Improving web form conversion rates

You can drive all the traffic in the world to your website, but it’s a waste the visitors don’t convert. Form design is very often a significant contributor to poor conversion rates. While Key Principles and Specific Recommendations that follow are generally written for forms that solicit contact information from potential customers, they can also be used for online surveys and other purposes for using forms.

Key Principles
There are three key principles to keep in mind when developing web forms or any kind of conversion pages:

Lower friction = More conversions

This simply means that anything that makes it easier to fill out the form is likely to make more people fill it out. Conversely, anything you do to make it more difficult will make them leave.

You will follow up on this information

This is an obvious point (or should be!), but the ramifications here are that you don’t need to collect everything you need to know because you’re going to contact them. Your web form is not about getting a comprehensive view of your prospect, it’s about getting them “in the door” so you can have a conversation, during which you can get the details.

Take only what you need

This principle is a direct result of the first two, and it might seem obvious now, but it’s worth mentioning on its own.

Specific Recommendations
Here are specific recommendations that you can apply to almost any form:

  • Don’t require specific fields to be filled in unless you really can’t make use of the form contents without them. Ask for name and phone number, but keep in mind that you’re using this information to follow up with them, at which time you should get the remaining information you need.
  • Reduce the number of fields. Don’t ask for first and last name separately without good reason, simply ask for “Name.”
  • If you don’t need a mailing or email address for the first contact, don’t ask for it. Address fields make privacy-conscious users less likely to fill out the form. The same applies for email: don’t ask for their email address if you won’t be using it to contact them.
  • Don’t ask users how they found you. Users give you terribly inaccurate information, and you should be using some form of web analytics software (we recommend Google Analytics at a minimum, it’s free) to see this and other important data. This field simply scares some users away and provides you with misleading information.
  • Use obvious field names. Don’t call a Name field “Your appellation.”
  • Don’t force unnecessary formats for phone numbers. For example, don’t require the area code to be provided in a separate field. This is frustrating for users. Don’t require parentheses or dashes, either; just take what they give you.
  • Thank them for filling out the form, and make it clear that this was done successfully, or if it wasn’t, make it clear why. Do not show the form again after they’ve successfully filled it out, take them to a thank you page. If they made a mistake, make it as clear as possible what and where the problem is so that they can fix it.
  • If you ask for a web address, don’t require “http” or “www”. Take what they give you.
  • For tracking purposes (among other reasons), use a different URL for the Thank You page than the form page. E.g. if the page is contact.htm, take them to something like thankyou.htm after they fill out the form.
  • Requiring email acknowledgment is very, very risky. It’s fine (and, in fact, great) to send a “thank you for your inquiry” email, but don’t require them to click on a link to have their inquiry sent to you. Real customers may not get the email, it might go into a junk folder, the recipients might not realize they need to click on the link, or they might not want to if concerned about privacy or spam.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, don’t make users select who they are contacting. For instance, avoid drop-downs or radio buttons that make them select “New Products” or “Sales Inquiry”. They might not know which choice is best, and they might choose the wrong one. Ideally the nature of the information they provide will tell you what kind of inquiry it is. Better yet, you should have different forms for different purposes, such as a request for customer support coming from a link to “customer support.”

You don’t need to take our word for any of this. Think about each of the above and see if it makes sense for your forms. Even better, test different form designs against each other to see what works best.

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3 Responses to “Improving web form conversion rates”

  1. Ian Says:

    Josh – although this doesn’t necessarily have to do with improving conversion rates per se, what are your thoughts about including some type of “share this” or “tell your friends” button on the thank you page? I can’t imagine there being any harm to this as the conversion itself has already happened…and this is just another way to help spread the word.

  2. Josh Says:

    I think this is an excellent suggestion.

  3. Karen Anderson Says:

    This is brilliant advice. It would be fun to take this and critique the name capture pages of a dozen or so well-known websites.