A super simple guide to building good web forms


Most web forms annoy users by asking unnecessary information.  Here's a simple guide to start fixing them.

Most web forms are pretty bad -- they ask for too much information and they make themselves hard to fill in. I read a good article today on how to design great web forms. It's obvious from the story's sheer length that creating a solid web form is much more difficult than simply asking a website visitor for a little information -- understand your audience, know where they will fill in the form, test the form with actual users in their actual environment...

While all the recommendations are valid, it's overkill for most forms.

Most forms are relatively simple, one-page affairs that help us contact a company, buy something, ask a question, etc. These forms need love too, and due to time and budget constraints they're not going to get the royal treatment described above.  Fortunately, we can cut the process down to one step:

When building good web forms, only ask the essentials.

Ask whatever you absolutely require to provide your site visitor with a good user experience. It makes things easier on your user, and typically a form's response rate is inversely proportional to the number of fields. (Fewer fields = more responses)

For example, and I see this all the time, does a company really need to know my shipping address when I'm buying digital products? What exactly are they planning to ship me? And for that matter, why do they need my billing address? Some companies use it for fraud protection, but most just use the zip code. It would be far simpler if you don't even ask me if I want to create an account (I don't) and just ask my billing zip code and credit card number. I'd be happier and you would have more sales.

As another example, when I want to contact a company about the services they offer, why do they need to know my company size? Are they only going to contact me if I have over 500 people? Unless they're just swimming in leads, they are probably going to contact me regardless. So why ask? 

(Half the time companies ask "because that's a field in Salesforce". Just because it's required for a salesperson doesn't mean it should necessarily be required for a website visitor.)

To help web development firms create better forms, I have created the "Designing a Web Form" flowchart (click for the full-size version):

Designing Web Forms - Flowchart

I hope this strategy can help us shorten forms across the web.

Jeff Robertson

Jeff Robertson is a digital marketer and an online development expert with experience stretching back to dial-up. He is partner and Chief Technology Officer at Carbon8, where he helps bridge the gap between the technical and marketing worlds, as well as oversees technical infrastructure.

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