Web forms are an important component of a website no matter its size or complexity. In fact, web forms are easily one of the most important parts of the website.
A properly implemented web form serves a multitude of purposes; collecting survey results, payment information, contact information or just receiving general inquiries. Regardless of its purpose, websites forms should follow some basic best practices to ensure proper utilization and ideal performance.
The following best practices apply to majority of circumstances though some exceptions may arise.
1. Add a title. Title the form(s) to identify its primary purpose, for example, Contact Form, Billing Information, etc.
2. Split up long forms. If your form is long, split it up into multiple sections and/or pages grouped by topic. Splitting up lengthy payment forms into Billing address, Shipping Address, Payment information, etc. will help to structure your form and make it less intimidating to a shopper. When breaking up a form, identify all the steps and indicate the step currently in use. It’s also good practice to allow a visitor the ability to go back to a previous step if required. For substantially lengthy multi-step forms, I suggest indicating how long the entire process may take. This lets the visitor gauge if they have enough time to complete the form, reducing abandonment rates for those who run out of time.
3. Label each field. Clearly label each field or box – don’t use short form – and identify which fields are required. Pre-populate or provide the options for fields with common answers. A country field should have a list of the countries you sell to. A state or province field should provide a drop-down list of all the possible options. Even a general inquiry form could list a few options in a field for indicating type of inquiry.
4. Display formatting preferences. If you require a certain format for data, show a formatting example. Phone numbers commonly use dashes between each of the number groupings, however, if you require an area code or a long distance extension, show the formatting you prefer a respondent to enter.
5. Provide ample room. Make your boxes big enough so the respondent can see the full contents of their entry.
6. Buttons. Use clear, visible and understandable buttons. In multi-step forms use buttons that identify the purpose of the button. Buttons like, Next, Buy, Process, Submit, help the respondent understand what will happen if they click on the button.
7. Display error messages. Providing error messages clarifies what the respondent has done wrong and needs to be fixed before a form can be completed. Ideally, data already provided should be saved to alleviate any frustration in having to re-enter it while fixing the error messages. Clearly labeled fields and examples of formatting are sure to decrease the amount of error messages a visitor encounters.
8. Only what you need. Don’t ask every question you can think of just because it would be nice to know. Only collect information absolutely necessary to completing or process your form’s request.
9. Save your data. Don’t just send data to respondents via email. If possible don’t send sensitive data via email at all – this can be a hole for a security breach. Instead, save your form’s data onto a database and send the respondent a notification email to login to your system and view the data this way. Saving data onto a database will provide much more flexibility for future reporting, sorting, or filtering.
10. Thank you messages. Once someone has completed your form it’s courteous to thank them and tell them what will happen next. “Thank you. A customer service representative will contact you shortly…” or “Thank you for your purchase. Your order will be processed …”
11. Track it. One of the most important steps of managing any website form is tracking it with your analytic tool(s). If you are using Google Analytics, create a Goal(s) so you can better analyze what the visitor did, like actions before and after using the form. Analysis of this type will provide better understanding of what is working or not working.
Website forms should not be taken lightly and careful consideration should be put into their implementation. A website form is an apparent act of intention from a visitor. It also provides a very clear understanding of what they were doing prior to completing the form. Knowing what lead someone to proceed with completing a form will indicate the effectiveness of your website. Likewise, the success of a marketing campaign can be gauge based on how many form submissions are completed.