Designing User-Friendly Forms: What You Need to Know

Lead generation forms on your website are one of the most important elements in marking your website work for you. Forms are vital and for users to fill them out there are many variables that must be considered. It is challenging to find the right balance between asking for all the information you need and not overwhelming your scaring away your users. However, it is absolutely vital that we spend time optimizing our forms if we want our websites to be successful lead generation engines. According to MarketingSherpa, 56% of marketers consider optimizing form logic to have a very significant impact on website performance. So, how do we do this?

Why I Have Form Anxiety

A funny story about forms…a few years ago I was creating a new Apple account and was asked to select a security question. I was about to graduate from college and was in a very stressful time in my life. So, naturally the littlest things could get to me. On this particular day, it was a form question that was just too much. In the screenshot below you can see the questions that Apple offered.



Why was this a problem? Well, at the time I could not afford a car, nor was I in a relationship. I was searching tirelessly for a job and my parents had recently gone through a divorce. That meant the only question I was left with was “where were you on January 1, 2000?” On January 1, 2000 I was ten years old. I don’t remember where I was, nor do I think I could remember it again if used the answer for this question. Sure, this is a silly example but it begs the question, what must we consider when creating form questions for our users? Did it ever occur to Apple that a person may not have a car, be the child of a single parent, not have a significant other, and not have a job? Probably not. But we must consider the emotional needs of our users when creating forms in order to be successful.

Some of the most common reasons people abandon forms is that they:

  • Get scared away
  • Become overwhelmed
  • Get confused
  • Lose interest

We can combat these issues by making forms that are easy to use and understand, are not overwhelming, and keep the user’s interest. So what makes a form user-friendly?

Word Choice is Important

By carefully choosing words on your forms you can avoid a lot of issues such as confusion or lack of interest from your users. It often helps to use questions instead of statements such as “when were you born?” as opposed to “your birthday:” The text you put in your form fields as well as on your submit button can make all the difference. Using action-inspired words on your button is vital. Avoid at all costs just letting your button say “submit.” Optimizely increased their conversion rates 27% by changing their CTA text from “Get Started” to “Test It Out.”

I personally like to use the “WYLT-IWLT” rule .This stands for “Would You Like To? - I Would Like To.” What this means is, if your button text or form title can be the end of both of these sentences, it’s easy for the user to understand in their own context. For instance, “get started” fits easily. “Would you like to get started?” “I would like to get started.”

In addition, it helps to make your forms specific to the action users are taking. Avoid using a generic form for all cases. Instead, create specific forms with clear titles that tell the users exactly what they will accomplish by filling out this form. Something like “download our ebook” is great but “download our forms optimization ebook” is even better.

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Keep Users Focused

The next step in creating forms that convert is keeping your users focused. One way to do this is to keep the forms as short as possible. While this may not always be the case, it’s usually a good way to get users through your forms. If necessary, put the second section of a long form on a second page to make the content more digestible. Too many form fields can easily overwhelm users forcing them to abandon the page.

Another part of keeping your users focused is using field labels that are clear and concise. For instance, ask “when were you born?” versus just saying “DOB.” Be sure to put your form labels close to the form fields so users are confident that they're putting their answers in the correct place.


Finally, keep users focused on your form by eliminating any distracting elements such as navigation, animation, too many colors, or images that detract from your form. Instead, use directional cues such as arrows or photos of people or things that draw attention toward your form. Granted, this is part of landing page optimization, which is a much broader topic. However, if you can do to draw attention to your form, which is the sole focus of your page, you’re on the right path.


Ease of Use is Paramount

Now let’s talk ease of use. Making sure your forms look clean and are easy to fill out are two of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do for your conversion rates. Providing users with options instead of asking your users to type answers on their own will benefit both you and your users. It’s much easier to analyze data when dates are all written the same or values are all numbers instead of words. Plus, when you leave an open text field for users to fill out it requires effort, creativity and decision-making on their part as they decide how to enter their information. Granted, users can fairly easily recall their name and email address. However, when asking for something like their job title, consider asking a question like “which of these best describes you?” and populating a selection of answers with the option for “other.” Combine fields whenever possible to make things easier. For instance, can you ask users for their date of birth in a mm/dd/yyyy format instead of month, day, and year in three separate fields? Do whatever you can to make the form as easy to fill out as possible.

Optimize Your Form Elements

There are many elements of forms that must be taken into consideration including default values, help text, safety net statements, and more.

Here my top 10 tips and tricks for optimizing your form elements.

  1. Provide logical default values. Either choose the most common option or leave the default as “please select” if this is most helpful to the user.
  2. Put popular list options at the top and then organize alphabetically below that.
  3. Use hints or help text such as (MM/DD/YYYY) to give the users clues on how to fill in the field.
  4. Use proper spacing to keep the form labels close to the fields, but don’t make your form too crowded.
  5. When necessary, split your form into logical sections to help the user feel accomplished as they move through the the form one section at a time.
  6. Always make sure your forms are optimized to be responsive to all device types.
  7. Prefilling fields when appropriate can be helpful, especially on longer forms.
  8. You can also hide previously submitted fields when the information is not necessary.
  9. Use progressive profiling - when someone has answered a question in a previous form, queue another to populate in its place.
  10. Make sure the call-to-action button at the end uses action verbs and avoid the generic “submit” (yes, this was worth mentioning again.)

Don’t Be Creepy - Use the First Date Rule

Be honest with yourself about what information is necessary and what is simply nice-to-have. Would you ask someone all the information on the form the first time you meet them? Consider a form like a first date. This is your first real interaction with this visitor, so only ask what is vital to make them feel comfortable. Keep their privacy in mind and use words to help them know their information is safe like “private” and “secure.” You can even provide links to a privacy policy in the form. Furthermore, avoid using stop words such as “spam” or “sell.” When asking for someone’s email address, say “we will keep your email address completely private” instead of “we will never sell your email to spammers.” Avoiding stop words will also help you avoid bringing up concerns the user may not have even had.

Make sure your form is of appropriate length and asks appropriate questions in return for what the user is getting. If they’re just downloading an ebook, it’s likely inappropriate to ask for their address and phone number. If they are signing up for an event, it may be appropriate to ask for their Twitter handle. Make sure you can justify why you are asking for each piece of information and how it will benefit the user, not just you as the marketer. Fortunately for us, the willingness to trade a bit of privacy to get a more personalized experience and high-quality information is growing. However, we need to maintain our users’ trust and confidence to continue this growth.

Use Proper Field Types

Using the proper type of form field will also help your users move through the forms more easily. Here are some best practices:

  • Checkboxes: users can select multiple items from a shorter list
  • Picklist: select multiple items from a longer list
  • Radio buttons: select one item from a shorter list
  • Dropdowns: select one item from a longer list
  • Use conditional questions when appropriate

A good use of conditional questions is when asking for someone’s preferred method of contact. Some people may be completely okay with giving you their phone number if they’re submitting a form where it makes sense. However, some people may be so adamantly against it or, in many cases now, not even have a work phone number to give, that they will end up abandoning the form.

“Making a phone field optional led to a 37% drop-off on the phone number field entries, but doubled the conversion rate of the whole form.” (Luke Wroblewski)

A Little Friction is Okay

While you want to make your form easy to use and non-intimidating, a little friction is also sometimes okay. Asking questions that some people may be reluctant to answer can help weed out completely unqualified leads before they ever get to you. Having a high conversion rate is great but converting highly qualified leads is even better.

Continuously Test and Optimize

Finally, continue to test and optimize. There is no hard and fast rule for how many form fields are best or exactly how a form should be formatted; there are only best practices. Use these best practices as a guide as you monitor, analyze, test and optimize your forms on an ongoing basis. Find what works for your industry and roll with it.

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