Forms And Conversion Rates: Best Practices

November 20, 2005

Why do we marketers keep asking potential customers for information that we really don’t need? And why do we yell at potential customers?

Recently, I was asked to help a website owner increase the number of people that attend her four-day continuing education class. So of course, the first thing I did was scout out her two page site.

I could rant about the lack of scent on her site, but you can read the post I did last week on scent. I would rather rant about how awful her form and form error messages were.

She started the form by saying, “All information is required,” and then asked for everything imaginable. Your title. Your company. Your areas of interest. The name of your firstborn child.

“So,” I asked in my most diplomatic voice, “Since you don’t take credit cards, isn’t the goal just to get their name, their phone number, their email address and their PayPal money or a check? And once you have that information, can’t you email a personal note requesting follow up info?” And yes, she conceded, we could do that. And we will.

I think the part that really drove me the craziest, though, was how negatively she phrased information. For example, she wrote, “We have secured the special rate of $129/night at the local hotel, but you must register with the hotel by May 20. Reservations made after that date will not get the special rate.” How about a simple “Students can stay at the local hotel for only $129/night — offer good on reservations made by May 20.” I have another customer who insists on yelling at his potential customers, too. “You did NOT fill out the email address field!” his error messages read.

Here’s the litmus test on error messages: Would you say those words out loud to a customer who is standing in front of you? If not, maybe you’d better rewrite them.