January 14, 2016, 1:55 PM

Creating website forms that give as well as they receive

Website forms need to instill consumer confidence at the most critical juncture in online commerce. So why are they still confusing, confounding, and chasing visitors away?

Lead Photo

Website forms are the virtual equivalent of a handshake between us and our customers. They’re where visitors agree to supply their most precious online commodities - facts about themselves and their hard-earned money. 

But it takes two parties to have a satisfying handshake. Our customers need to receive as well as give. 

In pure business terms, a smooth experience filling out and submitting forms can make or break the visitor experience. A bumpy submission process leads to conversion funnel dropouts. A quick and easy submission process dramatically boosts conversions. 

It really is that simple.

So, why are websites still requiring non-US customers to fill in the “State” field, insisting on knowing at what ‘cross street’ I live (a true story), and asking a thousand and one other really unnecessary questions? Why are so many website forms confusing, confounding, and chasing away both existing and potential customers? And what can we do about it, right now – today?

Let’s take a look at a few problematic form design and concepts, and see how we can do this better.

and Register Forms

Most websites offer a single page for both sign-in and sign-up. However, people often confuse these two types of forms – especially if the page layout doesn’t clearly differentiate between them. 

It’s easy to frustrate visitors by directing them to the wrong form. New visitors trying to sign in to nonexistent accounts may abandon your site altogether. Repeat visitors may create duplicate accounts, which wastes their time, annoys them, and makes it more difficult to track and identify their purchases, to personalize their experience, and to upsell. 

By way of example, on an online takeaway site the log-in form and registration form were placed one on top of the other. But 37% of new visitors who actually wanted to create a new account started interacting with the “existing member” form.

The reason for the confusion? Filling out forms from the top is a normal pattern of behavior, and this is what visitors did. Many visitors arrived on the page, skimmed the form, and clicked in the top field to start working. Only after completing several fields did they realize their mistake. 

Some visitors even perceived the two forms as one long form and filled out all fields, including redundant fields.

So, what should you do? If you decide to position your registration and log-in forms on the same page, avoid placing them one on top of the other. A better solution is positioning forms side-by-side, with a clear distinction between the two.

Delivery and Personal Details Forms

After registration or sign-in, the next stage in the conversion funnel asks visitors to submit or update personal details. This stage demands a higher level of trust, as many visitors are reluctant to share this information. 

To maximize confidence and keep visitors firmly in their comfort zone, it’s crucial that personal details be obtained smoothly. Some websites try too hard to streamline the personal detail collection process, resulting in unnecessary friction, frustration, and drop-offs. 

For example, auto address lookup - which retrieves visitor addresses based on previously-entered data - is a very popular feature, and can save visitors time and hassle. 

But in Session Replays, we noticed visitors receiving suggestions from the automatic address lookup. He or she would select one of the addresses, submit, receive an error message, select another...and receive another error message.

Despite the fact that the site itself offered address options in an attempt to facilitate conversions, none were acceptable due to a technical glitch. What’s more, none of the form fields were editable

This tool, which was put into place to help visitors convert, actually led this customer (and many others, until the error was corrected) to a funnel dead-end. The visitor couldn’t proceed, and had no choice but to leave the page. Leaking prospects from the bottom of the funnel like this has a disproportionately negative impact, both for customers and revenue. 

To streamline the conversion process, use automated address lookup wisely to avoid funnel dead-ends at checkout. Make sure your visitors can easily and quickly modify the information you retrieve for them – preferably on the retrieved data screen itself. Provide visitors with the sense of control over their personal details that helps them move forward in the funnel.

Payment Forms

At the tip of the funnel, representing the pinnacle of visitor trust, are your payment forms. Even once a new or returning customer has chosen your product or service and shared his or her personal details with you - the culminating step of taking out the virtual wallet and paying is still sensitive and delicate. This is where the vast majority of shopping cart abandonment takes place. As such, payment forms are truly your last bastion of visitor experience – it doesn’t get any more mission-critical than this. 

In the example below from a telecom provider, the first field visitors encountered when interacting with the form was “fiscal code”, a sensitive and unique personal identifier. Our Form Analytics Drop Report showed that 13% of visitors left the form after interacting with only this field, and another 10.5% left it blank, which generated errors upon submission.

Why? Asking for sensitive information upfront tends to scare off visitors. Placing sensitive information fields at the top of forms has been proven to lead to higher dropoff rates. 

What should you do? Once they’ve invested the time and effort of completing more routine details, visitors are often more willing to complete the more sensitive parts of the form. Create forms that start with the least sensitive fields (name, address, etc.), and put the more sensitive fields towards the end of the form.

The Bottom Line

The above are just a few examples of how websites can create forms that actually hurt their business.

The importance of form completion is clear. No other point on your website can better ensure you meet your business goals - or create visitor frustration, and encourage abandonment.

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