Market research via online survey: Should you include a progress bar?
Progress bars have been used as components of surveys for a long time. Are they still relevant? Do they help or hinder your participants' survey experience?
In the MRxPros Google Group, Mike Luce President & Co-Founder of High Yield Insights recently posted the following message:
“I was just filling out a short survey about my doctor’s appointment this morning. Very standard stuff. A few ranking questions (1-10) followed by open ends and such.
Here’s why I’m posting to the group – the survey progress bar was at 60% when I got that question. (‘Do you have time…’) I was pretty surprised. I’m not sure if I’ve seen that (or something similar to it) used before.
I would love to hear some thoughts from you all…
1. Do you use anything like that in survey design? Yes, no, why?
2. Is it a good idea? Bad idea? Or just depends?
3. What are the implications for the survey results?
Those are the sort of questions that immediately came to my mind. I’d love to learn more about that and similar techniques because it seems so interesting.
I said ‘no’ by the way… and that response seems like the most obvious issue to handle!”
In response, many in the community offered their point of view.
Susan Fader, a Qualitative Research Guru said:
“I think the completion bar is a good idea if you move quickly through questions and can see rapid progress to completion. If I have answered 3 questions and completion only moved 5%, then I would just stop taking the survey.”
Matt Seltzer, Laura Bright, and many others weighed in on their usage of a progress bar in surveys.
The consensus was that progress bars are a best practice for surveys. However, they can mislead participants because they usually measure question counts versus time. For example, a single choice question like “age” is a lot shorter to answer than an attribute rating question like, “Please rate each of the below statements on a scale of 1 to 10…”.
Additionally, progress bars take up too much screen real estate and are simply not practical or useful for 60-80% of participants.
Bob Walker, CEO and Founder of Surveys & Forecasts, said:
“I’ve switched to a ‘number of questions’ approach. For example, at the outset: ‘Our survey contains a maximum of 20 questions (but could be less based on your responses). At a normal pace, the survey should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.’ At several points in our surveys, we add comments: ‘You have completed 8 of 15 questions – more than halfway there!’ or similar. These comments help to reassure respondents that they aren’t wasting their time. And I find that this approach (with a little humor) is more relatable and encouraging than a sterile progress bar.”
In my opinion, Bob is 100% right. When building your surveys, remember that a human is on the other side of your screen. Keep things simple, accurate, and fun. You’ll be surprised about the impact it makes on your survey completion.
Now, keep in mind, this is my point of view from programming and conducting over 3,000 surveys across half a billion people in the last 20 years.
Don’t use a progress bar. Use words. Be honest! After all, each survey is a social contract. And make it a little fun.
Happy researching! 😊
Author: Jamin Brazil