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5 ways to Optimise Forms for Data Collection and User Experience

At Formisimo we track millions of form interactions. Our data shows us that users often drop out if confronted with a question they don’t want to answer. Cutting out these questions can raise your conversion rate.

However, we all know this means sacrificing data. And data is fab. Knowing more about your customers or potential users helps you personalise your service to their needs and wants. It shapes what you sell and the way you sell it.

So where’s the balance?

Here’s 5 ways to gather data and provide the best user experience:

 

  1. Make it Short & Easy

Every form should be as simple & quick to complete as possible. The easier it is to fill out, the more likely the form is to convert well. Time is a precious commodity so your prospect must also perceive the form as looking quick to complete.

Arrange the form well. Long forms should be broken down e.g. with collapsed sections that open when you complete the previous part. Multi-page forms can appear long though. If your form is over several steps, appearing on different pages, then display a progress indicator, like so:

 

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Label all form fields with a simple name and make it clear what format you want the data in e.g. DD/MM/YYYY for date of birth or else be flexible with data formats. This avoids hesitation due to uncertainty and reduces the chance of errors.

Where possible, relieve the respondent of the task of giving you information by doing additional work in your code or admin. Postcode lookup is a good example of a feature that takes the work away from the user. Be careful of assuming gender or sex though. The two are mutually exclusive and neither can be deduced from name, title or each other.

 

  1. Test ‘Required’ And ‘Optional’ Labels

Although I usually recommend removing all questions that aren’t strictly necessary for a transaction, the need to gather marketing data conflicts with this.

You’ve got a few options to try when it comes to how you label your form fields:

  1. Mark only the required fields
  2. Mark only the optional fields
  3. Don’t mark any fields with either label
  4. Mark both the required and optional fields

In the case of ecommerce checkouts, it’s best to mark both required and optional fields (according to the latest research by Baymard Institute). This helps to “remove any uncertainty and improve form completion times”. See the optimal example in the image below:

 

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However, Baymard Institute also note that non-ecommerce forms are not as affected by this issue.

User experience expert Erin Walsh found that marking fields as optional by labelling them with the word ‘Optional’ was preferable to using a symbol to represent either optional or required. However, by only marking optional fields you’re expecting respondents to understand that the other fields are required. This is small amount of additional effort but may cause errors.

You may get more information by stating which fields are optional fields, according to researchers at Cambridge, who wanted to understand voluntary over disclosure.

Baymard Institute also noticed that web users will often enter text in optional fields in order to avoid validation errors. The text may not necessarily be a real answer, e.g. entering‘NA’, despite the field being optional, see image:

 

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Consider that labels and symbols create visual noise so you may find you want to avoid the negative effects of using labels.

A red asterisk is commonly used to denote a required field but bear in mind that different audiences may be more or less familiar with such symbolism. Remember to build on the mental models of your visitors.

It’s always a good idea to test variations, especially in this case when there are obvious pros and cons for different design choices.

 

  1. Use Personalisation

You’re gathering data in order to market better to your customers but gathering data in a more personalised way may also yield more fruitful results.

You’ve probably seen examples of personalisation in marketing already, e.g. being addressed by name when log in to a site. Personalisation can make forms smarter too. You can avoid asking returning visitors any question they’ve answered before. Marketing platforms such as Hubspot allow you to queue up new questions once others have been answered on a previous visit. Hubspot call this ‘progressive profiling’.

  1. Incentivise Respondents

Turn getting information into giving something to your respondents. How will sharing information with you benefit the respondent?

For example: “Get 10% off your next purchase by registering for an account now” or “Would you like us to save your details so you can shop faster next time?”, as Speedo do on their ecommerce site:

 

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*Note: Showing a registration form after the transaction ensures you don’t create a ‘login wall’ which could put a shopper off their purchase.

Non ecommerce sites can similarly motivate users to fill out a form by offering exclusive content or a chance to win goodies.

 

  1. Explain How The Data Will Be Used

Often web users feel cautious about filling in a particular form field because we don’t know what the company will do with the information. “If I fill in my phone number will they ring me up?” In the example below it’s clear that your email address is required in order to fulfil the purpose of the form.

 

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Showing a clear purpose for the data will make asking for more understandable and reasonable, maintaining trust between you and the respondent.

Did we miss anything? Let us know your tips for form creation below.