5 Steps to Better Website Forms

Tips for creating more successful website forms

Woman completing a website form
Woman completing a website form.

Forms have been a common fixture on websites for many years. Website forms are used to gather information from visitors for everything from membership signups, to information requests, to making a purchase, to simply having someone contact your company for more information on the services or products or information that you are offering. Just because you add a form to your site, however, doesn’t mean that anyone will actually use it.

The design of your website's forms plays an important role in how successful they will ultimately be. Here are 5 steps you can follow to improve your site's forms and give them a better chance to be successful.

1. Give People a Reason to Fill Out Your Form

If you want your website form(s) to be successful, you need to give your site’s visitors a reason to want to fill them out. Simply adding a form on your page and requesting that people “complete this form to get updates” is not enough. For someone to give you their information and complete that form, you need to give them a compelling reason to do so. This could be to download premium content (whitepaper, software, etc.), to sign up to use a site’s services or to create a user account, to complete a purchase on an Ecommerce site, or to register for an event. In each of these cases, you are giving them something tangible in return for their information.

Before you add a form on your site, determine what you are offering in return for a completed submission and make sure that it is something that your audience actually wants and can use.

2. Design With Less In Mind

The more questions you ask on a form, the less likely visitors will be to complete it. A nice, concise form with only 3 or 4 questions has a better chance of being submitted than a form with 8 or 9 questions.

When building website forms, you need to be ruthless in editing down the number of questions asked. You should only ask for the information that is critical to your goals for the form and not information that would simply be "nice to have" or which may or may not be used at a later date.

A few ways that you can cut form fields are to ask what you would do with that information. If you have no plans to call people who fill out the form, then do not ask for their phone number! The same thing goes for a physical address. If you are not mailing them anything or using that address in any real way, remove it from the form. Even if you think you may use it in the future, by removing it now, you do not hurt your form today for needs that may never come tomorrow.

3. Create a Clean Design

The way a form looks can also impact its success. Even if a form is short and concise, if it is also messy and confusing, you will drive users away. Make sure that the text is easy to read with good typographic design (adequate size, contrast, typeface, etc.) . Also be sure to have a label with every form field so people know what they are filling out. Be sure to align all those labels and the form's input fields consistently.

This makes for a form that is visually attractive, which in turn makes it more likely people will not be turned away.

Building a form that is easy to complete means keeping the form as short as possible, but it also means that the form itself needs to look inviting and easy to complete.

4. Consider Mobile Device Access

Web forms are often meant only for users on desktop computers – but our site’s visitors are not only coming from desktop computers anymore. For some websites, visitors on mobile devices account for the bulk of that site’s traffic today. If your site’s forms are only meant to be used on a desktop computer, then you are alienating a sizable chunk of your potential audience.

There is an argument that filling out a form is not something many people would want to do on a mobile device, but to combat that argument I often point to text messaging.

Sending text messages are not much different than filling out form fields, and mobile device users are very comfortable with sending text messages. There is no reason why that comfort level cannot also apply to website forms. If you make the form short and easy to complete, and your site is optimized for a wide variety of devices and screen sizes using a responsive web design approach, then visitors on mobile devices should no trouble completing those forms.

5. Test The Form

Testing to ensure that a form actually works may seem obvious, but I am always amazed at how often I see a website get deployed with the forms are not working properly.

Sometimes the forms are submitting to the wrong place or email address. Other times the forms do not work at all, displaying error messages to any user who tries to submit their information. Even worse, there are instances where a form fails, but does not provide an error message, meaning no one has any idea that the form did not work as intended! Bottom line - if the form is broken, then so are your hopeful plans for that form.

In Closing

To work effectively, website forms must be deployed correctly on a site that also works well and loads quickly. By following the best practices presented in this article, you can design and deploy web forms that encourage your audience to share their information with you.

Edited by Jeremy Girard on 1/14/17