Best Practices for Form Design in Internet Marketing

By Gregory Smyth

Much of web marketing strategy focuses on getting your prospects to the point of conversion - where they are filling out the form - and assumes that the rest will take care of itself. Actually, a fair amount of ill-will is created towards companies when consumers try to convert, but encounter errors or other factors that stop them from converting. Web analytics and the help of search engine marketing experts can give you a picture of what is happening on your site specifically - however, the first step is to check the general, obvious guidelines. We look at how to push consumers through the process for this small, but critical element of your website traffic.

The website design of your forms is another area of your web marketing strategy where there is no critical mistake that most people make, but a collection of small improvements can have an impact greater than the sum of their parts. Here are some quick tips for best practices in designing forms.

Some areas of website design need to stand out from the norm and provide a little personality - but form design is not one of these. Make them as reassuring, and as close to people's expectations, as possible. This includes leaving the inside of form fields white, rather than grey, and making the text they are filled out with black. Matching the length of the form field to what people expect is also critical. If you shorten your form fields to save space on screen, people will wonder if their data is being accepted. If you make the field too long, they will wonder what they are missing. Web analysis tools reveal slower form completion and higher dropout rates when appearance doesn't match expectation.

Forms need to be like a concierge, or a personal assistant, according to top online marketing agencies. They should do everything possible to help your customer fill them out, holding their hand and guiding them where necessary, and doing things for them when appropriate. For example, put the cursor in the first form field when users arrive at the page so they don't have to click on it. When it is known that a certain number of keystrokes indicates that the field is full, have the cursor jump to the next box automatically. Allow people to tab through boxes, rather than making them click on each individually. Give your form the memory of a concierge also - ensure that details are saved if they get distracted and hit a back button, or leave the page without filling it out completely.

Required fields can be the bane of customers' existence - top search engine optimization services and internet consulting agencies will tell you to ensure that you only 'require' fields that are absolutely necessary to complete the transaction. People don't like giving out their phone number or email address because they don't want to be spammed. If you want them to convert, try to gain this information at a later stage of the transaction.

On the technical side, drop-down boxes are best avoided - but if you must include them, try pre-filling with a popular answer, or putting the popular answers at the beginning of the box, rather than alphabetically in the middle of a long list. It is this mix of technical savvy and understanding the customer's point of view that will help your forms convert optimally.