Back to basics: best practices for web forms
Form solutions are the online equivalent of a large kitchen knife: everyone has one, they’re versatile, and we use them to pare things down to their most essential features. Apps for forms and surveys may lack the wow factor of a GPS tracker, mass email, or event management tool, but they serve an integral function. For many organizations, they’re a lifeline to funding, and without web forms, most small businesses and nonprofits would have to resort to knocking on doors to gather information. But forms alone will not generate interest: you need to apply some basic best practices in order to make them work for you.
Elements of a Good Form
There are four components to every web form: Content, Structure, Design, and Integration.
Ultimately, your forms have to be filled out in order to be effective. No matter how you’re using forms, the goal is to make it as easy as possible for users to input information. The content, structure and design of the form will determine its ease of use, while its integration with your CRM or central database will ensure that the data gets put to good use.
We can be our own worst enemies when it comes to creating forms. We often overthink, overcomplicate, and get greedy about the information we’re hoping to obtain. But generally, less is more. To get people to complete your forms, keep the number of fields to a minimum. When writing the questions or picking fields for your form, keep the end goal in mind. If the objective of the form is to receive a payment, what are the minimum fields required in order to facilitate that transaction? If the objective is to increase member donations, what is the shortest path to membership? In an ideal world, all fields in a form should be required, because you should only be asking for essential information. Remember that a form is a transaction: your customers give you their information in exchange for something they want (whether it’s the good feeling they’ve donated to a powerful mission, or a whitepaper download).
While we could dive into label spacing and cite scientific research on how the human eye works, overcomplicating online forms is part of the problem. Good design boils down to one simple premise: a form should be easy to understand and complete.
Luckily, many form solutions have prepackaged, ready-to-use templates (see an example of FormAssembly’s job application templates here). Most of these are clean, free of clutter, and follow basic principles of composition. It’s important for your online form to match the overall look and feel of your website and brand. Typically you can add your website’s CSS to any form embed code so that it will match your existing style, but you may need some help from your web developer to make it clean and make sure it renders properly across different devices.
Certain questions logically follow others. Follow culturally established norms, like asking for first and last name before requesting an email address (quick tip: not everyone has a middle name, so don’t make it a mandatory field). Other times it’s determined by rules and regulations, like asking for a CVV number after credit card information.
Also, avoid using multiple columns. A single column structure allows for better flow as the eye naturally moves down the page. A second column can be overlooked or even cause confusion.
You could have the most elegantly designed form available with the perfect structure and top-notch content, but without connecting it to your CRM, the information you gather will either have to be manually uploaded and synced or might not be fully utilized. Perhaps more painfully, you will likely be plagued with duplicates and spam. In order for a form to be effective, it has to deliver the answers in an effective and coherent way that you can actually use.
Depending on the form solution you choose, your CRM integration will likely have benefits and drawbacks. Salesforce offers a number of form options (e.g. Web-to-Case and Web-to-Lead), but you’ll have to do your research or engage a consultant to make sure your info is getting pushed into Salesforce in a way that makes sense for you. For example, if you need to update objects other than leads with the info you’re gathering from surveys, a Web-to-Lead form wouldn't be your best option. Form tools such as FormAssembly can handle custom object integration and more complex requirements: see our blog on how to pick a form integration solution here.
If you trust your design sensibility and technical prowess, there are free form solutions out there. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, and the features and attributes for the free solutions are limited. If you’re considering doing a DIY form, you might want to consult your web developer, your favorite Salesforce forum, or your CRM consultant to get additional input.
Paid form solutions, on the other hand, will do most of the heavy lifting for you. They have intelligently designed templates for almost every need and can integrate seamlessly with your CRM. We’ve asked some of our trusted form solution partners to weigh in on how their forms best support the needs of their customers, so stay tuned for upcoming posts as we continue our series on forms.
In the meantime, check out all the other tools you need to make your CRM work for you.