Many B2B marketers use web forms to facilitate registrations, generate leads, or to acquire customers. Improving implementation of online forms can have a dramatic, positive impact on increasing conversion rates and maximizing ROI associated with B2B marketing programs.
In my last article, Six Usability Tips to Maximize B2B Website Conversion, I briefly touched on one important part of the conversion equation: error handling on forms. Since form usability is so critical to the conversion process, it warrants a deeper look.
Forms that are too cumbersome, too daunting, or poorly implemented place a major roadblock in the way of your visitors—and provide yet another excuse for people to leave your site without converting. It’s a no brainer that making online forms as inviting and as easy as possible is imperative. Here are eight best practices for implementing conversion-friendly forms.
Set clear expectations. Clearly tell visitors what they will receive and set expectations regarding what will happen next. This is especially important for sites focused on lead generation and on sites that require visitors to complete a form to obtain information downloads. Balance the information you require against your visitor’s perceived value of the offer. Visitors will be more likely to provide additional information beyond the basics if it makes contextual sense or if they highly value what they receive in exchange for their personal information. For example, prospects might be willing to provide more information if it helps you deliver a detailed quote.
Limit the number of fields. Take a critical look and evaluate the business need for each of the fields. Strip your form down to only the essential and/or test making any non-essential information optional. Many studies have shown that in general, the shorter the form the more likely that people will complete it.
Use appropriate fields. This is the online version of using the right tool for the job. For example, use:
- Radio buttons for mutually exclusive choices (e.g., yes or no)
- Checkboxes for “choose all that apply” options
- A single checkbox for options a visitor can turn on or off (e.g., opt into or out of permission marketing newsletter)
Implement form validation carefully. Form validation on select fields helps ensure that visitors submit properly formatted data. For fields where entry format is standard or there is no room for variation (e.g., email addresses always require an @ symbol and a .com, .net., or .edu, etc.) form validation makes the most sense.
The upside of form validation is that you get the data in the format you want and that your system requires. The downside is that you run the risk of frustrating visitors if they enter the data in a commonly acceptable format that does not match your validation pattern and you require them to stop and renter their data (e.g., 5558889999 for a phone number versus 555-888-9999). Where you can, format data with possible variations on the back end.
In addition, provide visitors with preset values to minimize the risk of receiving data in an incorrect format. For example, provide drop-downs for state and country.
Finally, consider using email fulfillment instead of providing downloads directly on the thank you page to ensure a visitor is providing his or her real email address.
Help visitors prevent errors. Make it obvious which form fields are required by using a visual clue like asterisks or bold field names. And if you require data entered in a certain format, provide example text, such as a phone or credit card number that shows the format you want the visitor to use.
Help visitors recover from errors. Highlight errors and clearly indicate exactly what the visitor needs to do to correct the issue. Be sure to place the error message in close proximity to where the error occurred so the visitor doesn’t have to spend time figuring out what went wrong.
Organize forms based on a logical flow. Pay attention to the flow of your form to ensure it follows a logical structure. For example, on one lead generation form, I noticed some users were inadvertently placing their email address in the Zip/Postal Code field—even though the field width was noticeably smaller than other fields, a visual cue that should have helped visitors catch the error. It’s likely that the error was occurring because the form did not match visitors’ expected flow of information. The form was asking for First Name, Last Name, Zip Code and then Email. The flow on many forms places email directly after First Name and Last Name. Grouping similar elements in proximity to one another will help visitors flow through the process more smoothly.
For B2B marketers, form optimization is really a cornerstone of conversion improvement. Take a close look at the forms on your site to see what roadblocks you can clear in your prospects’ path to conversion by implementing some of the best practices outlined here. You’ll find that improving form usability will usually significantly improve your site’s conversion rate.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.