I'm marrying a librarian in August.
She raised an eyebrow at the pile of books on the coffee table the first time I brought her home. She picked up the top book - 'Forms that work' by Caroline Jarrett and Gerry Gaffney.
I could tell she was just being polite.
I explained that I read these books so my clients don't have to.
I had been re-reading my stack of books on getting more people to fill in a website enquiry form. I've spent thousands of hours chipping at this problem in the 10 years I've worked online.
You couldn't justify spending that long if you had one website. In my case improvements benefit all the websites on the MarketingMotor system. Thousands of people see one of our enquiry forms every day. Almost a million people have completed a form and become sales prospects for my clients. Collectively it's worth the effort.
I started working with AdWords 2009. The accepted benchmark then was 1 sales lead for every 100 people who visited the website. Put another way, 99 of every 100 people you paid Google to send to your website disappeared forever. What a waste!
The engineer in me couldn't resist the challenge and so the tinkering started. > 1 000 hours later some of our sites do as well as 30 sales leads for every 100 visitors. I'll rest when 80 of every 100 visitors become sales leads.
Here are some of the things we've done to convince more people to fill in enquiry forms. You're welcome to use any you like.
We started out with the typical website layout. - a main body with a menu down the left hand side. The menu had a link to the 'contact us' page. We hoped the visitor would read the page and then spot the link in the menu. She'd go to the contact page and fill in the form. It's a typical way of doing it and we got typical results.
The first improvement came from putting the contact form in the sidebar instead of just a link to the contact form.
The next came when we moved the contact form from the sidebar into the main part of the landing page. It was almost impossible to miss. It was a controversial move. The thinking at the time was that you shouldn't interrupt the reading flow by putting anything in the middle of the text. I didn't care because we saw another happy lift in the number of people filling the form in.
But then Steve Jobs wrecked everything with the iPhone. Websites had to work on tiny screens. 2 column layouts are too wide because everyone started scrolling down instead of sideways.
We changed to a 1 column layout for people on mobile phones and kept the 2 column layout on bigger screens. I liked the clean minimalist look of the single column and later used it for both phones and computers.
Warning. Technical ahead.
In the old days you'd have used a 'text' input for almost everything. Many contact forms still do and they're missing out. Use the email field type instead.
When you use the 'email' input type (type='email') it changes the keyboard screen on a phone to make it easier to get to the @ symbol. Some browsers check email fields for mistakes like forgetting the @ symbol or a dot as you type.
CAPTCHA is the jumbled up letters or puzzles you have to solve before you can send a form. Make it hard for people to fill in your form and they will go elsewhere. These puzzles kill conversions.
I've written about CAPTCHA in the past. I won't bore you again. Instead I'll just leave this here - if your web designer says you have to have CAPTCHA to stop form spam fire her and hire someone with imagination. Those jumbled up letters are standing between you an sales.
More technical ahead.
Autofocus puts the cursor into the first field, ready to start typing. You can see how it works if you visit our demo site. Your cursor should be in the first name field as you land.
When I started there was a lot of emphasis on 'above the fold' content. That's the bit of the web page you see without having to scroll down. In 2009 if it wasn't above the fold it was invisible. People weren't used to scrolling. That meant short wide websites and short wide contact forms.
Today people expect to scroll down to see more. Facebook and Twitter have trained us to keep going down down down.
Tall slender forms seem to be more attractive. I think it's because they need less thought to complete. Start at the top and work down.
You might want to ask a lot of questions to filter out tyre kickers or make it more efficient to respond. It doesn't work. Asking lots of questions does neither of these well and it stops the good enquiries too.
People don't fill long forms. We introduced a second form for cases where you need to get more information. It seems like this might be a first in the industry. I've written about it here.
It is true that you need some information to be able to respond. But if you force your future customer to give their email address AND their phone number you cut the number of people who fill the form in.
You've got a chance with a partial enquiry - perhaps just an email address. You've got no chance if they leave because you insist on an email address AND phone number etc.
Putting the easy fields at the top of the form gets the momentum going.
I designed the MarketingMotor enquiry form to start with the easy non-threatening stuff. It starts with the first name and last name. Everyone knows their name and we tell it to total strangers all the time.
Next comes the email field. We're a little more reluctant to part with our email address but in the context of an enquiry on a website it's expected.
The phone number field is a more of an ask. It comes with a couple of questions and some anxiety 'Which phone number should I give? Home, work, mobile?', 'Am I going to be bothered by a pushy salesman?'
The field isn't compulsory and if the person doesn't fill it in we ask them for it again after they've hit the button. I've written about this before here.
It's a small thing but the word 'submit' makes me feel like I'm on my knees in the red room of pain. 'Continue' seems less, well, submissive.
Short forms work better - to a point. A form with space for just an email address might make sense if you wanted some to subscribe to your newsletter. It's too short to be credible if you're allowing them to enquire about something you sell.
Check the form for things like the format of their email address before they hit the button. If you wait till after and show them a page full of errors they are less likely to fix them. Even worse is if you send them back to an empty form to start again.