6 Simple Steps to Lowering Online Drop Out Rates

Christopher Martin

Research Automation - The Effect on Recruitment, F...

At the start of automation integration into research processes, there was a lot of scepticism in the...


Emily James

One of the single largest challenges researchers face is the dreaded dropout rate. Dropouts are participants that are present at the start of your research, but leave throughout. Generally, dropouts are considered difficult to manage and almost impossible to predict. That, along with the fact that they can significantly reduce your sample size during the course of a study, makes them hugely problematic.

Of course, the temptation for participants to drop out is much higher with online research. Without developing a personal connection with researchers, it is much easier for participants to stop responding. When this happens, it can be frustrating and in the most extreme cases jeopardise your research. Fortunately, we have been in the online research industry long enough to know some of the simple tips and tricks you can make use of to lower participant drop out rates and in turn maximise ROI.

1. Pre-test the Research

The first step that we would suggest is to pre-test your research. It is always a good idea to get an early understanding of how participants will react to your research. By carrying out a pre-testing stage, it is possible to identify and fix issues early.

Perhaps there are some methods which participants find more engaging than others, or perhaps the incentive is not great enough. There are a whole host of issues that can be discovered and remedied by simply conducting a small scale test of the research – before spending on a full scale study.

2. Estimate an Acceptable Drop Out Rate

Conducting a pre-testing stage also allows you to roughly estimate the drop out rate. Not only will it provide you with accurate data on the percentage of participants that will drop out at various stages of the study, but more importantly give you the means to remedy this. If, for example, you expect 20% of all participants to not complete the study and require at least 100 full responses, then recruit 125 people.

This simple idea will ensure that you get enough responses, and also significantly lower your costs. Rather than recruiting an overly safe number of participants, you will be able to more accurately predict how many you require, and make the adjustments to your study to suit.

3. Carefully Consider Research Length

When designing your online research, whether it is based on quantitative methods, qualitative methods or both, it is always important to consider the length of research. This applies in a few aspects. You may need to consider:

  • Length of time provided for responses
  • Amount of questions/activities
  • Number of research stages
  • Longitudinal nature of research

By carefully managing each of these aspects, and paying close attention to the feedback from the pre-testing stage, you should be able to tailor your research study to reduce drop out rates as far as possible. Of course, there will always be times when researcher and participant interests are in conflict – for example if you require detailed consumer-led analysis on a topic of little interest to the consumer. But, by identifying these stages of the research, acknowledging them, and ensuring consumers understand their necessity (and compensation), then it is possible manage drop out risk effectively.

4. Ensure Questions are Engaging

The questions themselves are a big factor in drop out rates. In certain studies, this requires careful wording, or inventive use of activities to ensure participants remain engaged and interested. The following are examples of effective and ineffective wording for creating and maintaining participant engagement:


  • Describe your average experience when shopping online.
  • What feedback would you provide to the government on their recent decision to…
  • What are your opinions on the proliferation of product placement in Hollywood?


  • What are your most positive/ negative experiences of online shopping?
  • The government have decided to… How does this make you feel?
  • Product placement is becoming increasingly common. What are your thoughts on this?

It is clear to see that even some of the least interesting topics can be worded to be more appealing and engaging to consumers. By following just a few simple rules, it is easy to ensure participants maintain interest throughout the study. In general, we would recommend these basic rules, and applying them to as many of your questions as possible:

  • Simplify complex language
  • Do not use industry specific terms
  • Keep sentences/questions short and break them in two if necessary
  • Try to elicit an emotional response, using emotive language
  • Focus on experiences and feelings over rational benefits

In other studies, such as online interviews or focus groups, this comes down to the skill of the researcher. Ensuring that participants remain interested in an online environment is a much bigger challenge than in a physical setting. So make sure your staff are well trained and practised at managing short attention spans. By doing so, you should be able to generate more relevant responses, as well as keep more participants answering right up until the end.

5. Use Multiple Methods

Another great way to increase engagement is to use different methods throughout your research. By doing so, participants will have to adapt to new ways of answering questions and will not become stuck in a routine. A great way to do this is to alternate between written research methods, and interactive ones. At FlexMR, we have a huge range of tools to help ensure you get the most relevant data from your participants so that they never get bored.

With the flexibility to mix and match these tools and more, using the FlexMR research platform is the perfect way to ensure that participants remain engaged throughout the duration of your study. It also ensures that you receive the most relevant data in a format that is easy to use and analyse.

6. Create Enticing Incentives

No study would be complete without an incentive. In fact most participants won’t even take part in your online study unless you are offering one. However, it is important to ensure that your incentive actually encourages completion of the study and more importantly attracts the right consumers to do so. To ensure maximum value for money, make sure to offer an incentive relevant to your target audience.

Supermarket vouchers are a common incentive, as they are applicable to everybody. However this is also the biggest issue with such incentives. By appealing to all, the incentive will attract a broad range of audiences, not necessarily those most relevant to your research. Therefore, to make the most of your incentive, try to offer something that will specifically attract your desired audience.

In summary, these six steps will help you achieve a significantly lower drop out rate, and an increased return on investment. Carefully planned online research can be a hugely effective tool, and provide real value to your business. Online research moves you closer to a consumer’s point of purchase, and gives access to their thoughts in a much less artificial environment than a physical research setting. With these steps, you can even overcome one of the biggest challenges facing online research too.

You might also like...

Our Journey Towards Insights Empowe...

FlexMR has a long heritage informing decisions with actionable insight. In fact, it has been a 20+ year journey. Our methods, the insight industry and the world have all changed a lot in that time. Bu...


Infographic: The Quest for Insights...

Insight teams within an organisation that doesn’t value market research are typically seen as a cost-centre or a money pit. Those insight teams then find themselves in positions where they have to fig...


4 Research Strategies for Time-Stra...

It seems with the increasing number of requests from stakeholders for more faster and agile research, that there are ever more insight teams struggling with the decreased amount of time to do quality ...