Expert Interview with Al Mackin on Improving Online Forms
Al Mackin, co-founder and CEO of Formisimo, says that overall, one of the most important things business owners can do with their online forms is to make them much easier to complete. Shorter forms routinely have higher conversion rates and can help reduce some of the friction that forms can create between users and businesses.
But there are other ways to improve online forms, too.
“Ask better questions, be conscious of context, remove blockages and make your form smarter so your users have less to fill in,” he says. “Think about what the experience you’re creating for your users with your form and try to improve that experience.”
Al recently spent a few minutes answering questions for us about Formisimo and the best practices for building and using online forms. Here’s what he had to say:
What is Formisimo?
Formisimo is an analytics platform for improving online checkouts and forms. We track user every user interaction, crunch that data, and then identify the pain points. We reveal data like where customers drop out, where they make the most corrections, and where they spend the most time. This data shows our customers what they can change in order to increase conversions.
What are the benefits of using Formisimo?
Formisimo helps you to understand how your users are behaving in any form on your website. You’ll see a greater degree of insight into user behavior and form performance than with any other analytics tool. We’ve been built from the ground up to tackle the huge problem of checkout and form abandonment.
Whether you use Formisimo on a signup form or a checkout, you’ll be able to identify pain points field by field. These insights are used to optimize your form and increase your conversion rates.
The tool is easy to install, requiring just 60 seconds of time, and you’ll start to see real-time data almost straight away. Our most powerful reports are updated overnight, and we reveal insights in beautiful, easy-to-understand reports.
What are some best practices for building online forms for checkout, registration or inquiry?
Any changes should be tested, as all websites are different; but these are general rules to follow for any form:
- -Keep it as short as possible. Cut or delay any questions that aren’t vital to completing the conversion. For lead generation forms, cut questions in order to increase conversions and then nurture leads better. On ecommerce sites, don’t force shoppers to create an account before they go through the checkout; build it into the thank you page instead.
- -Don’t repeat questions for security or data integrity (e.g. “retype password.”) Most web users don’t like the effort of retyping and will copy and paste, replicating any error. Get the user through the process as quickly as possible.
- -Keep users focused. Only have one call to action on landing pages and isolate checkouts from the main site to remove distractions. Shrink down the navigation and any other links on the page, and remove anything that would excite the user and take them back to another part of the site.
- -Alleviate tasks. As well as cutting unnecessary questions, you can make it easier for users to give information. For example, when adding credit card details, code your form to detect the card type from the card number. You can also allow mobile users to scan new payment cards with their camera.
- -Maintain trust. Show that your checkout is secure and that you won’t misuse their personal details, and don’t trick users into joining your marketing list. If you’re asking for very personal or non-standard information, explain why you need it.
- -Make your form accessible. Code your form fields to be easily navigated with a keyboard, ensure field labels are associated with form fields, and avoid using CAPTCHA.
What are the most common mistakes you’ve observed in how forms are used on business sites?
The biggest blocker to conversions is too many form fields. It may be that the form is asking for information that the user isn’t ready to give (like a phone number), or simply that the user suffers from form fatigue after being daunted by the effort of answering many questions.
Forms are one of the main ways that marketing information is gathered, but users don’t feel any incentive to provide details that will result in targeted selling. Either gather marketing information more gradually with smart forms, or offer incentives (like 10 percent off their next order) when an account is registered.
On the same note, mobile users need to be able to complete forms even faster. They experience increased difficulty filling in forms on smaller devices and are subject to myriad distractions.
We also see poor error handling in many forms. If users submit a form only to have it return an error or multiple errors, they’re very likely to give up on the process. We recommend:
- -Good labeling and more flexible data formats to avoid errors in the first place.
- -Inline validation so users can see and correct errors as they occur.
- -Useful error messages placed next to the problem field so it’s clear what and where the problem is.
- -Validate and correct user data automatically, and use loose validation. Phone numbers can be input in many different ways; don’t punish your users because they’re not keeping to your strict view on how they should be added.
What metrics should business owners be following on their online forms?
Our reports chart the important metrics you need to know:
- -Form conversion funnel at three stages, from form visitors to starters to conversions.
- -Drop off points
- -Time spent in form fields
- -Most corrected fields
- -Number of fields completed before user submits
- -Performance by country, device and browser
What’s the most surprising information your clients learn about their forms while using Formisimo?
Some clients have discovered that parts of their form are broken, which they didn’t know until they could clearly see lots of users dropping off at a specific point. Validation errors are often the cause of the breakage; they don’t cope with anything other than a strict, standard format, and they punish users for not adhering to it.
They’re surprised to see the areas that users hesitate at. When you see the same form every day, you become accustomed to using it,; and it’s only when you see how real customers engage with it that you realize there are flaws.
Our clients are often shocked at the impact a small change in their form can make to the conversion rate and how many customers they’re losing.
Outside of forms, what other areas of the site are useful for business owners to analyze?
It’s important to understand the journey your users take through your site and with your product. Do you know how they get to the product page, or are you just assuming they follow the path you’ve designed?
Slow loading sites have higher bounce rates, so check that you aren’t losing conversions because users are getting impatient. There are some great ways to trim down your code and reduce the numbers of assets loading on a page, and keep in mind that users may not have a fast-connection.
Website copy is another big factor for conversions. Copy is your main method of communicating with and persuading your prospects. Testing different copy should be part of your optimization strategy.
What are the most interesting or exciting innovations you’ve observed in how online forms are being used or assessed?
It’s great to see developers devising ways to reduce effort for users. Things like postcode lookup, card detection with mobile phone camera, automatic reformatting of data and alternatives to CAPTCHAs make it quicker and easier for user to fill out forms.
It’s getting easier for non-technical marketers to create forms, too, which helps reduce development time and expenses. More analytics services are expanding to offer form analytics as well. The importance of fixing the end of the funnel is being recognized now, but Formisimo remains the most powerful form analytics solution; and we work out of the box on 99 percent of all forms and checkouts.
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