Forms: Are You Ignoring the Biggest Leak in Your Marketing Funnel?

Forms haven’t changed much in 20 years.

The screenshot below shows the contact form on a Fortune 500 company’s website in 1996, and in 2016.

In the early days of the web, forms were just digital versions of paper forms. As the web evolved, countless innovations in web design improved online user experiences, but web forms seem to have been left behind.

Why should we care about forms?

Last year, my team ran an A/B test on the form of the website BrokerNotes. We sent 50% of the website’s traffic to the existing version of the homepage, and the remaining 50% to a new variation we had designed.

The new version of the form generated 212% more leads; Without changing anything but our web form we had tripled the number of leads we were getting from every $1 we spent on traffic acquisition.

Like us, many organizations are starting to realize the impact that better forms can have on their bottom line. Hewlett Packard recently claimed that changing their web form resulted in a 186% uplift in leads. Expedia also generated an extra $12 million per year just by removing one field from their web form.

As the amount of choice we have online continues to increase, consumers are becoming less tolerant of poor user experiences. Forms are one of the biggest culprits of these poor experiences, which is why it’s now more important than ever to reconsider our approach to forms.

Forms are costing us money, but we don’t realize it

For most organizations, forms are the bridge separating anonymous strangers from valuable leads.

Every single online lead must cross that bridge, so it makes sense that you should have a high-quality bridge. Unfortunately, most of our forms are more akin to the rickety bridges from Indiana Jones than the well-engineered kind that we’d like.

Part of the problem, though, is that most organizations just don’t realize how rickety their bridge is in the first place.

Why have we ignored forms for so long?

Forms are surprisingly hard to get right for a few reasons.

First of all, there are conflicting motives at play. The sales team want as much data as they can get their hands on, which means adding more questions. The marketing team wants the highest quantity of leads, which typically means asking fewer questions. The IT team want to tick this task off of their to-do list quickly, which means they’re likely to do what everyone else is doing (i.e. build a ‘paper form on the web’).

Another reason might be that it’s just not that well known that there is a better way. Most marketers might look at a 3% traffic-to-lead conversion rate and be satisfied. That is, until they learn that it could be 5, 10, or even 15%.

What can we do about it?

The benefits of a well-optimized form are clear; The ROI of all upstream marketing activity will improve, and the number of leads your organization receives will increase. So, what can we do to unlock these results?

1. Forms must be the responsibility of the marketing team

First, forms must become the responsibility of the digital marketing team. Instead of leaving the form to the IT team’s imagination, marketers must carefully plan how the form should segment and capture leads as soon as they visit the website.

For example, the form on segments people into four ‘buckets’ and then redirects people to a different product demo based on the bucket that they fall into. This makes sense because the form is viewed as a part of the digital marketing funnel, and not just as an afterthought by the IT team.

2. Optimize for user experience

Forms are one of the most interactive parts of your website and therefore need to take into account how people interact with forms in various contexts and environments.

When the web was first created, people interacted with forms using a mouse and keyboard on a computer at home or in the office. Now, over 35% of web interactions happen on a mobile device which means they’re using their fingers — and they could be anywhere. The list of considerations for modern form design is extensive, and there are entire books written on the topic. You can see a full list of 58 modern form design principles here.

3. Re-imagine forms from the ground-up

Most people dislike filling out forms for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons is that few organizations pay attention to making their forms fun or interactive, resulting in a dull form experience. While this may not seem particularly relevant in a marketing context at first glance, it can be the difference between a 3% conversion rate and a 30% conversion rate.

Companies like Wealthfront, The Zebra and Crew have demonstrated that forms can be made fun and engaging using visual and interactive elements. In my own experiments, I have found that using large visual image buttons, like the one shown here, increases form engagement rates.

4. What gets measured gets managed

Finally, it’s important that your marketing team measures the performance of your forms. In fact, if you don’t already measure the conversion rate of your web form it’s possible that seeing this will provide the motivation and justification to invest in optimizing it.

Conclusion: Is there an easier way?

Optimizing forms is one of the quickest ways to significantly improve online marketing results for organizations that engage in lead generation. From my experience, it’s not uncommon to see increases in leads ranging anywhere from 100–700%.

Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever before to upgrade the forms on your website. With services like Leadformly (for lead generation forms) and SamCart (for checkout forms), you no longer need to hire expensive consultants to get a high-converting form up and running on your website.

With increasing competitive pressure, organizations will inevitably have to adapt and improve their forms. The question is not if, but when. Which raises the question of who will take the first move — you, or your competitors?