educational

Building Better Join Forms

Stephen Yagielowicz

For e-commerce website operators, web forms are a vital ingredient, whether used for paysite joins or product or service sales, or customer feedback and inquiries. Knowing if your site’s forms work is an easy enough process, but how do you know how well they are working, from a performance standpoint — not performance as in “how fast does it load” (although speed is a serious concern), but performance as in “does my form encourage completion?” and “what can I do to improve this performance?”

The process of evaluating your web forms is known as “A/B testing,” which simply involves splitting your traffic between your “A” (or control) offer and your “B” (or test) offer, measuring the effectiveness of each approach. The winner becomes the new “A,” fueling another “B” test run, indefinitely repeating the process to fine-tune your approach and profits.

Although testing form elements is an unglamorous way for webmasters to spend time and energy, this often-overlooked task is vital.

Although testing form elements is an unglamorous way for webmasters to spend time and energy, this often-overlooked task is vital, because web forms are the foundation of all user-generated data — including website purchase and subscription orders. If you expect to make money online, requiring the prospective customer to fill out a web form will likely happen at some point, so by testing, optimizing and retesting your site’s web form elements, online form completion and sales conversion rates should improve dramatically.

Here are some testable things to look for when evaluating your web forms. The important thing to consider at the outset is the granularity of the data that is testable using an A/B methodology. These factors include the form’s design, content and context, with the individual test points being as simple as the font’s text type, size, style and color.

On the design front, test the form’s layout to see how many columns and what size is best (and does it scale well on mobile devices). Then there is the alignment of a form’s text labels, where options such as inline, left, right and top are available: this is not just a matter of its appearance, but of the languages that your customers speak, where text may not read left-to-right (as in English), but right-to-left instead.

Color schemes are also important, as some colors are culturally significant, while other colors help (and others hinder) sales impulses, so be sure to test this as well.

Content is an important consideration that is also testable.

For example, headlines and calls to action, as well as items such as product descriptions and pricing are all easily split tested, as is the link to the tested form: does the text “Enter Here” or “Join Now” pull better, making more sales for you?

Minimizing the length of your form and streamlining the data you require are all steps in the right direction but it is important to test for the sweet spot, as the information you otherwise might garner could make a big difference. Tweak the form’s “submit” button, where factors such as size, shape, placement, color and text label, are all important and testable. Labels and tooltips that offer help to the site’s users will also come into play.

Another major roadblock is a website’s captcha field, which fights against spam and automated login attempts, but can also frustrate users and kill sales. Test your form with and without a captcha added to see if the loss in revenues offsets any potential increase in spam.

Finally, consider context and relevance in form location and positioning, where adding a streamlined join form to tour pages, or using modal windows or a form customized to the site’s content is effective.

From the free A/B testing features available to Google Analytics users, to dedicated tools such as the Visual Website Optimizer (www.visualwebsiteoptimizer.com) and more there’s a wide range of available tools for easily performing split testing of a website’s form elements.

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