February 5, 2010

Optimize Web Forms for Maximum Conversions


Hostway Team

By Melissa J Luther

Web site forms are useful for converting qualified, interested visitors to prospects and leads—and eventually into customers. However, people are often wary of giving away too much information too soon. How can you encourage visitors to provide enough useful information without scaring them away?

Consider Your Form's Purpose

Create forms with that purpose in mind, and collect only information critical to that purpose. A form for requesting an email newsletter or free report download might be limited to just an email address. Follow-up emails can direct the recipient to a more comprehensive form if they want more information. At this point, they might feel more comfortable divulging their own information.

Make fields that are useful but not critical optional, and make it clear which fields are required. Many Web sites use a red asterisk to indicate required fields, and most people understand this.

Make the Overall Page Appealing

Your main focus might be the information in the form, but your prospects will ultimately decide to hit the submit button based in part on whether or not they feel comfortable on the page.

Form layout: Vertical is often the most efficient layout. It doesn't require tabbing across the page, which can be especially distracting on a small screen that might require scrolling back and forth to move between fields.

Instructions: Too many instructions make a form look cluttered. Your prospects are intelligent enough to understand Name and Email, so only include instructions if a field requires a particular format. For example, provide a sample next to the field if your phone number field requires 123-555-5555 rather than 1235555555. Formatting fields to accept the most common variations is even better.

Pre-Populate Form Fields

For leads that are returning to fill in a more comprehensive form, set up the system to pre-fill any information they gave you the first time.

Let Prospects Know Exactly What They Will Get

If they are requesting a newsletter, tell them how frequently you publish, and whether or not you also send special offers.

If they are requesting information, let them know how you will respond (email, phone call, etc) and when.

Have a Privacy Policy

Establish trust by letting visitors know exactly how you use their information. Include a link to your privacy policy near the submit button.

Highlight Errors

If a visitor tries to submit a form that's missing required information, don't make them guess what's missing. They might just give up. Instead, highlight the required field.

Be Familiar

Many of the simplest forms request First Name, Last Name and Email, in that order. Preserve that familiar flow, and ask for any additional information under those fields.

Test Variations

Visitors can be unpredictable, so if a form is not converting well, make changes and test conversions for each version.

The key to high-converting forms is simplicity and trust. Create your forms with one goal in mind: helping your prospective customers get the information they need as easily and painlessly as possible.

About the Author

Melissa J Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions, LLC helps small businesses create and maintain a strong online presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an online presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking and social media as appropriate.

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