Best Practices In Web Forms

October 26, 2005

I just came back from the MarketingSherpa Lead Generation conference. The talks were great, but one of the best was given by Anne Holland herself. She spoke about the top ten mistakes companies make when they create online forms:

Mistake #1: Bad Headlines. When the form is on a special landing page, the page needs to have the exact words that the search request did. (Example – if I search for Web Analytic Ideas, the landing page had better say, “Get your report on Web Analytic ideas here.”) This point only matters with paid search, and frankly, I think this is a landing page problem and not just a forms problem, But, it’s still a good point.

Mistake #2: You don’t show you the customer what s/he is signing up for. It they are buying a product, a little thumbnail of the product should be in the shopping cart. If they are downloading a .pdf, the front cover (with the title in BIG type) should be on the download page.

Mistake #3. You use 9 point Verdana. (She made fun of designers who love 9 point Verdana.) The visitor can’t read the forms or the site. Reminds me that I had better talk to my designers…

Mistake #4. You ask the visitor for the email address twice. Studies show that mistakes are only made about 2.91% of the time, and it’s usually deliberate (they really don’t want to give out their email address.) Don’t ask the customer to type more than necessary.

Mistake #5. You forget to tell the visitor how much their privacy is valued right next to the place where the email address is requested.

Mistake #6. You assume that the customer has signed up for your email newsletter and email offers, just because s/he downloaded a whitepaper or purchased a product. Or, just as bad, you pre-check the box asking for that permission.

Mistake #7. You don’t prepopulate fields where you already know the information. (2014 update: Now that we have Chrome, our browsers can do this, so it is not as much of an issue.)

Mistake #8: The form is too long and looks forbidding.

Mistake #9: You use drop down boxes — people have a hard time with those drop downs. Personally, I always hate those state drop downs — I enter P for Pennsylvania and get Paulau, or some other location like that.

Mistake #10: You use the word “submit” on your submit button instead of “Click here for your top 10 mistakes report.” In other words, you aren’t using every tool in your kit to maximize your conversions.

Bonus Mistake: Your form has a “Reset” button. People hit it by accident and are furious when all their hard work disappears. (2014 update: this is probably the only mistake that I never see anymore….)

And just think — you didn’t even have to go to the conference to learn all that…

Updated November 20, 2014