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Tuesday, Sep. 16, 2008 at 5:39 am

Is Your Landing Page 2008…and your Action Page 1998?

By Brendan Regan
September 16th, 2008

I just finished Web Form Design by Luke Wroblewski, and I’m glad this useful book came out.  It’s not only a useful guide to designing better online forms, but a reminder that forms are the “bread and butter” of almost every website!

Whether it’s the Contact Us form on a B2B site, the Sign Up form on a social networking site, or the Checkout of an eCommerce site, they all have forms in common. And in every case, forms are what stands between our site visitors and the action we’ve persuaded them to take.

The irony is that companies spend thousands, sometimes millions, on making their sites functional, accessible, usable, intuitive, and sometimes even persuasive, but don’t always spend enough on making their transactional pages (forms) as optimized as possible. Add to that the money spent starting a relationship with customers via online or offline marketing.  And when it’s time to take that relationship the next level and close the deal, online forms have the responsibility.

So like the title of this post, I have questions:

  • How much have you spent on your homepage and landing pages in the last 12 months?
  • How much have you spent on your forms?
  • How many resources work on your homepage and landing pages? Designers, testers, marketers, copywriters?
  • How many resources work on your forms?
  • Do you test your homepage and landing pages?
  • Do you test your forms?
  • Do your homepage and landing pages employ the latest technology like flash, video, AJAX, and widgets?
  • Do your forms employ the latest technology?

Of course homepages and landing pages are important, and deserve lots of attention.  But don’t forget that the bottom of your conversion funnel is where all the serious action is.  It’s where dollars either flow into your bank account or…elsewhere.

So what can you do, short of reading the whole book yourself?

  1. Start a “Forms Task Force” within your company–make it cross-disciplinary–and take a good, hard look at your forms.
  2. Look at every question on your forms.  To paraphrase Web Form Design, consciously decide to “keep,” “cut,” “postpone,” or “explain” every question you ask your customers.
  3. Once you’ve revisited your forms, begin the ongoing process of testing and optimization.

Editors note: You can also learn more about the book and read the author’s book blog here.

Our good friends at Rosenfeld Media, were kind enough to extend a 10% discount to our readers on their books; just use coupon code GROKDOT for your 10% off.

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Comments (15)

  1. A recommendation from ya’ll is good enough for me, so I just bought the book. I do think my checkout process is pretty good based on general standards but I also realize it can be better. I am planning for this to be the first area I am going to test, with Google webpage optimizer, coming soon :-) .
    So this new book will hopefully give me some new ideas on how to set up my shopping cart page better and then I will set up a good A/B test. After that, I will then go to the customer input page.

    Thanks for the book suggestion.

  2. Even for B2B startups like us, weve learned (wont say how long it took us) our best practice is ~1% of our total pages are dedicated “calls to action” pages. And 90%+ of our pages contain calls to action functionality, sometimes with multiple calls per page b/c its still amazing where the leads come from.

  3. It’s so true… forms too often are ignored.

    My pet peeve is forms on which the most promient button (lower right) is either “Clear Form” or “Cancel”! Such buttons should be lined up against the wall and shot.

  4. Impressive lists of good questions. Worth printing and reviewing as a checklist once in a while not only with landing pages but with all pages in general.

  5. ‘Web Form Design’ is a fantastic book and I find myself referring back to it as a checklist and reference every time we create, test or re-visit a form or landing page. (It seems like there’s always something I’ve forgotten or find that I can improve, thanks to Luke W’s book.)

    One issue I wish were covered more often in the context of form design is the use of CAPTCHA images to stop form spam and abuse. For most marketers it’s a no-brainer to avoid CAPTCHAs on a landing page, but I’m always amazed when (as a user) I get to the end of an otherwise pleasant form experience and then face the insult of proving that I’m “qualified” as a human being.

    CAPTCHA is a Web relic that currently fails to stop spam as much as 90-92% of the time. Regardless of how many resources we use to create engaging forms, using CAPTCHA to stop form abuse just means more abuse for users.

    I’d suggest that when taking that good, hard look at your Web forms, the first item on the optimization list should be to abandon CAPTCHA in favor of newer (and more effective) technology for stopping form spam and abuse.

  6. This book is very useful when creating landing pages. I always use it as a checklist whenever I create a new one.

  7. Over the past decade, I have tested hundreds of different forms while working for US banks, and rule number 2 above, “look at every question
    ,” is huge.

    One of my colleagues, Rick Starbuck, once said, “the war is lost one little sodier at a time” as we argued with legal staff at a top ten bank to try to eliminate yet another low value input field on a new account opening form. We used to keep a scorecard of how many input fields we had, and how many each of our competitors had, with the goal always being to have the most streamlined application possible. As a result of attention to these details, the sites I have been working with have almost always had the best conversion of any banking sites.

    There is a LOT of upside in everything in forms. My checklist would include the following at least:
    - Call to action button position and design
    - Which form fields are present, absent, required and optional
    - Terms acceptance methods
    - Form field labels
    - Order that you present form fields in
    - Instructional copy
    - Help availability and identification

  8. I look forward to checking out the book. I’d also like to hear from others, including Brendan, about how much time they’ve spent on their home pages and landing pages. To be honest, I often neglect my site, while going over every detail for my client’s sites. And I wonder if that neglect has cost me potential clients.

  9. Great article and great comments. I’ll be purchasing that book. A few questions I would like to ask the brain collective:

    - CAPTCHA – Lisa Reynolds mentioned this is a no no. I couldn’t agree more. However as I attempt to fight the good fight and minimize end user friction I get more requests to “stop form SPAM”. Can you explain or highlight the “newer (and more effective) technology for stopping form spam and abuse”?
    - Does anyone know of an industry average for email newsletter signup conversion? I can’t find anything online. Due to development limitations our newsletter sign up feature is actually a separate page on the site. We are around 50% conversion rate which would be outstanding for a purchase but I’m not sure about an email signup.
    - I’ve read some good things about adding trust icons (like hackersafe) to forms. I believe they are supposed to increase conversions. We target boomers and seniors who in my opinion might like the extra reassurance these seals allegedly provide. Thoughts?

  10. Hey Mr Lunchpail, great question.

    50% sounds pretty solid from my experience. I have seen numbers ranging from a few percent up into the 80% ballpark depending mostly on the context and the type of newsletter. For instance, a request to sign up for a price alert after checkout might have a very good conversion if the purchase was something purchased regularly like pet food. I am curious to hear what others have seen too though.

  11. Hi Johnny LunchPail,

    On the anti-CAPTCHA question, click on my name above and you’ll go to one option, which is a Web service my firm developed called Form Armor.

    We’ve been compiling research data on form abuse since 2002, and the only other non-CAPTCHA solutions I’m aware of involve scripting that requires a fair amount of weekly code maintenance to stay ahead of the spammers. In terms of stopping spam, effectiveness for the scripts we tested has also been about the same as CAPTCHA — pretty dismal — but it’s definitely a less intrusive option for the end user.

    Have you tested different anti-spam solutions on your Web forms to see what might work best? If so, what kind of responses did you see — both for conversion rates and the level of staff complaints? If you’d like to talk about this further, you can use the contact form on our Web site to reach me… or I’m sure Brendan and the smart folks here at FutureNow would be glad to help you with testing different scenarios, too.

  12. @Scott Salwolke: I think many of us in the consulting/service world are guilty of neglecting our own online presence in favor of our clients’. That’s probably why WoM is extra-important!

    And to all reading this post and the great comments, don’t forget that Grok readers can get a 10% discount on any Rosenfeld Media book; just use coupon code GROKDOT at checkout.

  13. Along a similar note, I sometimes tire of my advisers, and others who insist they know what is best for the clients when it comes to data they should be entering. Requiring a customer to fill in 10 extra form items because it’s data we would “like” to have, for research purposes, etc, I think is one of the quickest ways to lose customers.

    If I stumble across a form for a product I’m interested in and they ask me everything under the Sun, they lose my business period.

  14. The same goes here too. I don’t mind giving relevant information out, but when they want to know all kinds of details and it is form after form nearly 100% of the time I have aready lost interest and switched to another site.

  15. Great article!

    I just add this article in my bookmark.

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