Reducing Barriers To Online Registration

Many b-to-b search advertising campaigns are designed to generate online leads. Typically a company’s search ad promotes a specific resource or downloadable asset. Searchers clicking on an ad are presented with a highly tailored landing page that includes a registration form which must be completed in order to receive the item. The most common example is the promotion of a company’s whitepaper. Marketers also use search ads and registration forms for virtual tours, research papers, client case studies, software downloads and Webinars or other events.

In general, the amount of data required on a registration form should be commensurate with the value of the information or item delivered. For example, people will provide only minimal personal information to download a marketing brochure — but are willing to provide more data for a piece of valuable industry research.

A common mistake many search advertisers make with their landing pages is to require too much personal information up front… before anything of value has been delivered and before an initial relationship has been established. But you still need information—just what does the perfect online registration form look like?

Perhaps this scenario sounds familiar: You see an ad for a whitepaper you think you might be interested in. You click through to the landing page and start to fill out a simple registration form that turns into a three-page ordeal, requiring not just name and email but also your title, company name, phone number, fax number, mailing address, industry, annual marketing budget, level of decision making authority, information on how you found the website, etc. etc. etc.

Yikes! You don’t know anything about this company yet. You’re wondering if the time and effort required is worth the value you’ll receive. Will the paper contain unique and insightful information or is it really just a glorified marketing brochure? Chances are you’ll bail before you hit the submit button.

Test your registration forms

So again, just what does the perfect online registration form look like? I’ve witnessed more than a few religious debates over this very question. The sales department wants to collect as much information as possible to pre-qualify each inquiry. The marketing department wants to maximize response rate. Where’s the happy medium?

The answer is different for every company, and can only be determined based on actual market data. I recommend that b-to-b marketers test at least three forms to determine what works best.

Create a simple form, and medium-length form, and a robust form. The simple form might require only email address and name. The medium form could also include phone number and/or mailing address, and the detailed form might ask for additional information about the registrant and their company.

In addition to the number of required fields, I also recommend that companies test various methods of describing the downloadable assets or events people are registering for. There’s more than one way to communicate the specific benefits a registrant will receive. Summaries, previews, images and graphics are particularly helpful in this area.

Our experience shows that, in general, simple forms generate more inquiries than longer, more complex forms. It’s also interesting to note that the response rate drops off significantly when marketers move beyond name and email and also require phone number.

As search marketers test these forms they must collect data on not only the volume of inquiries but also on the quality of inquiries. This of course requires the ability to track results from inquiries… to leads… to qualified leads… and ultimately, to customers, which can be difficult for b-to-b companies with long sales cycles and multiple decision makers and buyers. I’ll be offering more tips on how to track and measure the lead-to-sale process in future columns.

Once marketers have collected data on the various registration forms, a business decision can be made regarding the trade-offs associated with more inquires that are less qualified versus fewer inquiries that are more qualified.

One company’s experience

Here’s a real life example that illustrates the testing process. This b-to-b company runs a search advertising campaign that encourages prospects to download a trial version of the firm’s software which they can use for 30 days, at no charge, prior to purchasing the product.

  • The company’s original registration form contained 15 fields presented in a three-page format. Conversion rate was 5.5% with this form
  • The second form tested contained five required fields, and response rate increased to 9.8%
  • The final form tested was very, very simple and contained only two required fields (email address and country). The response rate sky-rocketed to 15.5%

The questions associated with the simple form include only email address, and where obviously less qualified than those generated with the original, more detailed form. To compensate for this the company implemented an email communication program to follow-up with prospects and offer additional information and benefits throughout the 30-day trial period and beyond. These follow-up emails contained implementation tips, case studies, customer FAQs, and more. The emails encouraged prospects to further interact with the company’s website, access new information, download more assets, and provide additional contact information over time.

After testing these three registration processes, the data indicated that the very simple (two-field) form combined with the follow-up email program delivered the best results.

Lead quantity vs. quality

In my opinion most online registration forms are too long and cumbersome. The amount of personal information required is out of line with the value delivered.

I recommend that search marketers test several landing pages and registration forms including a very short and simple form and then track the volume of inquires as well as the quality of inquiries associated with each.

I also recommend that companies test and measure the effects of combining a simple form with a follow-up program (perhaps via email or telemarketing) designed to deliver value, build relationships and collect additional contact information over time.

The challenge for b-to-b search marketers is to find their own unique “sweet spot” – the online registration process that delivers the maximum quantity of inquires at an acceptable quality level.

It’s just amazing how the systematic testing and measurement of landing pages and registration forms can replace arguments, assumptions and opinions with something much more powerful…. actual customer data!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: B2B Search Marketing Column | Channel: Search Marketing


About The Author: is president and founder of SmartSearch Marketing, a Boulder, Colorado-based search engine marketing agency. You can reach Patricia at The Strictly Business column appears Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.

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  • Anna Sebestyen

    Hello Patricia,

    I really liked your summary on reg forms, and these types of tips and tricks are most welcome! Thank you.
    Just a few fair assumptions and or questions (I am quite curious what is your stance on these aspects). I have put them into ’7P fashion’

    visibility: some of the forms are placed below a long article, not ‘above the fold’ where visitors could immediately find where they can register. Reg forms work better in more visible sections on the page (if necessary placed on both the top and at the bottom)

    visuality: you have mentioned that it is strongly recommended to communicate the specific benefits, like giving a short sample etc. I couldn’t agree with you more. But even if you provide a summary, I think it is essential to accompany your downloadable product with some attractive and relevant image, as it can improve conversion rates. It could be just a well designed cover page for a white paper – but it feels more tangible this way. So showing your product is one thing. In addition, I presume, it is also important to place the reg form close to the picture.

    validity: placing some ‘thank you, it was truly useful blah blah blah’ etc. genuine (!) quotes from readers next to the reg form may also increase plausibility, and encourage visitors to react, and hit the submit button.

    victory: if a visitor has asked for one product (e.g. a quote for website SEO-healing), after the submit form, on the thank you page, you may call her/his attention to your other product (CPC campaign) or vice versa. It could be in an, e.g. those who asked for xy also downloaded our xyz. It may work for certain types of businesses I think.

    vanish or vigor: the consistent follow-up is the most convincing part of your arguments. Superb. Especially if it contains some extra info that serves as update/ addition for the downloaded product, already attracting the user. Maybe this feature could/ should be already built into the content of the downloadable material (i.e. purposefully holding back follow-ups, some charts, surveys etc.?)

    And the last bit – I do not think it affects making business in English but Hungarian is an agglutinating language – I suppose that texts on the reg form button, most importantly ‘Submit,’ works better if it is in first person singular, affirmative, and not in an imperative form (‘I’ll have it’ instead of ‘Send it to me’ ), and especially not like ‘order it from us.’ The approach may be better from the user’s point of view, or not?

    Sorry for the length of the comment. I am enthusiastic about user-friendly online marketing. :)

  • Erica Forrette

    Thank you for a great article; it really prompted me to think about the way we treat our landing pages and what we include as far as reg fields. And I will definitely take the advice on what to test on the 3 diff. versions of the landing page. I look forward to future articles in this new SEL column!

  • DLPerry

    Excellent points. I’d like to add another, more technical one – Data Security.

    I still see a lot of usage of ‘insecure’ forms to gather personal data, or at least ‘perceived’ personal data – ie: we all know that addresses and telephone numbers are publicly available – but this information still tends to be viewed as ‘personal’ by most end-users.

    I feel that if you are going to ask for ‘perceived’ personal data such as telephone number, address, etc. – you really should do so from a secure form.

    Granted – nothing is 100% secure. However it has been my experience that when asking for ‘personal’ data – the conversions do seem to increase when this is done via an SSL secure form.

    Of course, as discussed here – to avoid the security issue entirely – just don’t ask. :)

  • MichaelV

    Great article!

    One of the most important things you can do for your business online is test & track everything… doesn’t matter if you are an SEO, or an ecommerce site owner, test and track everything!

    You will always find that the less information your prospects have to fill into a form, the better your join rate is going to be…

    But don’t let that get in the way of your sales objectives. I had to shake my head at your real-life example above Patricia:

    The final form tested was very, very simple and contained only two required fields (email address and country). The response rate sky-rocketed to 15.5%

    Possibly this company had its reasons (and the following is more important for b2c than b2b although still very relevant), but I can’t stress enough how important it is for your sales process to always require a name on your forms.

    After all, what good is a 15% response rate if your sales conversion is abysmal?

    Whether you are following up by phone, or email, being able to use a name will increase your conversions significantly.


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