Steve Myers - Senior Optimization Consultant
Steve Myers
Senior Opti­miza­tion Consultant

In this, the sec­ond of our two-part series on form opti­miza­tion, we’ll tackle how your forms work, their on-page con­text, and error handling.

Review Part 1 of this series on Opti­miz­ing Form Elements

Place­ment

Where you place your form on a page can play a major role in how many prospects com­plete it.  Good place­ment comes down to two major things, con­text and convention.

First, con­sider con­text.  How much expo­sure to your prod­uct or ser­vice has your prospect likely had when they come to a page with a form on it?  Did they browse around the site first, or did they come directly from a search?  Are they likely to be ready to fill out the form when they come to the page, or will you need to do some sell­ing first?

If you still need to explain the ben­e­fits of your ser­vice, you prob­a­bly don’t want to place the form such that it’s the first thing a vis­i­tor sees on the page.  Eye move­ment stud­ies that inves­ti­gate how peo­ple typ­i­cally view a page tell us that we typ­i­cally begin in the upper left cor­ner of the page.  This makes sense, because in most West­ern lan­guages, this is how we read – top to bot­tom, left to right.  Fol­low­ing this con­ven­tion, from the eye’s start­ing point (where most sites place their logo), your eye moves to the right, then down and to the left (or to the first thing that cap­tures your interest).

Plac­ing your form on the left side of the page near the top may func­tion well if the work of sell­ing has already been done, and the vis­i­tor comes to the page with the expec­ta­tion of sign­ing up for some­thing or mak­ing a pur­chase.  If not, plac­ing a signup form before a prospect under­stands what they’re sign­ing up for and “what’s in it for me,” ask­ing for their infor­ma­tion first can feel as pre­ma­ture as bring­ing an engage­ment ring to a first date.

It’s nor­mally best to apply the con­ven­tion that most form pages use – plac­ing them on the top right of the page or at the bot­tom of the page.  Which will work for you depends partly on how long the page runs and how much sell­ing you must do before a prospect feels they’re ready to sign up.  For rel­a­tively short pages, plac­ing the form on the top-right tends to work well, since they can find the form with­out a lot of scrolling back up to the top of the page after look­ing over your sell­ing points.  If a vis­i­tor is likely to read every­thing you have to say before they’re ready to sign up, and your con­tent is some­what lengthy, con­sider plac­ing the form below your body copy.

Like most aspects of con­ver­sion rate opti­miza­tion, with form place­ment, you may cheat your­self if you just rely on best prac­tices.  It’s always best to test before mak­ing major changes.

Test Idea: Test the place­ment of your form on the page, such as on the top-right, the top-left, and at the bot­tom of your page content.

Promi­nence

How easy is it to find your form?  Does it draw the eye or fade into the back­ground?  These major fac­tors influ­ence how eas­ily vis­i­tors spot your form:

  • Color
  • Size
  • Promi­nent Placement

Color

Use more vibrant col­ors or those which are dif­fer­ent enough from the over­all color scheme of your page to draw atten­tion to your form.  Places where you can use more notice­able col­ors to call atten­tion to the form include the back­ground behind its head­line, a sur­round­ing bor­der box, or the form’s background.

Test Idea: Exper­i­ment with dif­fer­ent color treat­ments to draw atten­tion to your form

Size

The size of the form itself as well as its fields and label text all affect how eas­ily your vis­i­tors can locate your form.

Test Idea: Increase the size of the form, its fields, or label text to make it eas­ier to spot.

Promi­nent Placement

As men­tioned ear­lier, the more promi­nently you dis­play your form, the more eas­ily your prospects will find it.  Avoid plac­ing forms at the bot­tom of long pages unless you feel that a vis­i­tor must review the entire page’s con­tent before they’re ready to make a decision.

Limit Dis­tract­ing Links

One approach that I have seen work well is to limit the amount of nav­i­ga­tion on a lead cap­ture page to just those links that are nec­es­sary to make a deci­sion to com­plete the form.  One client that I worked with removed most of the site nav­i­ga­tion on their lead col­lec­tion page, strip­ping it down to just the logo and a few links directly related to the prod­uct they wanted to sell.  This resulted in sig­nif­i­cant lift.

Ban­ners and inter­nal pro­mo­tions like­wise can dis­tract a poten­tial prospect from com­plet­ing a form or mak­ing a purchase.

Test Idea: Eval­u­ate your form page to find poten­tially dis­tract­ing links that might draw vis­i­tors away from com­plet­ing the form.

Error Han­dling

One of the most frus­trat­ing things that I encounter when fill­ing out forms is poor error han­dling.  Make your form as flex­i­ble as pos­si­ble.  I have seen some forms where the phone num­ber required the use of dashes or had to use paren­the­ses to sur­round the area code.  When error han­dling gets in the way of enter­ing valid data, it can hurt your con­ver­sion rate.

When a field is miss­ing or com­pletely doesn’t fit the for­mat that’s rea­son­able for that type of data, make it as easy as pos­si­ble for a per­son to cor­rect their mis­takes.  Include text that tells not only what field is incor­rect, but in what for­mat you need it.  High­light the fields that have prob­lems, either by chang­ing the style of their labels, chang­ing the back­ground color of the area sur­round­ing the field, or in some other way that makes it clear what needs to be fixed.

If error han­dling hap­pens server-side, such that a new page is dis­played after sub­mit­ting, be sure that you don’t make a per­son re-enter any infor­ma­tion that was correct.

Captcha’s

Many sites use graphic images with let­ters and num­bers on them that must be entered into a form field.  These are meant to cut down on spam and bogus leads.  While they can be very effec­tive in reduc­ing the num­ber of bad leads, they can also very effec­tively reduce the num­ber of good leads.

In my opin­ion, most sites should use Captcha’s only in cases where there is no way to fil­ter out bad leads from your data­base on the server side.  If you must use them, con­sider using a ver­sion that is easy to read and won’t frus­trate your poten­tial prospects.  One clever way that I have seen of using Captcha’s is to use a more dif­fi­cult to read ver­sion on the first attempt to com­plete a form, which makes it hard for auto­mated sys­tems to read them, then on sub­se­quent attempts to cor­rectly enter the infor­ma­tion, use a much sim­pler, less clut­tered Captcha image.

Test Idea: Test remov­ing Captcha images from your 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.

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