From facilitating quick and secure online payments to improving lead generation and customer service, online forms are an important and integral part of any company’s web presence. Laura Moisei of 123ContactForm explores how to make the most of forms for your business.
There was a time when forms were a pioneering element to website design, seized upon by forward-looking online firms as an exciting and easy way to gather data from visitors. Now, they are so commonplace and the format so repetitive that muscle-memory in our fingers automatically sends us over to the tab key at the end of each box.
Yet there are still many examples of poorly designed, cumbersome and difficult forms all over the Internet. You know when you come across one: the format required for DOB is not clear and you have to try three attempts before you get it right; the assumption is that you are in the US and there is no way to enter a UK postcode; conditions for an acceptable password are not given, and you end up with something impossible to learn and remember.
This should not, and does not have to, be the case. Creating efficient, user-friendly and even good-looking forms that work well and do not become a hindrance is possible with a minimum of time and effort, and given the importance of the humble form there is no excuse not to get it right.
Forms for online payment
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The first online transaction over the World Wide Web was, not surprisingly, for takeaway – Pizza Hut opened its Internet shop in 1994, followed by Amazon and eBay in 1995. Developments and innovations over the years have dramatically changed the way we order and pay online, and today a good form makes all the difference.
Web forms are the champions of effectiveness, providing simple yet flexible checkouts for any kind of transaction. The key lies in covering the three Ms – multi-gateway, multi-currency and multi-channel.
PayPal processes around 8 million online payments every day, making it the most well known online payment processing platform, but there are other options and it pays, literally, to be able to offer alternatives to customers. Google Wallet is on the rise and Sage Pay, Worldpay, Ingenico and WooCommerce are just some of the options. Building a web form that integrates multiple payment gateways at once makes life much easier for your customers, and reduces the likelihood of them withdrawing from the purchase at the final stage.
If you serve countries outside your own, a simple option to allow customers to see prices in their own currency is a must, and if you want to sell across different sites or platforms then you need a form that can be simply and correctly transposed.
Offering a multi-ability payments form makes transactions that much smoother for customers, and an easy and pleasant shopping experience is an important part of building a long-term relationship that means customers will come back to you.
And it goes without saying that a secure form is a must if you are processing the payment within your site. If you direct to an external payment gateway then SSL is not necessary, but using it demonstrates to your customers that you take the privacy of all their personal data seriously.
Forms for lead generation and customer service
Another crucial use for forms is for lead generation and customer service; the ones you fill in to sign up to a newsletter or to raise a query or complaint. There is a fine line to tread here: requiring seemingly inconsequential information, asking for too much detail or not giving the options needed can all put customers off. Customers are increasingly demanding of the brands they interact with, and no company is without competitors – the likelihood of an annoyed consumer simply clicking off and going elsewhere is high.
Forms must contain appropriate fields, and just the right number of them, for the purpose. This means you must be clear on why you are creating the form and the outcome required before deciding on the fields: a newsletter sign-up form will be quite different from a complaint form, for example.
Things to consider when creating a form:
- Why should the visitor complete the form; have I made it clear what is in it for them?
- Is the copy engaging; are all the elements working effectively (layout, colour etc.)?
- Is the form a reasonable length?
- Have I gathered all the information I need without requiring too much of people?
- Is it clear what is required in each field?
A form that has a clearly defined goal and is optimised for this will then do much more than just bring in one new customer contact or potential lead. It will help you build a picture of your wider market, giving vital customer insights and business analytics data to help you shape the future of your online company.
Taking the data collected in your forms and properly analysing it should be a prime task for your marketing and web development teams. Form data is not just to be passed to the sales team so that they can hound visitors with phone calls and emails – it is useful across the entire business and should be respected.
The stats you gather, including how many people provide incorrect or false information, or do not go on to finish the form, will be instrumental in helping you to shape your next form, meaning lead generation and customer service can be improved for the next visitors.
Part of your sales and marketing armoury
Forms are much more than a simple way to get money or personal details from your customers and visitors – they are a sales and marketing tool and as such, they should be an integral part of your online presence. Get your forms right and your customers, and your results, will thank you.
Laura Moisei is Marketing Manager of 123ContactForm, a powerful web form builder that allows organizations to easily create forms and surveys without programming skills.