You pay to bring vis­i­tors to your site, but you don’t get paid until vis­i­tors take action.  For finan­cial ser­vices com­pa­nies, your ser­vices are often too com­plex to close a sale online.  They may require one-on-one inter­ac­tion with a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive.  You must con­vince a vis­i­tor to sub­mit their infor­ma­tion through a web form, which often acts as the first step in your sales process.

Since col­lect­ing leads is so impor­tant to the suc­cess of your online ini­tia­tives, you have to get this right.  Your site can’t jus­tify its exis­tence by sim­ply pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion.  It must get results.  If your vis­i­tors find your forms con­fus­ing, if they don’t find them at all, or they don’t know what to do next, what hap­pened ear­lier in the fun­nel is of lim­ited value if you don’t cap­ture the lead.

Wel­come to the first in a two-part series on form opti­miza­tion.   We’ll explore why so many of your prospects don’t click the sub­mit but­ton. You’ll learn how to reduce the fric­tion, con­fu­sion, and effort that stops vis­i­tors from cross­ing the fin­ish line.  First we’ll dis­cuss the form itself.  In the sec­ond half of this series on form opti­miza­tion, we’ll learn how to opti­mize the place­ment and func­tion of your signup forms.

Head­line Optimization

Most peo­ple don’t read web pages.  They skim.  They scan.  They skip over as much as they can, because they have work to do and lit­tle time in which to do it.  When I worked as a full-time copy­writer, it pained me to real­ize that most vis­i­tors wouldn’t read my well-crafted copy.  They want to know just enough to decide if they should take action, so never count on them know­ing a web form’s pur­pose by the text on the page.

Head­lines and sub­head­lines are some of the few words a vis­i­tor will almost always read.  A good com­bi­na­tion of an infor­ma­tive, straight-forward (and per­haps even dull) head­line com­bined with a ben­e­fit or urgency-driven sub­head­line work well together.  The head­line answers the “what?” ques­tion.  The sub­head­line answers the “Why?”  Here’s an exam­ple of what I mean:

Head­line: Get Your Free Investor’s Guide

Sub­head­line: Learn How Suc­cess­ful Investors Cash In On
Deals Your Bro­ker Doesn’t Even Know Exist

Test Idea: Test Head­line and Sub­head­line combinations

Learn more about head­line optimization

Form Fields

How Many is Too Many?

In most cases, the more infor­ma­tion you ask for, the fewer vis­i­tors will com­plete your form, so ask for as few pieces of infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble to max­i­mize con­ver­sion rate.

Test Idea: Remove any form fields that are not absolutely required

On the other hand, the more rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion that you require, typ­i­cally the more qual­i­fied a prospect is.  If you get more leads than you can han­dle, or if you want fewer, bet­ter leads, con­sider ask­ing for more rel­e­vant information.

Explain Why You Need Information

If you need a piece of infor­ma­tion and it’s not clear why you’re ask­ing for it, explain why you need it.  For exam­ple, if you have set the expec­ta­tion that a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive will call to dis­cuss your offer­ings, vis­i­tors might be con­fused if you ask for their mail­ing address unless you explain that you will also send them a packet by mail.

Ask for just the infor­ma­tion that a prospect thinks you’ll need to pro­vide the ser­vice they requested.  When you ask for more than they think you need, they’re likely to pro­vide bogus infor­ma­tion, any­way.  I do this fre­quently, so I apol­o­gize to who­ever might actu­ally have “blah@​blah.​com” as their actual email address.

Fol­low Required Field Conventions

Make sure to flag any required fields with an aster­isk before the field’s label.  This makes it easy for prospects to know what they can skip with­out encoun­ter­ing errors.

Group Sim­i­lar Fields

Many fields fall into nat­ural group­ings, such as parts of a mail­ing address.  Group these together, and avoid span­ning them across two columns.

Field Order

When there is a log­i­cal order that fields should be in, fol­low it.  For exam­ple, order address fields in the order in which they appear in a postal mail letter’s address.

For fields where there is no nat­ural order or con­ven­tion to fol­low, con­sider plac­ing less per­sonal infor­ma­tion fields before those that vis­i­tors may be less will­ing to divulge.  When a vis­i­tor has filled out a few fields already, they are more likely to con­tinue, since they have already invested time that they don’t want to feel was wasted.

Test Idea: Con­sider reorder­ing form fields, ask­ing for the least per­sonal infor­ma­tion first

Remove Dis­trac­tions

If your form has ele­ments which dis­tract vis­i­tors either before fill­ing out a form or at the end of the process, con­sider how to min­i­mize or remove them.  For exam­ple, I have seen many forms where Pri­vacy Pol­icy links and “Hacker Safe” logos nes­tle right next to the final sub­mit but­ton on a form, almost beg­ging a prospect not to com­plete their form.

When your prospect is “on final approach,” make every effort not to dis­tract them from com­plet­ing the very task that you paid to bring them to the site to do in the first place.

Test Idea: Con­sider mov­ing any dis­tract­ing ele­ments from the top or bot­tom of the form.

Trust Logos

Con­sider the place­ment of your trust logos such as those which cer­tify the secu­rity of a site.  They will usu­ally have the most impact at the point where a prospect first has to make a deci­sion influ­enced by how much they trust you.  This is often the point at which you ask for a credit card num­ber or other per­sonal information.

Test Idea: Test plac­ing trust logos at dif­fer­ent points in your lead cap­ture process.

Note: For more estab­lished brands, trust logos likely have less impact than they do for lesser-known com­pa­nies.  If I’m on the bank­ing site of a For­tune 100 com­pany, I’m prob­a­bly going to assume that it’s safe to give them my information.


What form opti­miza­tion tech­niques have you dis­cov­ered that yield the biggest lift in con­ver­sion?  Com­ment on this post to weigh in and join the con­ver­sa­tion.  We’d love to hear what you have to say.

In the last part of this series on form opti­miza­tion tech­niques, I will go over top­ics related to the place­ment, func­tion­al­ity, and lay­out of forms.  If you have addi­tional form or other con­ver­sion rate opti­miza­tion top­ics that you would like me to cover in future posts, just add a com­ment to this post.


Steve Myers
Senior Opti­miza­tion Con­sul­tant
Adobe Test&Target