Optimizing webforms pt1
There are best practices used in optimizing a lot of things on the web.
I would start my learning with webforms;
Optimizing forms is a high-impact activity. On most websites forms are very close to — or directly tied to — final conversions. So, form optimization can lead to great growth. Higher completion rates = higher profit.
Most websites have forms:
- Sign up forms
- Checkout forms
- Payment forms
- Quote request forms
- Lead generation forms
… and so on. What’s also true is that most forms suck. And it’s extremely rare to find a person who enjoys completing web forms. If web forms were humans, we’d often punch them.
Forms are power players in the conversion game, and forms usually suck. That’s why we’re here.
As designers and optimizers, it’s our responsibility to embrace the power of forms, to optimize them, and ultimately to get higher conversions out of them.
Forms facilitate conversation between a person and a company. It helps to think about organizing the structure of a form as a conversation. Consider the following scenario.
You encounter a stranger who asks you:
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your address?”
“What’s your email address?”
“What’s your birth date?”
What would be your reaction? “Who do you think you are?” “Why do you want to know when I was born?” “What are you planning on doing with my answers?”
Naturally, you’d become uneasy. When web forms ask us all these questions, that makes us uneasy too. It creates friction.
When we look at forms, our top goal as optimizers is to reduce friction. Here are some of the top ways to do it:
1. Set clear expectations
A big way to maximize conversions and user satisfaction is to manage expectations. If you’re transparent up-front about what’s going to happen — e.g. first some personal details, then payment info — then there’s less chance the form-filler will be (negatively) surprised when this happens.
If you have a multi-step form where in the last step you ask for payment, and this hasn’t been mentioned anywhere, you’re going to see huge drop-offs.
Expectations can also be managed for expected commitment and benefits:
- “Takes only 20 seconds” –> expectations for how long it takes to fill out a form
- “Fill out this form and get instant access to X” –> expectation setting for what comes next, the more desirable this “next” is, the more people will proceed
2. Minimize the number of form fields
This is one of the easiest things you can do and it can have a significant impact on form completion rates. Each additional form field increases friction. By doing away with them, you’re undoubtedly reducing friction.
Get over the “greedy marketer complex” — wanting too much information about a customer for your CRM or whatever marketing purposes. No, you probably don’t need to know their birth date, and you most definitely don’t need to know whether they’re Mr, Mrs, or Ms.
A comparison study of two Contact Us forms illustrates this point perfectly. When an 11-field version of the form was replaced with a 4-field version, there was a 160% increase in the number of forms submitted and a 120% increase in conversion. Equally surprising, the quality of submissions stayed the same when the essential requirements remained in the form.
Best practice: only ask for information that you absolutely need.
If you’re selling a $20 PDF document, all you need is their email to send the PDF to, and their credit card information. So your form should not be longer than this:
If you ship physical products, you’ll also need their shipping address.
Another best practice: Avoid optional fields — if you don’t absolutely need the information, don’t ask for it.
Clarity of expectations
There’s a difference between removing requirements (decreasing the amount of time/effort required to successfully complete a form) and clarifying requirements (helping people understand how to successfully complete a form). The information you’re asking for, and what you’ll do with it, should be crystal clear.
Expedia had an optional question labeled “Company” in the payment step of their checkout form. Many customers misinterpreted this question as a request for their bank information, which they entered in subsequent fields ultimately causing the credit card verification to fail. The site removed the “Company” field and saw an overnight increase of $12 million a year in profit. This conversion boost came from identifying a misperception and then simply deleting an unnecessary form field.
Even a symbol that indicates what is/isn’t required in a form can have a significant impact on conversion.
Clicktale had an optional “Phone Number” field in their signup form. All the other fields in the form were required fields, and included an asterisk (common practice) next to their label to let people know they were required. The one optional field (Phone Number) didn’t include the asterisk and was therefore not required.
Looking at the conversion data for this signup form, the company saw a 37% drop off rate at the Phone Number field (<– the importance of form analytics). They added the word “optional” next to this field’s label and conversion jumped 2x, indicating what wasn’t required made a significant impact on conversion.
Of course, simply removing the optional field might have yielded even better results.
You can find ample articles online arguing whether it’s better to mark required fields, or optional ones. At the end of the day, these arguments are solutions to other people’s problems. To determine what’s best for your site, test it.
Are less fields always better? Not exactly.
Sometimes when you test 1 field vs 4 fields you’ll find that the conversion rate is the same. So if you can ask for more info, why not?
Here’s an A/B test where KinderCare added one more field in variation B:
Even though the ‘comments’ field made Version B longer, conversions remained the same. Moreover, the additional field increased lead quality which was a huge win for their sales department.
Other times, asking for less information can actually decrease conversions — your form might seem “less legit” aka spammy.
In a test I ran for the TruckersReport resume creation landing page, I tested a longer form against the shortest possible: one solitary email field.
Result: The longer version got 31.3% more opt-ins than the single field form. That’s a huge difference.
So, why did it work better? The idea was that, since the goal of the form was to receive job offers, the longer version seemed more relevant (asking about specialization, location, and level of experience). And credible.
With the shorter form field, there could’ve been a perception that they’d start getting random, irrelevant job offers. After all, all they did was put their email in. How could we send them relevant jobs?
Truthfully, it’s probably a number of reasons. People are different and we have to do our best when interpreting the results so we can learn from them.
Some more food for thought: An Eloqua study found the ‘sweet spot’ for form length is between 5–10 fields where 7 was the optimal number.