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Increase Conversions With User-Friendly Forms


total usability seriesThis is part of the Total Usability Series that was originally published in 2007. A decade later, usability is more important than ever, so we are revisiting this series and updating all of the articles. This post was updated 10/5/2017.

Forms are one of your primary points of contact with your visitors. While many visitors still use email or even the telephone to contact you or to place an order, the vast majority will contact you first via your web forms. Forms that are broken or over complicated cause frustration and can greatly reduce your conversion rate for leads and sales.

It’s up to your design and development team to test your site’s web forms thoroughly to ensure they work properly and are easy to use. While no site can be perfect, finding and fixing issues sooner, rather than later is important to maintaining a usable website.

Implementing these tips for creating usable forms will help ensure visitor satisfaction, reduce exit rates, and increase conversions.

First Impressions

When a visitor sees a form, they see two things:

  1. Time. Time is one of our most valuable commodities. Visitors will immediately ask themselves if the form is going to take a long time to complete and if it will be worth it.
  2. Risk. Providing information online is a risky proposition. They will wonder how you will use their information and if completing this form will subject them to an onslaught of spam, unwanted phone calls, etc.

Dispell these fears by:

  • Clearly identifying the form and its purpose. Make sure the form has a clear title and an explanation of exactly what they will get and what will happen if they complete the form.form description

  • Requiring as little information as possible. Do you really need someone’s phone number and address to deliver an ebook? Nope. So don’t ask for it. The more fields there are, the more likely the visitor will bail.

  • Providing privacy assurances. Assure them that you will not share their information and let them know exactly how you will use it.

Make It Easy

The more complicated and frustrating a form is, the more likely it is that the visitor will fail to complete it, no matter how much they want what you offer.

To avoid frustration, you first and foremost want to make sure your form works properly. Test it thoroughly and correct any issues before visitors use it.

But just because your form technically “works” doesn’t make it user friendly. Including the following elements will help ensure that it is:

  • Flexible form fields. Forms should provide flexible options when entering data such as phone numbers and credit card info. Don’t be too rigid in the proper “format.” Allow spaces, dashes, dots, etc., to be accepted in these fields.
  • Field labels. Field labels should be clear and unambiguous, appearing above the field itself. Do you want a first name, last name, full name, or business name? Make sure your visitors know exactly what you’re asking for.
  • Pre-filled content. If you have any information already from the device or from a member login, pre-fill that information to save the user some steps. If you require an address, allow the city and state to automatically populate based on the zip code. However, don’t autocomplete sensitive fields, such as credit card information.
  • Minimal instruction. Keep form instructions at a minimum. People tend not to read instructions which can then cause frustration if they do something “improperly.” Make it easy for them.
  • Choices. Providing options with radio buttons, selection boxes, or drop downs is a good way to ensure you get the information you need while not requiring too much extra thought. It also makes forms easier to complete on mobile devices. But be careful. Using these can prevent visitors from providing the correct answer if it’s not an available option.
  • Mobile-friendly fields and options. Make sure fields, drop downs, radio buttons, etc., are big enough and have enough space between them to be easily used by fingers on mobile devices.
  • Indication of required information. Note any field that requires a response with an asterisk (*), preferably colored red.
  • Tabbing between fields. Allowing visitors to move from field to field by hitting the tab key can make form completion faster and easier.
  • Progress indicator. Forms spanning multiple pages must show a progress indicator so visitors know where they are in the process and how many more “steps” are required. Make sure users can navigate back to previous pages in order to change answers or fix mistakes.
  • Site navigation. It can sometimes be helpful to remove all site navigation elements once a lengthy form process is started. This can prevent distractions and encourages visitors to complete the process.

Take the Sting Out of Errors

Entry errors will happen, no matter how user friendly your forms are. What matters, though, is how your site handles them. Make sure that when there are errors, your forms:

  • Clearly indicate the error. Nothing is more frustrating than when a user can’t successfully submit their form and not knowing why. Indicate in red where the error occurred and why, along with any instructions they need to fix their mistake.form error messages
  • Provide kind error messages. Don’t use technical language, and never assign blame. Keep them simple and polite.
  • Preserve entered data. If an error occurs, don’t allow your site to delete all the information. A system that forces users to re-input all their information creates additional frustration and creates an easy exit point for a would-have-been conversion.

Finish Strong

You finally got the submission, but now is not the time to rest on your laurels! The end of every conversion is the opportunity to encourage the next conversion, so make sure your site leaves a positive parting impression.

After a form has been completed and submitted, provide all submitted information for final review and verification. Take the visitor to a confirmation page that thanks them for their submission and explains what will happen next. Provide as much detail, including time frames, as possible.

Let’s face it, no one is dying to complete a form. By making your forms as user friendly and easy as possible, you can encourage people to take the time to follow through with the conversion and forge a long-lasting relationship with your company.

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

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