Optimizing Online Data Collection

As the dust from the presidential election settles, issues like voter registration and 2000’s confusing butterfly ballots come to mind. They bring into focus how hard it is to optimize even a simple data collection process. After all, what can be simpler than just casting votes? But as online marketers, any time you collect data from the public, you’re looking at lots of potential problems. As purchasing becomes a multistep process requiring more engagement and targeted communications, marketers, like voting officials, must consider how to ensure that users understand what’s being asked of them and how data are stored and utilized.

Two Major Tradeoffs With Online Forms

When building your house file, an essential corporate asset, you must assess the tradeoffs between gathering more information about your consumers and building a bigger list:

  • How much information do you really need? Less is more when it comes to forms, so assess the necessity for each information field. A client had a streamlined registration form requiring only three pieces of information. This allowed it to grow its house file at a rapid rate — until its advertising sales department added a staggering 15 extra fields. Collecting this information was great for advertisers but had nothing to do with satisfying customers’ needs. Not surprisingly, its e-mail list growth immediately slowed to a snail’s pace. Here are some things to keep in mind when creating registration and other customer forms:

    • What’s the goal of your information collection? Are you looking to build as big a list as possible or to qualify prospects?

    • Will the additional data help you to personalize your communications and offers?
    • Can your firm or suppliers accommodate this information in your database?
    • If this is information your firm has always asked for, does it still make sense to collect it? Fax numbers often fall into this category.
    • What will you use the information for, and does it make sense to your customers? One client collected Zip Codes in its e-mail registration, not to target offers but to suppress mailings based on geographically specific events, such as Hurricane Katrina.
  • How do your customers feel about the information exchange? This is a critical determinant for each respondent, who unconsciously asks, “What’s in it for me?” For many prospects, this may translate to some tangible reward, such as a special new member offer or a giveaway, such as a whitepaper or other low-cost, easily distributed offering. It’s critical the giveaway be in line with your offering and provide value to your consumer.

Seven Other Factors to Consider When Designing Your Form

Once you’ve determined the major fields to include in your form, there are other considerations. Among them are:

  • Question order. Place sensitive information later in the form so respondents have a stake in completing it.

  • Process management. Let users know how long the form will take to complete. For example, “Only takes 30 seconds to complete.”
  • Form layout. Unless you’re asking for lots of information, it’s best to make the questions flow down the left side of the form rather than to use two or more columns. Also, avoid excessive scrolling.
  • Wording. Assess what information you really want and how to ask for it to avoid confusion. For example, use “alternate phone” versus “cell phone” if you only want another number, since respondents may not want to share their mobile number.
  • Buttons. Make sure buttons look like buttons, are visible, and have a call to action, like “submit.”
  • Data verification. Does your form have any checks to ensure it’s completed by a human being? Also, to the extent possible have you ensured that the information input into the form is useable?
  • Font size. Consider your audience’s age and text readability.

To determine which elements are most important for your business’s forms, try multivariate analysis, as it allows you to test various factors concurrently. It’s particularly good for factors that vary based on personal perspective. Interwoven Optimost managing director Mark Wachen has seen 20 percent to 50 percent improvement in form completion for his clients. Among the attributes to test are the order of items; images; headlines; related links, such as FAQs and privacy policies; access to sample newsletters; number of pages; and other form-related creative elements.

Three Form-related Metrics

While building your house file through online forms may not lead directly to sales, it enables you to maintain communications and build relationships with prospects. Here are three indicators to monitor to ensure your registration process is on track:

  • Registrants. Count the number of new names you’ve collected and measure against previous periods.

  • Conversions. Calculate the percentage of these users who continue through your purchase process and ultimately buy your product.
  • Abandonment rate. Track how many new registrants unsubscribe soon after receiving their first e-mail. Analyze the unsubscribes by registration source.

Voter registrations forms attract a lot attention during high-profile elections. Similarly, as a marketer, how you design your information collection forms is vital to building your house file. When building your list, there’s always a tradeoff between the number of fields of information and their perceived value by your prospects and customers. With customers doing more research and taking longer to make purchase decisions, ongoing communications with your prospects is critical and your house file enables you to keep your offering top of mind.

Join us for a Consumers and the Influence of Blogs: What It Means for Your Marketing Mix on November 20 at 2 pm EST. Find out how online consumers discover blogs and navigate between them, what kind of opportunity blogs represent for advertisers, and much more!

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