Anyone using the Internet to purchase products, subscribe to a newsletter, sign up for a service, or make contact with someone has a horror story to tell. We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years in understanding human-computer user behavior; however, the majority of websites are built using the site owner and/or web developer’s personal experiences and preferences.
With form design, in particular, little thought is usually given to usability, much less for the needs of users with poor eyesight, reading difficulties, or hand tremors that make guiding a mouse impossible. Even with meticulous research, planning, design, and implementation of a form that’s easy to use, missing pieces of the puzzle often remain – notably trust, incentive, and the motivation to use the form.
Although the term “conversion” may more commonly be applied to actions such as changing religious beliefs or switching from being a loyal Volkswagen owner to suddenly being a Ford fan, one constant (online or offline) is that the process of conversion always involves choice.
This process includes traffic flow, persuasion, momentum, and evaluating the effectiveness of conversions. When interacting with websites, you’re constantly being asked to do something – click a button, sign up for an email subscription, arrange for an RSS feed of a blog, using a shopping cart – the list is endless.
Conversions are not necessarily just about buying something online. If people are not signing up for your free newsletter, you should be concerned that it is not converting. Something has turned them away.
Planning Online Forms to Encourage Conversions
The requirements for a form dictate the design. For example, the business goal may be “get new customers”. The sales lead form must do this, but at the same time, it cannot frighten away potential contacts. The leading failure of sales leads forms is requiring a phone number for contact rather than offering a choice of email, phone, cell phone, or even regular mail. Nearly every sales lead form makes the assumption that everyone can talk into a telephone or hold one in their hand, so they require a phone number. This requirement, if not fulfilled, disables the entire form, making is unusable.
Another factor to consider is the time someone has available to spend on your site. If they have just spent an hour looking for a shirt, checking prices, viewing size charts, debating color choices, grabbing their credit card, and deciding that driving to the store won’t save them money over ordering online, you must make the order process efficient, pleasant, fast, and simple to learn or you risk losing them.
Communicate, Reassure, and Guide Them Toward the Sweet Spot
Long before your customer begins work on the steps in a form, you should have been virtually “walking” by their side chatting with them. The beauty of this is that the process enhances search engine optimization efforts in a graceful way.
Captions for images should not only capture the product description, but also offer ideas for its use or application. Embedded text links to related items indicate that you understand what your customers like, and you’re able to offer them creative options they may not have considered.
User instructions are needed at the precise moment a visitor decides to take action, and sometimes before. For example, it’s not enough to simply place a “subscribe” button near a newsletter sign-up box. The button is not a salesperson. The content around the subscription task should describe what the newsletter offers, with a link to a sample or archives. A “learn more” link offers the chance to understand what happens to the information visitors provide you, whether they can opt in or out with ease, how often the newsletter comes, and if there are alternatives, such as a blog.
Detailed applications with many steps require not only a clean, organized layout, but also instructions that answer questions as your visitor proceeds through the process. This is far different than providing FAQs or a pop-up link to “get help”. Never force someone to stray off-task or be distracted by confusion. By beginning to fill out a form, the visitor has agreed to make a commitment to you, but that alliance can be broken the very first second the form fails to be usable or understood.
1. Let visitors see the entire process at once by indicating steps. Rather than labeling them as Step 1, Step 2, etc., assign each step a topic such as “Your Info,” “Confirmation and Print.”
2. Simplify the steps by combining and logically categorizing them. Blocks of information are easier to scan than one long page of form fields and checkboxes.
3. Always indicate required fields with an “*” and the word “Required.” Try to keep required fields grouped together to help eliminate errors.
4. For long forms, headings and subheadings make sections easier to scan.
5. Confirm all tasks. On completion of Step 1, indicate the data was received before moving on. At Step 2, describe what is expected. Ensure that a visitor can go backwards without losing previously entered data. Offer the chance to print and provide an alert when the last page in the process has arrived. Let visitors get all their ducks in a row with confidence.
1. Try not to force registration before permitting someone to add to the cart or get information. People need to live with you for a few minutes before making a final commitment. (There are exceptions, such as fee-based content.)
2. Avoid distractions by removing major parts of the outer template elements, ads, and images that cause someone to get off track.
3. Make sure all “calls to action” are tightly focused on the goals of the visitor and requirements for the form. Support the process with buttons for checkout, gift certificates, coupons, free shipping details, continue shopping, print, etc.
5. Be generous and forthcoming with pricing and shipping information by including price comparison charts so visitors don’t need to leave to get that information. If you offer the lowest price, prove it – otherwise, they may check elsewhere and may not return.
The Art of Customer Service
Most of the advice available for forms copywriting is focused on writing to sell. This is not enough to convince everyone to do as you wish. Words and links on a web page can also function as a means of learning current visitor expectations, to meet them better in future versions of the site or form. Do you want to shop more? Great, here’s the button to get you back to where you were and over here are some sale items that would go nicely with what you just put into your cart.
A brief statement, such as “choose how you wish us to contact you,” before offering options, gives visitors a choice. Choices are relaxing. Reminding a new subscriber, just before they hit “subscribe me,” that they can painlessly opt out at any time indicates that you realize you must earn their trust even after they hit that button. Adding a phone number or live help near complicated forms is a rescue mechanism many appreciate.
Can you see how this works so well? It can be incredibly subtle, yet visitors will understand that your patience and guidance with them means you care about their experience. Not only that, you’re not afraid to show you care. Your form is more than a box with radio buttons, checkboxes, and data fields. In many cases, it’s the first and only time you get to prove that you truly understand the needs of your visitors.