16 April 2007

The perfect online form

Is there such a thing as the perfect online form? Unfortunately there is no form that is going to satisfy all the individuals who will visit your site.

The more information you insist on, the more likely you will put off potential visitors. There is an argument for stating that, if a visitor is not prepared to give you all the relevant information from the outset, they are not a serious customer and they will not buy.

Unfortunately it is not as simple as that. We have clients who have refused to give phone numbers and company emails at the point of gathering marketing collateral, so as not to get bombarded by sales people at a later date. Those people eventually became clients.

It is true that they are few are far between, but do you want to frighten them off?

There are definite benefits to asking for “required fields” in an online form to deter competitors picking up your latest literature; however a persistent competitor will always get their hands on your brochures eventually. But you may be right not to make it too easy.

I had a client who insisted on changing his online form asking for all fields to be filled in as mandatory. Three weeks later after he’d forgotten that he made this change, he approached my marketing manager to ask her why his leads had significantly decreased. He’d insisted on the change because he felt a large proportion of the leads were not serious. The problem was by making the change he frightened off 82% of the leads of which more than half of those would have been potential clients.

Sometimes it is better to tidy up your database in the back ground, and have a high volume of enquiries that you can then be selective with once you get into discussion.

My advice is shorten the form unless you have something that is so unique that people will jump through hoops to give you their details. Obviously if you are running an e-commerce site, these days people will expect to have to give out all their personal details. But remember to make the form as simple as possible.

1. If there are four or five steps involved, show that from the outset. This inhibits people from getting bored.

2. Make sure the hosting is super fast. This is the single most important part of the online transaction outside of the security in my opinion. An ugly fast site will win over a cumbersome pretty one every time. We are all in a hurry and we do NOT like to wait.

3. Use an SSL (secure socket layer) secure certificate to protect your customer’s identity.

4. Do not gather credit card details or personal information and then simply email to your office. This is not secure, yet so many businesses do it.

5. Keep the form as simple and as short as possible.

6. Use mouse over boxes with question marks in that people can hover over to find out what each field represents. Do not leave anything to the imagination. Keep you visitor focussed on the one goal of completing the transaction.

Follow these simple guide lines and you won’t go far wrong. Be careful not to copy a competitor’s site too. You have no idea whether or not they have done it correctly. At the same time they may be copying yours! If you want ideas, use common sense. Go to a site that you regularly buy from and I’ll guarantee they follow the majority of the principals I’ve listed above.

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