. Move simple questions (e.g. single select) up front

Make sure the first few questions are clean, easy to read, and visually engaging; no wrap around text, use concisely worded, and mobile-optimized questions

The first few screens sets the tone of your survey. If those are easy to fill out, the rest of the survey probably is as well. If the first few questions are difficult to read and cumbersome, the remainder of the survey probably is that way as well.

Example Case Study: Mobile Optimized vs. Not Mobile Optimized

Using a split cell test, we compared a non-mobile optimized survey with an improved mobile-optimized version. Enlarged font and touch select areas, made the mobile optimized design much easier for survey respondents to complete. Survey completion rates from smartphone users were 50% better for the mobile-optimized version.

Survey screenshots showing the difference between a survey optimized for mobile interfaces and one that is not.

The increased participation in the mobile-friendly design occurred in the early stages of the survey.  Figure 3 shows the page by page dropout rate for the optimized and non-optimized versions of the survey. What do you notice? Survey dropout mostly improved for the first couple of pages.  Improving retention here was the critical component of success for improving overall survey participation.  By engaging respondents early, a domino effect takes place as more of them continue on and carry over into each subsequent page of the survey.

Figure 4: Page by page dropout rate for mobile optimized / not optimized surveys

Whether you are designing for the PC, tablet or smartphone users, making that good first impression and engaging the respondent early on with your survey is crucial to improving participation. This is where the respondent is most vulnerable to drop out. When they click on your survey the first page tells them whether the remaining questions is going to provide them with a pleasant or poor experience. It is at this critical first few pages where the decision is made to complete or abandon your survey.

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