Form Optimization Part 2 — The Big Picture
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.
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.
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:
- Prominent Placement
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
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.
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.
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.
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.