Most marketers know the benefits of using online forms on Web sites and
landing pages to capture leads. Forms offer a fast, easy way to help
separate anonymous Web visitors into motivated leads for marketing and
sales departments.

In a way, online forms are a toll booth to valuable content. Visitors
pay their toll by providing their contact information in exchange for
the content they want access to: white papers, executive briefs,
Webinar registrations and more.

The main issue with these landing pages is the drop off rate. Faced
with a form, some Web visitors are simply unwilling to part with their
personal information. That’s okay. It’s all part of the weeding out
process, separating prospects from tire kickers. But sometimes an
individual who could be a valuable lead drops off because the online
form itself or the way it is presented is fraught with problems.

To ensure your online forms are doing all they can to capture qualified prospects for you, follow these best practices.

Why Use an Online Form?
Online forms are lead capture mechanisms. If you have a specific offer to share – whether promoted via a targeted e-mail campaign or available to all people visiting your Web site – you may ask prospects interested in your information to fill out a form. 

By requiring visitors to complete a form to take advantage of your offer, you are making it clear that you want their contact information.  Keep in mind that your prospects’ contact information is valuable – therefore, your offer should provide information of value as well.

Choose Fields to Include on the Form
The most important thing to remember: the longer your form and the more fields you require to be completed, the higher your drop off rate. Therefore, evaluate the worth of every field on your form. Do you really need to get a prospect’s fax number right now? Is it absolutely necessary to know their title?

Your offer will help determine the amount of information you require from a prospect. If your offer is a white paper, getting a name, company name and e-mail address might be a fair exchange. If you only collect this minimum of information, you can use lead nurturing processes to gather additional contact or demographic information in subsequent communications with prospects.

If your offer has a much higher value, such as a product sample, or if you are providing an online request for quotation (RFQ), you can justifiably ask for and require more information from prospects. With high-value offers, you can also ask qualifying questions, such as buying time frame, interest area, whether the prospect has budgeted for the purchase and other questions that will help you qualify the prospect as ready for your sales team or not.

It’s okay to include optional fields on your forms. Just make sure that what’s required and what’s optional is clearly marked. It’s also a good idea to include an open field for any comments a prospect might want to type in. You’ll often get valuable information about a prospect’s readiness to buy.

Pay Attention to Usability
Studies have shown that single column forms achieve better results than forms that have fields in two or more columns. It’s simply easier to move down the page field-by-field rather than having to move both sideways and down the page.

Also, make the fields intuitive. Fields should be long enough to contain the information requested. Include separate fields for street address, city, and ZIP code. If you are collecting information on country of origin, offer a drop-down box allowing users to select their country. This not only makes the form easier to fill out, it gives you more accurate data.

Make sure that form fields are visible on the page without scrolling.  The “submit” button should also be easily found on the page.  It should look like a button and include actionable text, such as “Click to download paper.”

Also, reassure visitors that they have come to the right place by conveying the offer prominently on the page.  This is especially true for prospects who have found the landing page as a result of an e-mail campaign.  Include a similar look and verbiage on the page.  And keep it clean – fight the urge to fill the page with multiple messages about your company. 

Finally, provide a link to your privacy policy explaining how you will use a prospect’s personal information. Reassure them that you will not trade, rent or sell their information, and that you will not harass or spam them either.

Discard Useless Results
There’s always going to be those clever users who put an ‘X’ or something equally useless to you in every required field. You could add behind the scenes programming to your form that checks for valid e-mail address formats, phone numbers and such. But you may not want to bother. If some people get content from you without paying their “toll,” it doesn’t matter in the long run. They likely aren’t real prospects, and if they are, they’ll come back again at some point in the future.

Test Your Forms
The best practices here are guidelines. To really optimize your online forms you must test them. Measure your form conversion rate by calculating the percentage of visitors who access the landing page and actually complete and submit the form.  This provides a baseline that you can test against. 

Try changing the required information, the number of fields, the form layout and other factors to see what changes help conversion rates. Test one item at a time.  Incorporate those changes that drive positive results, and you will incrementally improve your online forms, leading to more qualified prospects and potential sales for your company.

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