Do Your Web Forms Show Good Form?, Part 2

We looked at examples of good and bad Web forms last week. Now that you know the difference, let’s talk about optimizing Web forms.

Web forms create an exchange of information and value. If people must spend any amount of time filling out a Web form, you must offer something in return. Narrow the form fields to only what’s absolutely required. Many marketers just love data, so they ask more questions than are truly needed.

Ask for What You Need Only When You Need It

Separate needed information from conditional information. One recent client, RoofSmith.com, asks respondents what type of roofing material they need when they chose a new roof. That question is on the first page of the form. It could easily be saved for the second page and only displayed if a prospect fills out the new roofing option. They’re making that change.

The same can be done on an e-commerce site. Ask a respondent for her billing address. Offer to ship her order elsewhere or send it as a gift. Provide the shipping address fields on the next page only if she checks that option.

Add Benefits Along the Way

Web forms often don’t include benefits or make them explicit if they’re there. This is critical. E-commerce sites should display cart details throughout checkout but not get in the way of each step.

Check out CafePress.com to see how it handles this issue in the checkout process. For a good example of benefits listed on a lead-generation form, check out the Allegis Group’s Thingamajob.

Set Expectations

If you’re collecting information for a lead-generation program, let visitors know what you’re going to do with that information. Remind themat the point of action that their privacy is valued, and let them know when and how you’ll respond to the lead. Take a look at how Volvo Construction lets prospects know a dealer will contact them within 24 hours.

Too many companies apparently believe they have no competition. Of the business-to-business (B2B) sites we’ve looked at, the majority take longer than 24 hours to respond to leads. Leads go cold the moment they’re left unattended.

Provide Options

Check out RaDirect; it promises a “Two-hour guaranteed response time (Monday – Friday, 8 am – 5 pm EST) for North American inquiries only.” Notice RaDirect also reminds people they can contact the company via a toll-free number or live chat. Compare that with Gomez’s form, which provides no benefits or options(thanks to Andrew Goodman for pointing that out).

Set Standards and Expectations

I spent the better part of a day reviewing all kinds of offline forms. It has become some sort of de-facto Web standard to mark required fields with an asterisk (*). You can see this on the Gomez form. Yet offline forms generally only use asterisks when there’s some kind of note or exception to the field in question. It’s assumed if a question’s there, you’ll answer it unless it’s marked optional.

Shorter Is Not Always Better

Often, people try to optimize a form by getting rid of extra fields. A recent client split-tested a form. Version A requested an email address, version B didn’t. Although version B had a slightly higher completion rate, associated sales were dramatically lower. The critical function autoresponders and follow-up email play can’t be neglected. Too many people don’t spend the time focusing on email communications. Those who do will get those sales.

Next: Handle errors so prospects complete your forms.

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