Form Optimisation – the basics

Let’s be honest, forms are often a real pain to fill in and that’s why it’s so important to get them right, and minimise any friction when visitors are using them.

Designing forms with the user in mind and testing to find out where the pain points are can make a massive difference to the user experience. Forms are also a vital part of the conversion process, and one that is overlooked too often.

Let’s share some quick ideas on form optimisation.

Use inline validation

If users have made an error when completing a form, don’t make them wait until they click the submit button on the page. Inline validation can be a real winner, reducing errors, improving usability and increasing conversions.

You can also reassure the user about their progress, using a green tick for example to say that the field has been successfully completed.

Make fields clearer

The format in which users are expected to enter information should be very clear. For example, the length of passwords and requirements for numbers or special characters.

Also, mandatory fields need to be very clearly signposted in order to avoid confusion and errors.

Create understandable error messages

Don’t just use generic error messages, address the user’s problem directly.

This will help users to avoid the mistake a second time and it will reduce abandonment drastically.

Anticipate common errors

Even if the forms are clear and labels explain what is required, customers will still make errors.

Some are quite common, and can be anticipated, like using the letter ‘o’ instead of a zero, or ‘i’ instead of the number one. Use tooltips to anticipate errors and explain what the user should do/not do.

Keep forms short 

Long web forms are intimidating and will often scare potential customers and some will simply abandon rather than take the time to fill them in.

Test removing fields and see the impact – sometimes it is worth having less information from the user in order to have more leads/conversions. Systematically reducing the number of fields will have a direct impact on conversion rates and revenue.

Getting the number right requires some experimentation: there is no magic formula. A/B testing can help here to pinpoint what strategy works best for your business. And if you feel an information is superfluous, it’s always a good idea to remove it!

Give users a feedback on their progress

There are several ways of showing progress within a form, like progress bars and inline validation, and they all have valuable benefits:

  • Communicate with the customer and encourage them to continue
  • Provide reassurance/reduce uncertainty: we have your information and this is how much more we need
  • Increase satisfaction levels: appeal to a user’s drive to complete a task
  • Value your customer: we care about your time

It’s important to provide feedback on the users’ actions. What they’re inputting is being taken on board, the interface reassures them that the system is working. Informative guidance reduces uncertainty and creates the impression of speed, progression and achievement, making the process a positive experience.

Test date fields

Date fields are a very important part of forms and surprisingly one of the most neglected ones.

A lot of websites use drop-downs which is the most popular field option. But most popular doesn’t always mean quickest and this approach can take the largest number of clicks. But by pre-selecting the information an individual can choose from, drop-downs give you a consistent data set that’s more accurate than some of the other methods.

One less common approach is the text and drop-down combination which not only requires users to mentally switch from numbers to words and back again but they also have to switch from one field type to another.  Very time-consuming.

Calendars work well when users need to enter a specific date, often connected to a day of the week. Hotels, airlines and train lines use this extensively.  For date of birth, calendars are not a good option and can take longer to complete than drop-downs.

You just need to test different ways to approach the date fields and see which one is best for your website (or for a specific form/field).

Remember, optimising your forms can be a big competitive advantage!

Given the huge leverage that forms have over online marketing results and the fact that there’s so much opportunity to test form design, it’s unsurprising to see companies getting big increases from small tweaks to their forms.

Are you ready to start optimising your forms now?