"Yeah, we'll throw a form on there."
We hear that a lot during our website discovery meetings. Which isn't surprising—most of the sites we create have some kind of contact form, email newsletter subscription form, or other lead generation form. Our site has one. Yours probably does, too.
But how much thought was put into creating it? Did you take the time to consider the call to action, the audience, and other essentials? Or did you simply "throw it on there", like half-cooked spaghetti against the kitchen wall?
In many cases, a web form is the only way customers have of engaging with a brand online. It can also be a valuable tool in the generation of sales leads, building and segmenting lists, distributing company literature, and much more. It's yet another digital tool for your toolbox, and it's up to you whether it's well-cared for, or left to rust in the lawn.
So let's walk through five essential questions necessary to creating a purposeful web form that can help drive your business and improve your ROI.
1. What's the point?
It's good to remember a web form is an active, not passive, element of your site. With a form, you're asking your customers to actively enter their personal information—and to trust you with that information. But what are they getting in return? A monthly newsletter? An answer to a question or a bid for a project?
Think carefully about what you want to get out of your web form—and what your customers will get out of it. Be sure that both parties will be receiving something valuable and engaging.
2. Who's going to be filling this thing out?
You've determined that you want site visitors to sign up to download a whitepaper. You'll obtain their contact information, and they'll receive information about your methods, services, etc. in return. But exactly whom do you want to download this whitepaper?
It's important to determine a specific audience for your web form, because this information will inform several key elements about the form—for instance, voice and tone. If you're selling to women who run at-home businesses, you're going to use a much different voice than you would for plumbers, dentists, or skater dudes. More about this in a moment.
3. What information are we going to ask for?
As a business, you probably want as much information about your potential customer(s) as you can get. But we usually advise people to include as few informational fields as possible, because for each additional form field people are required to fill out, the submission rate drops by 30%.
So a shorter form (e.g., one that only requires name and email address) will generally result in a larger number of responses than a longer, more demanding one. However, you might have a good reason to do a bit of weeding—say, if you only want people who are seriously considering your services to download your whitepaper.
For example, PayPal's signup form purposefully weeds out anyone who is not 100% serious about establishing a PayPal account:
Meanwhile, the Click Rain email signup form can afford to be a bit less discerning:
So say your target audience is mothers who run an at-home business within a 20-mile radius of Sioux Falls. If these women are serious about their business and truly interested in your product, you can probably get away with asking for more than just their name and email address. You can ask for their zip code to ascertain whether they're located within your Sioux Falls radius, the nature of their business to ensure you're a good fit for them, offer a "comments" or "message" field, and more.
Just be sure that every single piece of information you ask for is absolutely necessary. For instance, you probably don't need a home address until they've agreed to purchase your product—if then.
4. What are we saying here?
A web form is a piece of content, and all content conveys a voice and tone. This could comprise any introductory copy, the titles of the form fields, the call-to-action button, and the thank-you message the user will receive when submitting their information.
The voice and tone of your form relies on your target audience. For mothers who are running at-home businesses, you can get away with a warmer, more friendly voice and with a more casually encouraging call-to-action button (e.g., "That sounds great!" instead of "Submit").
Depending on your determined audience, you can also experiment with varying formats for your web form. A more narrative web form approach (below) can increase your conversion rate by 25-40%—just be certain it is appropriate for your audience.
Vast.com's narrative web form, which has been incredibly successful.
5. Is this working?
The only sure way to determine the best form for your audience is to do some A/B testing (a.k.a. split testing). Find out whether your users prefer longer or shorter forms, test the wording of your form fields or your submit button (e.g., does "Submit" or "Yes, Please!" perform better?). Be sure to test just one variable at a time, and make sure your testing time is long enough to provide significant results.
In closing, don't ever just "throw a form on there". Think carefully about your goals, your audience, and all of the other important factors that can help your online presence succeed, and be sure to evaluate your theories with A/B testing.
Photo via gluemoon