Harnessing the Power of the Progress Bar -2 Survey Mistakes to Avoid!

Over the past few years, the progress bar has become the online surveyor’s best friend. When it comes to increasing completion rates, the capability of adding a progress bar has given online surveys a substantial advantage over telephone surveying. Yes we are talking about that bar at the top of your survey that slowly fills up while you zoom through a questionnaire. And though it may seem insignificant, when used correctly this handy little tool will give your response rates the dramatic boost it needs. On the other hand, a misused progress bar can frustrate your respondents, making them drop out faster than freshmen at an astrophysics course. Today we’ll briefly go over what makes the progress bar so powerful and how to ensure you’re optimizing its use!

How a Small Progress Bar Makes a Big Difference!

The progress bar serves a dual purpose when it comes to keeping your respondents engaged with your survey. Continually updating the respondent on the distance they have gone in your questionnaire gives the respondent a subconscious feeling of both investment and accomplishment. This builds a growing sense of obligation in the respondent’s mind, making them feel more and more committed to completing the survey.

This feeling of obligation and increasing investment is usually the extra push needed to get participants through the last questions of a survey. That is why successful surveys usually have a questionnaire design that places the more difficult or sensitive questions at the end. These are the questions respondents will most likely drop out because of. However, when the progress bar shows the survey 90% complete, the respondent will be more willing to complete these few difficult questions in order to reach the final page. If you are interested in learning how to best structure a questionnaire, check out our FluidSurveys University article, “Maximize Response Rates and Minimize Bias with Proper Survey Structure.”

The other thing to be said of a progress bar is the feeling of swiftness it provides for the respondents. Studies have shown that survey takers who have a constant reminder that they are making progress on a survey feel the process is faster and flows easier. Leaving a respondent to guess how far they are in the questionnaire, will make them feel like they are at your mercy filling out a survey that could go on forever. This will lead people to drop out of the survey immediately after they feel fatigued.

The 2 Mistakes to Avoid When Using a Progress Bar

So we know why the progress bar is important to both the survey taking experience and your projects’ final completion rate. Here are two important “DON’TS” to keep in mind when using the progress bar:

  1. Having Uneven Questions per Page: The progress bar is only effective if it is accurate. As a tool, the progress bar only updates as the respondent moves to the next page. Now consider your survey from the respondent’s perspective. If the survey taker is speeding through the first few pages holding three questions each, their feeling of swiftness will be crushed when they hit a page holding 8-10. Not only this, they may feel betrayed because they are using the progress bar as a marker. Leaving an equal amount of questions per page keeps your survey’s flow consistent, the progress bar accurate, and your respondents happy.
    Want to learn more about how many questions should be placed on a given survey page? Check out our article, “Join the Debate! How Many Questions per Survey Page?
  2. Using Improper Survey Logic: Using survey logic with the progress bar can be incredibly dangerous. Remember, the progress bar reflects the page the respondent is on. If you are using advanced logic like page skipping, branching, or looping, it is usually best to remove the progress bar completely. Imagine skipping several pages and going from 12% to 78% in a single click. This wouldn’t make sense to your respondents, who don’t know how the survey works on the backend. To them, the survey just jumped over 50% for no reason. Even worse would be pairing looping logic with the progress bar. Consider that a looping question sends the respondent backwards in the survey. This will make the progress bar look like it is repeating itself over and over again, placing the respondent into a seemingly endless and sadistic cycle of survey torture. For information on how to hide the progress bar check out our documentation by clicking here.
    However, there are ways to use survey logic without compromising your progress bar. Instead of relying on skipping or branching, which manipulates survey pages, try using hide/show logic. Hide/show allows you to show different questions to different respondents on the same page, which leaves the page number the same. Also, as an alternative to looping, try using extraction. Extraction will group all the previously selected responses onto a single page, instead of using piping to replay the pages over and over again.

There you have it! Stay clear of these mistakes and you will ensure you’re optimizing the value of the progress bar, while at the same time remaining honest with your respondents.

This Article is 90% Read

Here we are at the end of the article, and you now have all the tools you need to use the progress bar successfully. For more information on how to edit the FluidSurveys progress bar, check out our documentation by clicking here. Otherwise, you’re ready to start building your survey. Need to set up an account? Contact us or visit our pricing page, and you will be gathering responses in no time!

FluidSurveys Presents

Free Survey Q&A

Join our survey & research expert Rick Penwarden as he answers all of your questions every Wednesday at 1PM EST!


  • RickPenwarden says:

    Thanks for the great insight Rick! There is no denying the connection between the evolution of online questionnaire design and the much older telephone survey conventions. This is definitely something for online market researchers to keep in mind while they are conducting their own surveys!

  • Calle says:

    Good article! I have to say, though, that FluidSurvey could solve both those problems (“survey mistakes”) if you would offer an option to have the progress bar dynamically updated PER QUESTION, so it doesn’t just change with which page you are currently viewing, but reflects how many of the total number of questions have been answered.

    I know that ALL potential problems would not be solved by having this option (because you might have a situation where the total number of question changes, depending on the respondent’s answers), but it would take care of most such issues!

    • RickPenwarden says:

      Hi Calle! Interesting idea. Though updating the progress bar per question would keep the progress bar honest when a survey has an uneven amount of questions per page, it would still be erroneous when it comes to survey logic. For example, skipping, branching, and looping will result in the same problem of inflating the progress bar with unanswered questions.
      Also, it is important to keep in mind that a respondent can change their responses to questions while they remain on the same page and that their answers are not sent to the FluidSurveys owner’s account until the ‘next’ or ‘submit’ button is pressed. In other words, the response isn’t final until the questionnaire moves on to the next page. In that sense, I think it may be more intuitive to update the progress bar in terms of pages rather than questions.

      • Calle says:

        I know that the progress bar wouldn’t always be 100% correct and keeping perfect track of the survey progress (for example if there are dynamic sub-questions that only pop up if a certain reply is given to an earlier question, Branching could make things difficult at times), but how does this alter the fact that implementing a progress bar that is updated PER QUESTION gives a MORE correct overview of how much is completed than keeping it working on a per page basis?! It doesn’t matter that a user can change their mind about an answer they’ve given – it is intuitive to say that once a question has been given an answer, the progress bar could indicate this. It is equally intuitive that the progress bar does not change again, if the same question is answered again (the user switches to another answer).

        It is quite clear that updating the progress bar per question gives a more correct view of the survey progress than having it operate per submitted “page” – the only question is: does FluidSurvey think it’s worth putting in the programming effort to change the progress bar!?

        • RickPenwarden says:

          Your enthusiasm on this issue is commendable Calle! I guess it comes down to what you as the researcher think would work best with your respondents. If it did update on per question basis, it would be interesting to see how it would update with particular questions like text box (maybe once they begin typing).
          To me, as long as you keep the two points in the article in mind, your progress bar will be accurate and your respondents will understand the flow of your survey. I will have a chat with the dev team for you though. 😉

  • Steve says:

    “when used correctly this handy little tool will give your response rates the dramatic boost” Help me understand how a progress bar has any impact on response rates whatsoever. Response rate is determined before a progress bar ever appears. I can see how it could improve completion rates, but I don’t understand how it can have any impact on response rates. Please enlighten me.

    • RickPenwarden says:

      Hi Steve!

      When defining response rate, most researchers agree that it is the number of people who completed the survey divided by your total sample group. In the case of telephone or in-person surveys a completion rate is considered the same as a response rate. This is usually because your sample group only includes the random phone numbers or random people you contacted.

      When it comes to online surveys, where your sample total is predetermined by an email list, a completion rate is calculated by the number of people who started your survey and the number of people who completed it. This means your response rate can never be greater than your completion rate.

      What you described as a response rate is the number of people who enter your survey divided by your total sample group. In the case of email surveys, this would actually be called your ‘click-through rate.’ Meaning the number of people who clicked the survey invite link in their email.

      If you are using embedding surveys or pop-ups, a response rate isn’t usually appropriate because it is an intercept sample. A good completion rate helps though, because it means your survey’s flow and length are good.

      Here is an article I wrote on the difference between Response and Completion Rates:


      Hope this helps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *