Form Usability And Online Conversions

No matter how many visitors come to your website thanks to search engine results, or your online marketing efforts, it won’t help your business if your site doesn’t deliver on the promise it made to get them to visit in the first place.

And it’s not enough to have some random page, deep inside your site, that offers whatever it is they were looking for to arrive there in the first place. Visitors need to know they’re in the right place from the instant they arrive at your site.

A great way of keeping tabs on this is to use your analytics data to monitor user behaviour. If your data shows that people are arriving on your site, and even starting the conversion process, but abandoning it before its complete, then it should be fairly clear that there is something wrong.

Usability & The Conversion Process

Usability plays a huge role in successful conversions, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the form which comprises an important part of the process from the visitors point of view.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that your landing page, (the page that visitors arrive on), matches the marketing promise of the ad or search engine result that brought them to your site in the first place. We’ll also assume that they’ve arrived at your site, been sold on your offer, and are about to start the conversion process, either by making contact with you directly, or by actually purchasing straight off the site.

So the next thing that needs to be considered is the way they’re making contact or making a purchase. In most cases, different forms on your site will allow for these processes, and as a result, it’s important to ensure that your forms are as user-friendly as possible.

Form Design & Usability

The design, content and functionality of your form will depend entirely on the purpose that you’d like it to serve. Although you may think that you should try and gather every possible bit of information from your users with each form, this isn’t necessarily true.

The trick is not to think about what information you’d like to have, but rather, what information will the user be willing to provide, based on the purpose and function of the form.

As much as you’d like to collect detailed personal information from every person that visits your site, this is not always, (or even often), the best way of going about it.

Let’s take a look at some different types of forms, and consider what is appropriate for them.

Email Subscriptions

The purpose of this type of form is to gain an email address to which you’ll send your newsletter, and other types of email marketing to. This form should be the quickest, simplest type of on-site interaction, and all you need is an email address, and maybe a name.

The name isn’t even all that important, unless you personalise your emails. There’s no need to request any other type of information at all.

Contact Forms

A plain contact form allows visitors to your site to get in contact with you, usually to ask questions, or request additional information, or the clarification of something they’ve seen on your site.

Although the people who fill out these forms can be considered leads, they’re not a qualified sales lead, and there’s no need to treat visitors who want to contact you as if they were police suspects.

These forms should have fields for a name, a contact method, and a message, and not much else. Give them the option of choosing how they’d like to be contacted. Most people would prefer to be emailed in reply, which means you don’t need their phone number.

If you do plan on phoning them, rather than emailing them, tell them so on the form, and let them specify when would be a good time to call. It’s preferable to give them the option of choosing how they’d like you to contact them though.

The more user friendly your form is, the more likely people are to use it.

Purchase & Order Forms

Potentially the most important forms you can have on your site, these type of forms also have the biggest potential of being abandoned by visitors. Every human being is unique, and there’s no way to tell what will put off any given visitor, but if you design with your visitors in mind, instead of yourself, you’ll have a better chance that more of them will convert.

Obviously, your purchase or order forms will require a little more personal information than contact forms. You’ll need a shipping address, credit card details, and possibly a phone number. At this stage in the conversion process, you can afford to ask for some important information.

To reduce the number of people who abandon your form, it’s not a bad idea to provide examples of how you need the information to be supplied. Providing information about each step in the process is a good idea too, as is explaining to the customer what they can expect, and how the process will work.

Designing Your Forms

When it comes to designing your forms, keep the following suggestions in mind, to help keep your forms as user friendly, and as accessible, as possible.

* Keep your form “above the fold.” In other words, don’t make users scroll down to find it.

* Don’t let the same form appear in multiple places on your sight, or people might stop noticing it. Wherever possible, ensure it has its own specific page.

* Make your form easy to find.

* In a process with several steps, let users know where they are at each step. Long or confusing processes increase the chance that visitors will give up.

* Make sure your form has a completion page that lets the visitor continue to other pages of interest on your site. Don’t have “dead end” forms.

* Error warnings should appear at the field where they occur.

* Don’t make users start again when an error occurs. Just present them with the incorrect field, and instructions on how to complete it correctly.

* If your form requires specific formats for certain data, (and it should), provide examples.

* Don’t over use the “required field” instruction, and be sure to mark them “required.”

* Give users a choice where possible. You don’t need both an email and a phone number. Let them choose how they want to be contacted.

* If providing a multi-step process, tell users how long it will take, and what steps are involved.

* Don’t ask for addresses or phone numbers unless they’re relevant to the process. (Such as for delivery.)

* People are often nervous about buying online. Have your privacy policy and contact information easily accessible, and make sure your content explains the process and requirements.

* The shorter and simpler your form is, the more likely people are to complete it.

* Keep your fields, labels and buttons aligned. Make sure your “Submit” button is easily visible.

* Test your form. Test it again. Do your best to break it and see what happens. Make sure your form does what it is supposed to do.

Keep In Mind

Users will abandon a form or a process based on their own unique needs. Always think about what your users will need. Give them alternatives wherever possible, to increase the chance that you’re meeting their specific needs. Do you only take credit cards? Or can visitors pay via PayPal? Can they make an EFT if they don’t have a credit card? Think about what they may need, and do your best to provide it.

If you’re spending a fortune on search engine marketing, and bringing visitors to your site, you need to make sure that your site is usable. There’s no point bringing people to your site if they can’t use it. So make sure your usability is as good as your marketing is.