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The general rule of thumb in marketing circles is that when utilizing web forms, optimization requires their shortening. Indeed, this is a logical conclusion in that, generally speaking, people will be perturbed by a long list of questions. The golden rule is usually five fields or less, but of course, depending on exactly what you are selling, that may be impossible. Long web forms are necessary for a host of services and products, so reducing your form to five fields or fewer is just not an option for many businesses. If you are stuck with your long-form, how do you go about maximizing conversion rates, then? These simple steps will reveal exactly how.

Context is key

Yes, it's true, people will nearly always prefer shorter forms. However, there is research to suggest that shortening forms do not always improve conversion rates, contrary to popular belief. This is because there are certain questions that people expect they will need to answer in relation to a product or service. For example, if you are looking for car insurance, you expect and are therefore willing to answer a question regarding where your car is parked overnight. Simply shortening the form does not even begin to tackle the issue at hand.

Don't remove questions people want to answer

Let us again consider the question of where your car is parked overnight in the context of buying car insurance. Many people will be able to answer that the car is parked in a private garage, driveway, or quiet residential street, and would then expect this information to reflect well upon their insurance quote. If this question is not asked, then it appears that the form is unfairly weighted against them. Of course, this does not satisfy everybody, but it is only used to illustrate a point. Simply making a form shorter does not delve into the heart of the issue. People do not want to answer what they perceive to be pointless questions: there are other questions that they expect and are more than willing to answer.

Use a multi-step model

Sticking with car insurance, because our expectation is that with this particular activity, we need to complete a good number of questions, this process can be made much less painful by the introduction of steps, which break down the number of questions into more easily digestible bitesize portions. The design of such models is also key, as there are various case studies that point to the fact that the layout and form design also contribute to conversion rates.

Progress Steps
Progress Step Indicator

Formatting is a significant consideration. Poor formatting raises friction, and that is where customers are lost. An intelligently formatted long form, broken into tolerable steps with no pointless questions can be just as effective as a short form.

When using this model, group questions logically, and this means logically by which means they must be answered. Where possible, use a save option too so users can return at a later stage and not be required to complete any information a second time. Always be careful to not duplicate questions either. This is a factor in consumer service calls that frequently drives people crazy when they are passed on to another person who then proceeds to ask the same questions.

Don't reveal the length

This is a bit of a cheat, but can be effective nonetheless. Don't display all your questions in one go. It's not rocket science, but once someone has started, they will be loathed to give up, as long as they think they are almost there.

Long forms which are given as a series of individual questions can work as long as a number of motivating messages are given, along the lines of 'nearly there!' and 'just a couple more!' Just be careful, though, as one question too many means you have pushed your luck too far, and the conversion is gone.

So, it seems length is far from the only consideration when it comes to optimizing your web forms. Converting is far more about context, relevance, expectation, and formatting than anything else.

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