Successful Web Forms

Joe D

Regardless of the type of business you do on the Web, either in the B2B or B2C markets, creating a quality form for your website should be a top priority.  But what makes a form good or bad?  Some developers think that if they cram in a bunch of color, well-written text and lots of plug-ins they've got the whole thing nailed down.  In fact, if you focus on just those areas, you will only solve a small portion of the problems that most developers face with regard to form usability.

Forms are essential to increasing your business.  They help you to establish a method for contacting potential customers or clients by adding them to newsletter mailing lists, shopping cart abandonment notifications or other essential marketing tools. They also help you to know what your customers want from your website and brand. Understanding what people want is half the battle. Once you establish a clear picture of your site visitors, you can adjust your marketing tactics and increase your conversions.

What Is Usability?

Standard website usability is defined as the effectiveness and efficiency with which users are able to achieve specific goals within a Web-based environment.  There should always be a goal established for your users - either to make a sale or sign up to receive free content or information.  In order to accomplish both of these actions, your users must fill out some type of form.  The viability of your form and its ability to elicit information from your visitors is essential to the success of your online business. Forms are used to help your visitors achieve their goals – and to help YOU achieve your goals - so they must be effective and easy to use. 

There are six primary ingredients that are necessary in order to create an effective form.  I want to help you understand these ingredients and find ways to implement them effectively in order to get the best results from your forms.  Once you understand how these elements work, and why they are so important, building a productive form will be easier than ever before.

#1 - Actions

Actions are the buttons or links that help the user to perform an ‘action’ like submitting the form or continuing on to the next part of the purchasing process.

#2 - Help

A help section should always be provided to give users information on how to fill out the form and answer any questions they might have about why certain information is required.

#3 - Input Fields

These fields are where users can provide feedback and information and include fields such as check boxes, radio buttons, basic text fields, password fields, etc.

#4 - Labels

Labels are used to describe what is required from the user in each field.

#5 - Messages

Messages are used to give instant feedback directly to the user based upon the information they input into the form, such as an indication that the form was completed and submitted properly or that more information is needed in order to complete the form.

#6 - Validation

This element is used to validate that the information submitted by the user is acceptable, such as properly formatted phone number or email address.

Different Types of Forms

You will ultimately use different methods or approaches depending on the type of form you are creating. What are your goals?  Do you want to elicit feedback from your customers?  Do you want the user to establish a customer account or sign up for a marketing newsletter?  Do you want to create a point of contact for potential clients?  There are three basic types of forms that are used by a majority of businesses.  Below you will find a basic description of each to help you determine which approach would be best for you and your goals.

Appearance Forms

These forms will help you to establish a conversation and relationship with your site visitors, customers and clients just by the way they look.  Design plays an extremely important role in the development of these forms. Make sure to adhere to the guideline posted above and include those six elements in your design. When you create a well-planned, aesthetically pleasing Web form, you will get better results.  Pay attention to the alignment of your fields, labels and actions to create a form that not only looks good, but performs well too.

Conversation Forms

If your goal is to establish a dialogue between yourself and the people who visit your website, this is the type of form for you.  Remember that a conversation is a two-way street - it's not just about customers giving you information and interacting with you about their experiences on your website, it's also about you communicating back with them to answer questions, solve problems and let them know about new products or services that are available.  Don't use aggressive wording and make sure there is a natural flow of conversation to ensure that your customers feel comfortable with this type of form.

Relationship Forms

Some forms are designed to help create a relationship between your business and your customers or clients.  Because relationships are built on trust, it's important to establish trust in your form.  You can achieve this through the use of proper wording, color, imagery and a well-placed and respected logo.  Users feel much better when they know the form they are filling out comes from a trusted source.  Use this form to get to know your visitors, asking appropriate and effective questions that will help you to paint a clearer picture of what your customers want and need from your business.

Experiment and innovate – forms are a necessary evil and most customers these days must first trust your brand before divulging personal information. Polls, surveys, purchases…web forms have become a central element of our Web interactive experience. Make yours as simple, easy and painless as possible!