How to Design Forms that Convert for Web Marketing Success

By Gregory Smyth

Website designers and internet marketing services put a lot of time and effort into getting people to convert. A clever creative, compelling ad copy, ensuring that the product and marketing efforts are targeted, and search engine optimization all take months of time and plenty of effort. However, technical difficulties and the pressures of marketing departments often let companies down at the last second, when customers exit a website right either before filling in a conversion form, or partway through it. We look at some guidelines for website design when it comes to forms that help boost conversion rates.

The problem with form design is that is it usually the responsibility of the developer or website designer. Forms rarely get the 'marketing treatment'; yet they are just as important a part of your conversion process as the ad copy or the creative brief. Forms are inherently unattractive, and this is part of the reason they are ignored. Remember, though, that the main reason people are on your website is not enjoy impeccable design or to have their artistic senses stroked - they are there for information, products or services. This is the guiding factor that can help your internet marketing efforts through better form design.

The first thing to remember is that the longer the form, the more likely a customer is to get frustrated with it and abandon the process. Similarly, forms that go on for several pages with no indication of how far a customer has progressed through the page set often negate your carefully planned web marketing strategy and search engine optimization efforts. Many form designers automatically include information like fax number, phone number, city and state when it really isn't required at this early stage of the relationship. A zip code will often cover the city and state, fax numbers can be gained in further contact, and the idea of giving out phone numbers seems much too personal for most internet users.

Ensure that jargon doesn't make your form unintelligible. For example, if someone is filling in a request for computer support, you may require technical details about their system to complete the request. However, a wise internet marketing move is to garner this information after someone has converted (via further contact), rather than risk losing them by asking questions they don't understand.

On the technical side, try to avoid use of the mouse as much as possible. Too many drop down boxes mean that the 'flow' of filling out the form is interrupted for people, and the entire experience is more frustrating, as shown by web analysis tools. Ensure that drop down results for common questions (state, country) can be selected by typing in the first few letters. To aid this, always use the most common way of expressing an option. For example, if you need to ask gender, people should be able to enter 'M' or 'F' rather than 'Woman' or 'Man'. Your internet marketing efforts will be greatly assisted by providing mouse-over or pop-up assistance for specific questions, rather than assuming people will email you, and come back to convert when they have necessary information.

Remember that after-conversion pages can be an important part of your online marketing strategy. Around 40% of respondents in a survey were willing to give additional information after conversion. However, including the same information on your initial form will turn people off before they've completed the most important action, and the end-goal of your web marketing strategy.