Do Your Web Forms Show Good Form?, Part 1

Last week, my team delivered a second conversion assessment for our client’s second Web site. Both sites had the same type of problem: They used lead-generation forms for a nationwide network of dealers. My client conducted some research on the Web and found little discussion on the topic. That’s surprising. Most sites have used some kind of form since the Web’s earliest days. When the client came back and asked if we could provide some additional reference material to their design team regarding effective forms, I decided something had to be written.

Most of us really don’t like filling out forms, especially not while we’re online (it’s why I live by my RoboForm). Most forms are daunting and complicated and require users to make more effort than they want to. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about an e-commerce site’s order form, a lead-generation form, or a sign-up form; all require the same crucial but tedious elements, and all must motivate users to complete the task.

Forms face the “microwave” challenge: We want things instantaneously. If we feel something will take too much time, we won’t complete it. Meander over to SonyStyle. On its shopping cart page, you must scroll all the way to the bottom to click on “guest customer checkout.”

As you sit reading the page, don’t you get the feeling it’s going to take a long time to fill out? Peripherally, our eyes scan that scrollbar and tell us this page is long. But if you really look at it, there isn’t that much to fill out; just your billing and shipping addresses and payment information, then you click to confirm your order. What hurts this page is the perception of the time it will take to complete. It does a nice job, though, at grouping the items together. But initial impressions count.

One constant we’ve seen with forms is people don’t like to scroll to finish. There’s a direct correlation between forms that fit above the fold on the screen and conversion rates.

For a really bad form, visit and add something to your shopping bag. Click “checkout — ship to one address.” Scroll down to “checkout unregistered.” What’s the first natural action you see as you complete the form? “Reset form”! Is that really what they want people to do? I don’t think so.

The actions it wants people to take, “back one step” or “save and continue,” are visually separated from the rest of the form by a horizontal line. If I might offer some free and unsolicited advice, I’d urge Bloomingdale’s to lose the reset button.

Let’s head on over to some lead-generation sites that use multiple-step forms. After searching on Google for “renters insurance,” I checked insurance quotes from NetQuote, State Farm, and Allstate.

NetQuote starts the form really well, straight from the home page. It asks for my Zip Code and quote type, then I click “Start.” On the second page, it’s asking for my name and my Zip Code again (it’s pre-filled from the home page, though). I fill out that information and go to the next page, where I’m asked a bunch more questions.

At the end of the form, I see a button that says, “I’m Done With This Section.” How many more sections are there? I abandon the form. NetQuote did a good job at keeping the form pages pretty short, but a progress indicator to show how many more steps are involved would’ve been nice.

At State Farm, I use a pull-down menu to enter my state. The next screen asks for my first name and address. The form looks easy. I complete that section; it verifies which New York county I’m in, then I proceed to the next page.

It asks about coverage information. I must fill out contents amount, deductible, personal liability, and so on. State Farm provides a calculator and hyperlinks the terms, in case I don’t understand them. Again, I’m frozen. I might fiddle around a bit, but I have questions that are unanswered.

Maybe I’ll be in good hands with Allstate.

I arrive at Allstate‘s home page where it easily gets me started on my quote. It asks for type of insurance and my state. Easy enough, so I hit “Go.” The next page asks for my Zip Code and another simple question. I continue.

The next page asks for personal information, but it’s optional. I like that. It even tells me with a progress indicator that this is step one of two. On the next page, it asks five other short questions. I click “Get Your Quick Insurance Quote Now” and am provided with an estimate quote and offered ways to contact Allstate.

Guess who I’m finally calling? What did NetQuote and State Farm gain by requesting personal information? Could they provide an estimated quote as Allstate did with less information? Could they provide an estimated quote, then ask if I would like a more precise quote should I provide personal information or contact an agent? Seems so.

Next week, what some sites are doing right. Do your Web forms show good form? Let me know.

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