Who likes filling out forms online? Before you even start to fill out a form, whether it is online or paper, if it is long, you know it is going to be a cumbersome process. Personally, I think this is why industry-wide multi-part forms have such a dismal completion rate — less than 15 percent. However, filling out a form does not have to be an experience that fills a person with dread.

We know you can achieve much higher completion rates. For example, our clients’ completion rates for their online credit applications are consistently over 75 percent. Results like this are not an accident—  they are achieved by design.

Designing forms is a tricky task because consumers in general do not like to give out their personal information. One survey says that less than 50 percent of website visitors even attempt to complete a basic form. Far fewer actually complete and submit a form.

Any abandoned form equals a lost lead, which means lost revenue. If someone decides to fill out your form, you have made the short list! They are almost done shopping.

Here are six of the most common design flaws that kill your form’s completion rates.

  1. Left is not right

As website designers, we know that how people read in the online world is very different from how they read offline. However, the left-to-right principle is so ingrained in us all that many designers still position content to read left to right. When it comes to forms, placing the label above rather than to the left of a form field is a much better user experience for the visitor because it allows the user to process the label and field all in one quick informational bite. Matteo Penzo’s label placement research and Luke Wroblewski’s findings verify that placing labels above an input field reduces completion times. The faster a task is to complete, the greater the chances a consumer will complete it.

  1. You ask too much too fast

People use the Web because they want convenience and speed. They are time-starved and looking for an easy way to complete a task. Half your visitors simply will not take the time to fill out a basic form, and lengthy forms with lots of input fields make people skittish (just like most people do not want to watch a long video.) Here is what works: break down the form content into steps/groups by categorizing the information you need (personal, financial, order details, etc.) Develop short screens for each category. This encourages applicants to continue filling out the form. Last year, a study of 650,000 users spanning 10 different industry verticals reported completion or conversion rates more than triple when the fields are spread over multiple pages.

  1. You forgot your manners

Waiting until after the user completes all the steps to acknowledge or interact with the person is poor communication. Remember that your form is one of the first steps towards building a relationship with your customer. Two-way interaction creates a positive experience and keeps the person engaged all the way through to completion. A status report helps users remain patient, especially when it comes to a multi-step process. That is why wait-animation indicators (spinning clocks, hourglasses, progress bars) that show you something is in progress are ubiquitous. Combining a status bar with simple success messages entices a user to finish and:

  • Visually confirms that a step is complete
  • Lets users know they can return and make changes
  • Makes it easy to return to a previous step
  • Gives applicants a final option to edit their answers before they press submit
  1. You take their trust for granted

Marketers are fixated with getting data so they can better target the consumer. Nevertheless, asking for unnecessary information is counterproductive. If consumers think you are asking for information that you do not need, they will typically respond by abandoning the form. Only ask for the information you absolutely must have; you will have a chance to ask for additional information later. The goal is to convert prospects into customers, not alienate them with a poor user experience. When it comes to online interactions, the following is an example of how weak a prospect’s trust at this stage of the customer lifecycle: a friend of mine was filling out a credit application for a home equity line. While he was still filling out the form online, the company called him. Mistake! The company assumed that because he was filling out the form he trusted them enough for them to call him. He felt creeped out and went with another company. Trust is tough to win and easy to lose; do not assume you have it.

  1. You wait for applicants to submit before showing entry errors

It does not matter how well you design a form—if you have input fields, people are going to make mistakes. Errors are entered for many reasons, such as unclear directions, accidentally skipping a field, typos, etc. But it is not the error that causes people to abandon the application—it is how you handle the error. Real-time entry validation and inline error handling allows users to complete form fields faster with less effort, fewer errors and greater satisfaction. Only one design tactic is error-proof — catching the mistake before the submit button is pressed.

  1. You tell them to leave the form

Whenever you send prospects to find information on another page or in another section of the website, you risk that they will not return to complete your form. If you need to provide additional information, such as FAQs or order information, make sure the information is provided contextually, right next to the related input field. Whatever solution you choose, NEVER take them away from the form input page.

The forms any Web designer creates set the tone for the entire company. If you design your form right and provide prospective customers with a positive user experience, chances are they will use your company again.

Article No. 455 | December 16, 2009
Article No. 730 | September 20, 2011

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Comments

thanks for the article. the timing is always apropos. what do you think of disabled submit buttons unless a form is complete? similarly, what's your POV on character entry limitations, such as numeric characters only for fields requiring a credit card number. the motivation for both is to minimize chance of error but i wonder about usability.

@David Dell'Agostino. Sorry for the late response. I think a disabled button is a very good user experience that shows the user that an needed action must take place before progressing forward. 

Im a huge proponent for allowing the necessary characters allowed in a specific form field. If a form is collecting a date of birth, then it shouldn't allow alphanumeric  characters. You are very right about limiting errors for the users, but it  also allows the user to remain focus on what's needed to complete that portion of the form. I like to find the simplest path to completion and I think users tend to like that path as well.