One of the often overlooked aspects of getting more visitors to signup for an offer is the actual form itself. Traffic, messaging, value proposition, offer, and pricing are all important. But once a visitor makes the decision to buy or sign up, the form is the only barrier in the way. How a form works, which fields it collects, the context of the form, and how it’s presented are all important issues. This article touches on the most important aspects of signup form optimization.

Simple and clear

This should go without saying and be a universal truth in all things marketing, simplicity and clarity are necessary. That doesn’t mean short forms with little text. It means forms with as much information and as many fields as is necessary to clearly communicate the offer and the requirements. Any confusion here will decrease conversion.

An example of what not to do.

An example of what not to do.

Context

The fields in a signup form must make sense in the context of the service, product, or offer. Don’t ask for birthdate in an ebook download form and don’t ask for car model year in an online study course signup. Those fields don’t make sense in the context of the offer.

Carefully consider every field in a form. A good rule of thumb is to take the point of view of a user and ask “Why do you need this piece of information?” for each field. If the answers aren’t along the lines of “it’s necessary to provide the service or fulfill the offer”, then get rid of it. Out-of-context fields are costing you conversions.

Label fields in a way that visitors can understand the context, the why, behind the field. If a label alone won’t get the job done, it’s worth a test to add some additional context to explain why you need the data. For example, if you ask for zip code in a car insurance quote, try testing a description next to the label like “(rates are different in some areas)”.

Don't ask an out-of-context question like this.

Don’t ask an out-of-context question like this.

Value specificity

Don’t ask pointed questions that users may have to lookup or may not know. Or if you do, allow for “I don’t know” answers or ranges of values. Questions like how many miles your car has on it or the exact balance in your bank account aren’t necessary and will result in users leaving and getting distracted while they check their bank balance. Ranges should work well enough in those scenarios.

If you absolutely must ask specific value questions, make sure there are clear instructions, examples, and a way to get even more info for confused users.

Give a dropdown of options, instead of free entry.

Give a dropdown of options, instead of free entry.

Format specificity

Don’t make the input value validation on form fields too strict. You need to give users some leniency in how they input data. Fields like dates, phone numbers, and addresses are common sources of this type of frustration.

In most situations, good format standardization can be done on the backend, after form submission. It doesn’t take much code to remove extraneous characters from a phone number like parentheses, spaces, and dashes. It may take some backend coding to get right, but it will increase conversions and lead to happier users.

Be lenient with input formats.

Error handling

An often forgotten piece of form optimization is error handling. It’s frustrating to try signing up for something and getting a generic “There was an error” message. Make sure error messages are specific, highlight the relevant fields, and provide all the information a user would need to correct the error.

Good error handling isn’t an easy thing to do. Set up a feedback loop and good form level analytics to understand where users are getting tripped up and why.

A good example of error handling.

Expectations

Don’t make users unsure about what happens next when they complete a signup form and don’t mislead them. A generic “Submit” button doesn’t tell a user what happens next. A “Signup” button that sends users into a multi-step process is misleading and confusing. Whenever possible use descriptive CTA buttons and form headlines that set proper expectations for users.

Try to use descriptive buttons, don’t use “Submit”.

Standards

What matters is that the form looks like a form a user has seen before and they understand how to use it. Single column or double? Field labels to the left or above? None of that matters. Make the form in a standard format and move on to optimizing other things.

Keep in mind though that standards change over time. Always keep an eye on what others are doing and what technology is enabling. 10 years ago, autocomplete was worthless. Today, it is absolutely necessary and expected for travel sites.

An example of what not to do.

An example of what not to do.

Form length (number of fields and steps)

Common wisdom tells us that shorter forms and fewer steps are the end-game. That’s just not true. This has more to do with context and expectations, not less being better.

If a user is signing up for an ebook download, they may expect to have to enter the standard email, name, and maybe company. Asking for a phone number and title though should reduce the download conversion rate. Why? Those fields don’t make sense in the context of downloading an ebook. So in this case, 3 fields are good. But if a user is signing up for car insurance, they may expect to complete upwards of 50 various fields. Removing a couple or adding a few won’t make much of a difference, as long as they’re relevant. It’s just a more complex process and users are ready for that.

The same logic applies to the number of steps in a signup process. A simple account creation process should probably be one step. But a bank account signup should probably be longer. Trying to combine too many questions into too few steps will decrease conversion.

We tested adding a field – increasing signups by 49.6%.

In this test we ran for a client, adding a field actually increased signups. In the context of the offer and signup form, the additional field made users feel like the product was being tailored to their needs and the simple select options made it easy to use.

Adding a field to this form increased signups by 49.6%

Adding a field to this form increase signups by 49.6%