By Meredith Barnhill
According to Consumer Reports, 20 percent of online shoppers are victims of cybercrime. One way to protect your online consumers is to ensure that you have proper security measures in place when they send information. The most common way to do this is to make sure that your business has secure online order forms.
What Is a Secure Form?
A secure form is pivotal to any online information exchange in which sensitive data is being sent. Secure forms encrypt information before sending into cyberspace, so hackers and identity thieves can't easily steal important information such as a user's credit card number or social security number. A Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate is the primary way to make your sites safe. You can read more about it on the VeriSign Web site.
How Can I Tell if a Form Is Secure?
Most secure forms include features that turn the browser's address bar yellow or make a padlock icon appear to show that user's information will be encrypted. While these are helpful features, the only sure way to tell if a form is secure is to check for the https:// before the web address. In addition to hosting your form on a secure server, you should add coding that provides the familiar change in color and padlock icon to make users feel more secure.
The average Internet user gets frustrated easily with things that take too long. Users also don't tend to read all the information before diving into input fields — they just scan for important instructions. Keep in mind that the layout of your forms should be simple and laid out in an easy-to-understand way. Input fields should be aligned and required information should be indicated, usually with an asterisk. Make the submit buttons easily discernible from any other button so people don't accidentally cancel all their work. A blog post at ZDNet.com has a great article on form layout.
Secure Form Best Practices
Tolerance for the number of fields in a form has dropped drastically as users' attention spans have shortened. Today, most Web site sign-up forms are short, with five fields or less. Letting your users know how many steps they have left in the form process is helpful in keeping users patient. An article from Smashing Magazine offers in-depth form validation tutorials. Knol, a Google product, also has a checklist of secure form must-haves.
About the Author
Meredith Barnhill is a multimedia journalist working in higher education as a Web content producer in Austin, Texas.