4 keys to making the most of your website's forms

These days, almost every website has a form of some sort. And for people creating a new website, forms are almost always on the punch list. But how can you take your forms beyond their mere existence and make the most of them? To help, here are 4 important factors to consider when you add a form to your website to make sure it’s accomplishing as much as it can.

What is the form’s purpose?

The most important thing to consider when you add a form to your website is why it’s there. What do you want the form to do?

Consider a few common options:

An email subscription form

One major purpose for forms is to get people to subscribe to your email list. For these types of forms, you’re likely requesting minimal information — first name, last name, and email address is common, or even only first name or perhaps one unified box for first and last name. The more information you request, the less likely you’ll be to get subscribers. After all, they’re giving their data to you so you can market to them, so you don’t want to ask too much. You’ll notice our subscribe page only has three small boxes to fill out. It’s designed to be quick and easy!

A contact form

On the other hand, a contact form serves an entirely different purpose. You’re not adding people who fill out a contact form to your email list — or at least you shouldn’t do that, because your visitors aren’t giving you permission to use their data for that purpose.

With a contact form, you’ll likely want a lot more information. Why are they contacting you? What do you need? What information do you need to give them what they need? If you don’t ask for this up front, you’ll have a lengthy back-and-forth before you can get anything done, so save yourself the effort and ask for more information in the form itself. As an example, our contact form includes a box for a message, and our request a quote form asks numerous questions so we have a good idea of what potential clients need.

A feedback form

Unlike the other two options above, a feedback form targets existing customers so they can let you know how you’re doing. You probably won’t ask for anything more than a name, and you might even consider making a feedback form anonymous.

Where does the data go?

The answer to the above question invokes another similar one. Once you’ve determined why you want a form on your website, you need to decide what happens to the data you collect. If someone subscribes to your email list, that data will go to the email service you use. Email services even often have built-in forms you can use that integrate directly to their service so you don’t have to do anything with it manually.

On the other hand, contact forms are often emailed to you, or you can store the data on your website if you want to allow a group of people to all have access to it. If you’re creating a contact form, these decisions are essential when you design the form. You need to decide who will receive an email with the data you collect or if you’ll store it on your site. The same is true for a feedback form. Do you want to send this data to someone who will respond to the bad feedback and post the good feedback to your website? Do you want to store it on the site so administrators can see it later and take action on it?

How does the form appear on your site?

Gone are the days when forms are only embedded in the text of a webpage itself. Now, forms commonly appear as popup boxes, fly-ins in the corner of the screen, a ribbon at the top of the page, or a widget in the sidebar or footer of the page. Which display method works for you?

Also consider how aggressive you want to be in displaying the form. Pop-ups are the most assertive form of displaying a form, while ribbons and inline forms (like the one at the bottom of this page) are a lot less intrusive.

What happens for the user after a form is filled out?

Another question that is often overlooked is what happens next for a user. Should the user see a message thanking them for filling out the form? Would it be better if the visitor be redirected to another page on your site instead? Should the form trigger an email sequence with your email service? Remember, the user’s experience doesn’t end after clicking the submit button — or, at least, you hope not.

A form on your site only does as much good as what happens next. Make sure the data goes to the right place based on the form’s purpose and ensure the user has a good experience throughout, and your forms are likely to be much more effective than they would be otherwise.