Improving Website Conversion by Building Better Forms

by Andrew Schulkind

There’s no shortage of big-picture questions we can ask ourselves as digital marketers when it comes to conversion optimization on our websites. There are also a more-than-fair number of details to be addressed. How to best build the forms on your website is one of them. Here are some ideas.

The goal of your form is two-fold:

  • Make it as easy as possible for website visitors to fill out your form and get the information you’ve so lovingly crafted for their edification.
  • Gather information you need about them to help your marketing efforts

Finding the Goldilocks sweet spot – not too much, not too little – is critical.

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Mobile Matters

As much as you’d like to think your content is the most important thing in your prospects’ world, it’s not. Which means they may be consuming it in what used to be down time – while commuting, waiting for a meeting to start, or when they should be watching their kid’s soccer game. (We’ll hope it’s not the last one.)

So the mobile experience will matter. Stick to a single column to make it easy for mobile users to easily navigate the form. (There’s an argument for this being a best practice on the desktop, as well. Keep the eye movement and scrolling going in one direction – down the screen.)

Audience Preference Matters More

But please don’t take my word for it. Check your site analytics to confirm mobile usage. If it’s low, you can devote your energies elsewhere. (Though you should probably wonder whether your mobile usage numbers are depressed by a poor mobile experience …)

Ask for What You Need

You’ll see all sorts of advice suggesting that asking for anything other than an email address is a terrible idea. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it requires context. For a visitor who’s never been to your site before and about whom you know nothing, asking only for an email address is your best bet.

For visitors who have already consumed some of your content, you might consider progressive profiling – repopulating the form with their email address and then asking for one additional piece of information. Done well, you can build nice profiles of prospects as they qualify themselves.

Done poorly, and you’ll have the “creep factor” to contend with – “I don’t like that you already know my email address” – so you may want to consider your audience. They may or may not be comfortable realizing that you’re tracking and recording their activity on your site.

Thinking more broadly, this is another of our Goldilocks moments. We need to balance the desire to get as many people from filling out the form as possible (by limiting the number of fields) with our marketing needs. If just an email address doesn’t help your marketing for whatever reason, ask for more.

Don’t Make ‘Em Think

Make everything about your form as obvious as possible, especially if it is a form with multiple fields.

  • Mark optional fields as such
  • Include prompting text (“please provide your work email” in the email field, for example.)
  • Be thoughtful in your use of dropdowns.

On that last point, dropdown should make filling in the form easier and help keep the information you get clean and consistent. So while it might help consistency to include a dropdown for “state” in an postal address, finding your state can often be harder than just typing in the two-letter postal abbreviation.

Similarly, be sure that your feedback for users is clear. You’re likely to include some validation coding to ensure that a form has been filled out properly. (Testing for @ in email addresses, testing against the list of postal abbreviations, etc.) If there’s an error that prevents the form from being submitted, make that feedback as clear and specific as possible and highlight the form field(s) where the error was found.

And encourage your coders to cut your visitors a little slack – that postal abbreviation field might not work if you live overseas, for example. So consider making the validation a little looser.

Be Clear

Most importantly, make it clear what your visitor is getting and what they’re giving. Nobody likes surprises and the wrong kind of surprises can put you on the wrong side of privacy regulations.

It’s worth remembering that even though our websites and devices are mediating these touch points, our interactions with prospects are always human. They’re about you and your team connecting with your prospects and their teams.