Web forms – how to secure their success

By Gavin Harris

The importance of web forms as online communication tools cannot be overstated. They are a crucial way for organisations to capture data and start engagements. An effective web form helps ensure the success of a company’s website and enhance the experience of any online visitor. It’s therefore worrying to see so many businesses continuing to use ineffective web forms.

The necessary evil

Website visitors often view web forms as a ‘necessary evil’ and a barrier preventing them from obtaining the information or interaction they require. Therefore, it is critical to make the web form process as easy as possible in order to enhance the customer experience. After all, if a consumer has a choice of websites, why wouldn’t they engage with the easiest to navigate?

Although a lengthy form can drive away custom, especially with goliaths such as Amazon offering one click purchases, it’s not just the retail industry which needs to worry about its web forms. Businesses of all types need to ensure their communication platforms are as user-friendly as possible.

Job applications are a perfect example of this, with many businesses requesting prospective employees to fill out a job history web form before asking them to also upload a CV. Although businesses need to be thorough, forcing applicants to duplicate information is the definition of an inefficient system.

Time to make a change

To help overcome the negative perception of web forms and to ensure they are well constructed Gavin Harris, senior user experience consultant from Box UK, recommends five tips to improve the User Experience (UX) of web forms. These processes will significantly boost any organisation’s conversion rate.

The five tips are as follows:

·         Justify the inclusion of each form field – keep forms as short as possible by only including input fields that are absolutely necessary. Nothing will put off consumers from completing a form more than having to spend excessive amounts of time doing so. Studies have confirmed a strong correlation between fewer questions and higher form completion rates and this must be taken into consideration, especially for those forms which automatically refresh after a set amount of time and wipe any previous data.

·         Tailor your forms with progressive disclosure – As longer forms are proven to deter consumers, a simple method to shorten them is progressive disclosure. This approach ensures consumers are only asked questions when they become necessary in order to keep the person’s attention. For example, if you’re donating money to a charity but wish to remain anonymous, it shouldn’t be necessary to input details such as a place of work and job title.

·         Consider the default form selections – To streamline the form process, its vital default selections are included, rather than leaving questions unnecessarily open ended. For example, rather than leaving a response open when asking which industry someone works in, offer a select number of options which summarise the likely responses. An ‘other’ option can be added which opens a text box for further information if required.  Also ensure the default is selected after research not on gut feel. Look at your web statistics or your submission logs. Make sure a good majority select the default value.

·         Support your users – Whether it’s 24/7 live messaging, call centres or simple guidance within the form itself, support is key to quality UX. A simple example is found within payment forms; where alongside almost all boxes requesting a CVC number, there will be a link to a page explaining exactly what this is. It may seem minor, but this could be the difference between securing a purchase and losing a customer who becomes frustrated with their experience.

·         Stop using CAPTCHA tests – Studies have shown it takes a user an average of 28.4 seconds to pass a traditional CAPTCHA (a replication test that proves they are human and not a spam bot). Additionally, most people found them annoying – particularly elderly and visually impaired users.

Alternative methods of blocking spam bots have long been available. These include preventable tools which stop spammers delivering junk and in many cases from visiting the site in the first place, as well as honeypots that automatically detect comment and trackback spam and stop it from being published on the site.

Put the customer first

Web forms comprise of many different elements, therefore it is vital to ensure each is given due consideration as part of a well thought out design to avoid a confusing user experience.

Consider the purpose of the form first and the specific needs of the users and business, while remembering to make every effort to keep the user journey quick and straightforward in order to ensure a quality experience that they will want to repeat.


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