How Our Tech SaaS Company Uses Web Forms

tech-saas-web-forms

We have many case studies on the amazing ways our customers use FormAssembly. Colleges and universities collect student applications, nonprofits manage volunteer registration forms, and small businesses create invoices online, every day — to name just a few use cases.

But maybe you’ve wondered how we, the FormAssembly Team, use FormAssembly. As a tech startup, we’re constantly growing and innovating. Web forms are an essential component of our business toolkit. Online forms connect us with our customers and partners, and keep our internal processes lean and efficient.

We’re an adventurous crew, but we’re small in size — so it’s important that we maximize our resources and save time wherever we can. And because we work remotely, our systems and workflows are in the cloud, so we can stay up-to-date no matter where we are. Smart web forms are key to our agile workspace.

New Hire Onboarding/Training Forms

We’re a SaaS company (Software as a Service), and FormAssembly is our bread and butter. To ease new shipmates into getting started, we kick off the onboarding process with a series of training forms:

  • Introduction. The first form introduces FormAssembly and our team. It’s a quick-fire way for newcomers to get to know us and what we do.
  • Form Builder Basics. This is an interactive guide with a set of quiz questions. The form asks newbies to jump into the Form Builder and complete a task list. It goes over the basics, like dragging and dropping fields and adding validation rules. We’ve found that it’s an effective tool to help people find their way around the Form Builder.
    onboarding-linked-forms
  • Setting Up Connectors. Third up is a tutorial that covers our integrations with third-party apps and services, so that you can connect your forms with PayPal and Salesforce. This is more advanced stuff, so we take care to use step-by-step instructions that are clear and easy to understand.
    onboarding-salesforce
  • Admin Overview. We finish with a review of how admins moderate FormAssembly and help users solve issues. New hands get insights into how we talk to our customers, and who our customers are.

Time Off Requests

Here at FormAssembly, we have a fantastic vacation policy and flexible PTO (we also offer great benefits, if you’re interested in joining us!).

To schedule vacation time, we fill out a Time Off Approval Request form, which goes instantly to the appropriate supervisor. Supervisors can check how the dates fit into the calendar and the roadmap.

Systems Forms

We’re always fine-tuning our infrastructure to improve FormAssembly’s security and availability. To keep track of the changes and to maintain highest privacy standards, we have two forms:

  • System Access Request Form. We uphold a need-to-know policy, so permission for access must be recorded and granted.
  • Back-End Changes. Whenever we need to make changes to our systems, such as adding a new server or a software patch, our Director of Infrastructure is notified.

Incident Reports

We’re proud of our reliability and our uptime, but as with any online service, incidents can happen — security bugs may be announced for tools we use, or we may be impacted by our server host’s downtime. In each and every case, it’s crucial that we take account of what happened and what we’ve done to resolve the issue. We want to be as transparent as possible and keep our customers updated.

Incident reports are divided into two online forms for internal use:

  • Incident Recovery Form. We write up a description with the details of the incident, a plan for immediate correction, and an outline for a permanent fix.
  • Incident Report Form. This is a more in-depth record of what happened, what was affected, the results of our investigation, and the consequential downtime or cost.
Have a case study to share with us? Drop us a line at community@formassembly.com! We’d love to hear about how you get things done with FormAssembly.

 

Remote Work: 12 Ways to Stay Productive at Home

remote work productivity

We know that remote employees tend to be quite productive.

But once you’re in a remote work routine, how do you maintain that wonderful sense of productivity without losing momentum?

After all, you could work all the hours in the world—you could be a full-blown workaholic—but if those hours aren’t spent productively, then what’s the point?

And with remote work on the rise, more and more of us are discovering that our in-office routines can sometimes be completely different from our at-home routines (pajama jokes aside).

Here at FormAssembly, our team is able to work anywhere—whether it be from home, our office, or a café. But working remotely isn’t always easy. Here are some productivity tricks we’ve learned along the way:

1. Check your email only when you’re ready to answer

Picture this: An email comes in. It’s immediately opened (causing an interruption) and is then left to deal with later. It ends up being forgotten and sits in an inbox for days.

Sound familiar? That’s because it happens to the best of us—all the time.

But it can be avoided, and you can start as soon as today.

Here’s how to avoid falling into this downward spiral: Silence your email alerts, and make a vow that you’ll only check your email on breaks (AKA: When you’re actually able to respond).

The result? You’ll be able to concentrate like never before, and you’ll also make people happier because you’ll actually respond to their emails in a timely manner, without putting them off for days.

2. Communication is (truly) key

Do you find yourself constantly apologizing to friends and family for not responding to their texts or emails?

If so, then you might be more productive in a physical office environment. Either that, or you’ll have to improve your communication skills in order to adapt to a remote workplace.

In a virtual atmosphere, it’s so important to keep your co-workers in the loop. It’s an absolute must.

Bottom line? Awesome communication is an absolute necessity when it comes to working remotely.

3. Determine a work routine that works for you

Some people swear by the Pomodoro Technique—working 25 minutes, then taking 5 minute breaks.

Others prefer working uninterrupted for hours at a time with just one break.

Either way, find a way to take a break during some point in the day.

Try a few different techniques and see what process works best for you. Some people just like change and avoid routines like the plague—if that sounds like you, then be sure to switch it up.

4. Find a comfortable atmosphere

One of the great benefits of virtual work is that you can choose your own environment. You can work from home, from a coffee shop, a co-working space, or even outside (if you can handle the sunlight on your screen, that is).

And let’s face it: You know yourself best. Everybody is different, so what might work for your colleagues may not work for you. For this reason, it’s important to experiment and find the perfect formula for you.

Our Creative Director at FormAssembly, Deborah Kim, loves that working from home allows her to establish her own work atmosphere:

Working from home is great because I can freely change the soundtrack and not have to worry about bugging anyone else. Sometimes I won’t put anything on and prefer to work in the quiet, but I often use Coffitivity and different Spotify playlists to switch things up.

I like working in cafés, but it’s not ideal if you don’t have someone to watch your stuff, or if there aren’t enough power outlets — so Coffitivity is a nice compromise when you’re at home. You get the pleasant ambient noise without the distractions. Plus, free refills!”

5. Create daily goals

“But I already have goals. They’re in my head!”

Don’t worry: We’re all guilty of creating mental checklists without writing them down.

But it’s important to fight that urge to horde your thoughts. Instead, record them and establish daily goals for yourself.

It only takes a second, and it’ll give you a clear idea of your daily activities and accomplishments. If you’re working on a big project, consider breaking that project into small milestones.

It feels bad to look back on a wasted day. Really bad. You can avoid that feeling by creating lists of goals for yourself. Luckily, there are many tools out there that can help with this, both online and offline.

Here’s an example of a list that was created using Evernote:

Evernote to-do list

One way to go about this is to create two lists—one for tasks that you want to complete right away, and the other for bonus tasks.

The “Must-Do-No-Matter-What” List: On your first list, it’s a good idea to include priority tasks. These are all the things you would need to do in order to feel good about your day at work.

The “Bonus Awesomeness” List: The second list can include bonus tasks for extra points. (Yes, imaginary points. It’s fun, trust me.) These are the tasks that can be tackled once all other tasks have been completed.

Finishing all of these tasks will give you an incredible sense of accomplishment.

6. Don’t be a recluse: Get out of the house

Even when you think you don’t need it, or just plain don’t feel like it (fellow introverts, I’m looking at you), you have GOT to force yourself to get out of the house every now and then.

Yes, it’s comfy being at home—but without interaction, things can get weird very quickly.

We all need human interaction. Get out of the house for a bit and explore the world around you (it’s good for your sanity).

7. Set boundaries

When you’re at work, you’re working–and people in your life should know that.

According to Fast Company, during a study by the University of California, it took participants 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get (fully) back on track after an interruption.

That’s a lot of wasted time. Are you really OK with that?

Naw, didn’t think so.

If you need to, silence your phone and turn off notifications. You can even work different hours if it’s tough to ignore distractions.

Amanda Orson, Director of Communications at EngineerJobs.com, explains why this step is vital:

If you aren’t getting work done when you’re supposed to be at work, you will continue working long after you’re supposed to.

I physically close the door to my office and play light music when I’m in work mode.”

8. Virtual water cooler chat to lighten the mood

While you may at first think this is a distraction, it’s actually the opposite. Well, at least in moderation.

remote water cooler

I would even go so far as to say that team camaraderie fuels growth, and that it’s important to keep have a sense of connection—even within a remote team.

9. Know how to measure success

When you’re working on your own so much of the time, it’s vital that you are able to measure the impact of your work.

Sujan Patel, VP of Marketing at When I Work, wrote an article called “Everything You Need to Know About Managing a Remote Team.” In this article, he says that good results are more important than number of tasks completed:

You have to create a system in which results matter–not individual activities.  If you think about it, results should be your ultimate goal anyways, whether your employees are in the office or working remote.”

In other words, it’s the end result and the quality of a task that matters most.

Do you prefer tackling one large project, or working on a bunch of small projects at once? Determine how you work best and make a point of sticking with it.

10. Embrace short emails & messages

Learn to communicate in a straightforward, concise way. Practice excellent communication without getting carried away.

It’s not just a great thing to do—it’s the right thing to do.

When chatting or emailing coworkers, try to keep your messages short and sweet. Communicating clearly and effectively is key.

11. Exercise

I don’t need to tell you why exercise is important. It’s far from a shocking fact.

We all know we’re not made to sit around all day, but sometimes the thought of exercise sounds, well, daunting.

And besides, nobody is there to call you out on being glued to the computer screen all day. (Aside from your guilty conscience, that is.)

Investing in your health is worthwhile in the long-term as a remote employee. Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, dished out some great advice in an article about how to stay sane while working from home. In the article, Alex says it’s important to choose a form of exercise that you actually enjoy—that way, you’ll be more likely to stick with it in the long term.

12. Know your limits

Working from home isn’t for everyone. Some prefer the interaction within an office.

But things aren’t always so black and white.

Many people are hybrids, thriving in the flexibility and freedom to choose whether to stay home or go into an office. Many people at FormAssembly choose to work from home part of the week and go into the office on other days.

According to Inc. writer Jessica Stillman, there are different types of personalities in the remote work world. If you’re a social butterfly, you may feel disconnected and isolated while living a mostly virtual life.

If you prefer close supervision, it may not be an ideal solution for you, either. People who thrive in remote workplaces tend to be natural self-starters. They are often individuals who create work for themselves and find answers to their own questions independently.

So, be realistic with yourself. If you think you’re coming down with a case of cabin fever, it may mean that you should work from an office for a few days. If your company doesn’t have an office nearby, another alternative is a co-working space.

What’s your story?

Do you work from home? Are you a digital nomad, always on the road? We’d love to hear from you—feel free to share your stories and insights in the comments! You can also tweet with us @FormAssembly.

3 Web Form Design Pitfalls to Eliminate

In Part 1, we went through Alexander’s horrible web form. In Part 2, we showed you 7 common web form design mistakes to avoid. Now, let’s examine bad processes in web form design.

 

Bad processes in web form design block workflow and increase liability. They're inconsistent, time-consuming, divisive, and dangerous.

Bad processes = awful management.

Bad processes are back-end. They face whoever builds and owns the web form — and whoever collects and manages the data. Stakeholders, IT, developers, administrators, creatives — that’s you!

Bad processes make it hard to get the work done and maintain standards across your department or your organization. Bad processes pit stakeholders against IT, due to miscommunication and different expectations.

And, worst of all, bad processes can mean security threats.

So let’s explore how you can identify and eliminate the bad processes.

1. Bottlenecks

You’re probably all too familiar with administrative bottlenecks. They happen all the time, they drain your resources, and they stop you from getting things done. Instead of working on what matters most, you’re stuck dealing with problems such as:

  • Double entry. If you have paper forms, someone’s got to transcribe them. Or if your online forms aren’t hooked up to your database, someone has to copy and paste the data for each new submission, over and over again. And every time, you run the risk of introducing a new typo or error, so your data accuracy could suffer.
  • Reliance on IT. You need to make a few changes, but you’ve been waiting forever (and you’ll continue to wait!) because the IT team has tons of other stuff to do. You have no clue how to make the changes yourself, since the code is quite complex. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and the deadlines are creeping ever closer. You need your forms done yesterday.

Here’s how you can prevent these bottlenecks.

  • Integrate your forms. Your forms should be plugged directly into your information system, so the data’s exactly where you need it — right away.
  • Empower stakeholders. Give them the ability to review and edit forms. No more waiting on IT!
  • Make changes easy. Since your needs will change and grow with your organization, flexibility is key. You should be able to iterate quickly and effortlessly.

2. Security

When you’re dealing with people’s data, your respondents trust you to keep it safe. It’s important that you follow best practices and maintain the highest standards to ensure the security of your data.

hacker

  • Avoid ad hoc development. A handcrafted web form that’s tailored for one specific purpose is not a scalable solution. It’s best to use an agile system rather than reinventing the wheel each time.
  • Avoid rogue form creators. Take care that there aren’t any vigilantes setting up home-brewed forms to collect sensitive information.
  • Centralize form creation and data collection.
  • Make sure your developers are familiar with data sanitization, XSS, CSRF, OWASP Top 10.
  • Use (good) SSL. be sure to stay well-informed and current with the latest issues and vulnerabilities. For instance, two major security bugs (Heartbleed and POODLE) were discovered last year.

3. Non-Compliance

Compliance with data privacy laws and policies is essential to good web form design. These processes are all about what kinds of data you collect, and what happens to the data after you collect it.

  • Know your compliance requirements. They’ll depend on what types of data you collect and where your organization is located. For example, you may need to comply with FERPA, HIPAA, Section 508c, PCI, or state laws.
  • Don’t collect data that you don’t need. With every question you ask, it’s necessary to think about why you need the answer, how you’ll use the information, and whether it’s consistent with respondent expectations and data privacy laws.
  • Don’t store data longer than you have to. You shouldn’t hold onto data indefinitely, especially if you’re safeguarding sensitive information. Your organization may have specific data retention policies.
  • Control who accesses the data. Don’t share passwords, keep track of who has access to what, and limit access by default. Because data privacy is critical, access should be on a need-to-know basis.

 

For more information on web form security and data privacy, check out our guide for Best Practices in Web Form Security and see how FormAssembly can help!

 

7 Common Web Form Design Mistakes to Avoid

In Part 1, we followed Alexander and his horrible experience with his student application. Today, let’s take a look at the first part of bad web form design: bad practices!

 

Bad web form design practices irritate your respondents and lower your response rate. Bad practices make for confusing, frustrating, chaotic, unfriendly web forms.

Bad practices = terrible user experience.

Bad practices have everything to do with how the web form looks and feels to your respondents. If an online form is confusing or difficult to navigate, it’s much less likely that respondents will hit the submit button. A bad web form sends the message that user experience isn’t a priority, which is definitely not the message you want to send — or receive.

Let’s dive into different types of bad practices and how you can steer clear of them.
 

1. Input Validation

Input validation is essential in web form design: it catches mistakes and helps you get cleaner, more accurate data. But it can be a source of frustration if the validation rules aren’t set up properly or clearly explained.

Here’s how you can avoid creating hurdles:

input-validation-autoformat-ssn

  • Don’t be too strict. For instance, a U.S. phone number with area code can be entered a number of different ways, with or without parentheses and hyphens. If the validation rule isn’t flexible, then you’ll block all the people who might use a format that’s just slightly different.
  • Display hints. If you expect a specific format, make sure to give an example.
  • Auto-format when possible. This takes out the guesswork and makes things a lot easier for your respondents.
  • Report errors early. That way, the respondent won’t face a bunch of errors at the very end of the form.

 

2. Slicing Fields

Slicing fields means splitting one input into multiple fields. Fields are sliced, or broken up, in place of hyphens or forward slashes. This can be helpful when the format is well-defined. For example, for a date field, the Gregorian calendar is the de facto international standard, so the format is well known. And you can solve the Month/Day order confusion with a hint in the right place.

slicing-field-date-of-birth

However, sliced fields are generally too rigid and require concatenation. And if the respondent isn’t familiar with the format, sliced fields could slow down the process of filling out the form.

slicing-field-phone-number

 

3. Copying Conventions

An example of a convention is The Paper Mentality, where form creators get stuck in a paper mindset, and the conventions of paper carry over to online forms. We’ve all had to deal with paper forms, right? And paper forms are designed to maximize space so you use less paper. It’s economical: all the fields stretch to fill the page.

paper-screen

But print design shouldn’t translate into the screen. A web form doesn’t need to have the same constraints as a paper form: not all fields have to be the same length. In fact, it’s better to size fields differently, depending on the length of the expected input.

Snail Mail is an extension of the Paper Mentality. The mailing address convention is very common, where Country is listed at the very end. And when forms are intended for U.S. residents, usually it’s not an issue.

But if a web form’s audience includes people who live in other countries, then it can be frustrating when the flow isn’t linear, from the top to the bottom. Respondents may need to back-track and jump around to fill in a form.

Here’s an example solution — the Country field comes first.

mailing-address-country

  • Don’t follow conventions blindly. Think about the design choices you’re making, and why.
  • Use a top-down layout. Make sure the fields are in the right sequential order.
  • Align labels above fields for maximum readability. This follows the top-down layout, and it’s also mobile-friendly.
  • Break down the form into easy steps.
  • Use branching logic to skip questions as needed. Unlike paper, you can hide irrelevant questions with a web form.

conditional_rule

 

4. Auto-Complete

Look at line 2 below. Hmm, this is the Paper Mentality, right? On an envelope, you often need two lines to write the street address, and in turn, databases are designed to store 2 fields, so forms have 2 fields as well… but maybe you don’t need that anymore. Why not make it a single, multi-line field?

autocomplete-address

Well, maybe. But here’s a couple counterpoints: first, people are used to 2 lines. It’s not going to confuse or delay them too much. Second, what about the auto-complete feature in the browser? It turns those fields yellow and can auto-complete them for you. It would be silly to miss half the address because you thought you were clever.

HTML5 standards are evolving. The “autocomplete” attribute can support more than on/off, so leverage it to your advantage.

autocomplete

  • Use common labels for fields like Name and Address, so the browser autofill can do the work for you.

 

5. Auto-Advancing

Auto-advancing nets you faster data entry — in theory. Once the respondent finishes a field, the cursor automatically goes into the next one, without an extra keystroke or mouse click. But in practice, most people don’t expect it, and end up fighting it.

autotab

Auto-advancing can be helpful if it’s used often and the user can learn to expect it. Since it’s not universally in use, however, you may be better off without it.

 

6. Hints and Labels

placeholder-text

  • Always add a label. Not including labels feels like a space saver, but it’s easy for people to forget what the label was and enter the wrong information.
  • Do not use the “placeholder” attribute alone. Same problem as above: people might forget what the label is once they start typing. Plus, it’s bad for accessibility: screen readers require labels, and won’t pick up placeholder text the same way.

placeholder-code

 

7. Non-Standard Components

Should you use the new shiny component that turns your input in a combo box that looks really neat and is so much easier to use? …Probably not.

non-standard-dropdown

It may not be compatible or compliant enough, and it may not be supported going forward.

Consider these questions for every new feature you’re thinking about implementing:

  • Does it work with older browsers?
  • Does it work with older devices?
  • Does it work on all types of devices?
  • Does it work on different locales and languages?
  • Is it W3C standards / 508c compliant?
  • Will it still be working next year, or the year after?

You can use HTML5 features with polyfills when needed.

autocomplete-dropdown

 

8. Dark Patterns

A Dark Pattern is a user interface designed to trick users. For example, a dark pattern could con you into buying something you didn’t want, like an extended warranty.

You never want to deceive your respondents, so keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Preserve user choices at all times.
  • Use clear labels and calls to action.
  • No opt-in by default. Don’t make decisions for your respondents. Opting in should be a deliberate choice, not automatic.

 

Next: Bad Processes

In Part 3, we’ll explore the other part of the bad web form design equation: bad processes. Follow us here or on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn for the finale!

Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Web Form

Last year, we presented a talk at HighEdWeb 2014 on the horrors of bad web form design. Now, we’re sharing it with you!

 

Bad web forms are everywhere.

Bad forms are annoying and frustrating. At worst, they waste your time and impact your opportunities.

But web form design doesn’t have to suck! You can build better forms when you follow best practices and keep your respondents in mind.

Let’s start with an example of a very bad web form.

 
Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Web Form

Meet Alexander.

Continue Reading…

5 Tips for an Event Landing Page That Actually Converts

event marketing

While every event planner knows that there is plenty of offline prep work before an event, a savvy planner knows that when it comes to event marketing, it’s always a good idea to promote both online and offline.

But aside from social media and ad campaigns, how can you promote an event online? In the form of awesome, high-converting landing pages, of course!

And here’s the thing: Not everyone knows this yet. You’re already one step ahead of the curve.

Yep, it can be challenging. I’m not denying that. But guess what? It doesn’t have to be.

Let’s take a look at some landing page elements that can help turns those visitors into confirmed attendees:

1. Design matters.

It seems like just about every day a study comes out revealing that design matters. We now know that good design can leave positive first impressions, increase conversions, and boost trust.

Check out this example of a spectacular event landing page by Conversion Conference:

event marketing landing page

This landing page features a clean design, event details, and a bold call-to-action button that leads to a form. On top of that, the “Time is running out” counter adds a sense of urgency, encouraging the visitor to take action.

2. Make it about them—not you.

Rather than reveal the long history of your company and its story, your landing page copy should focus on the needs of your event’s future attendees. Discuss why they should care and how this event will impact them.

I know it’s hard, and you could probably talk all day long about your business… but your readers are going to want to know what’s in it for them (and they’ll want to know quickly).

Let’s take a look at a few different variations of landing page copy.

The first: “Learn how to double your conversions and increase sales in just three days”

The second: “As a Fortune 500 company, we are CRO experts. Spend three days with us and find out why.”

Which one would you be more likely to RSVP to? The first variation, where the value to you is established right away—or the second variation, where the focus is more on the company hosting the event?

Personally, I’d go with the first.

3. Include a clear call-to-action.

Imagine you’re on an elevator, on your way somewhere important, when you realize that there are no floor buttons. You start to look around and get frustrated: There’s no clear way to go up. You’re stuck and can’t navigate.

What would you do?

You’d probably leave. Because leaving is a lot easier than waiting around aimlessly.

Your landing page should have a bold, immediately noticeable CTA button that takes visitors to an area where they can take action, like a signup form.

4. Add a powerful sign-up form.

Adding a sign-up form to a landing page is an effective inbound marketing tactic, making it even easier for visitors to register.

This lets people register painlessly without having to pick up a phone. Plus, they’re able to take action right away by signing up when they’re feeling excited.

If you don’t have time to code a sign-up form, you can check out the features we offer here.

5. Be direct.

How many times have you heard a friend say, “I really need to make a goal of reading more”?

If you can already think of a few different scenarios, chances are you know what I’m hinting at.

The truth is that most people have a million books on their reading list, so why on Earth would they want to read 1,000+ words of text on your event landing page?

It doesn’t matter how well-written your landing page is—if there is too much copy and it’s not straightforward it is sure to overwhelm.

Here’s what to include in your landing page copy, regardless of length:

  • What are the details of your event?
  • What value will it provide? In what ways will attendees benefit?
  • OK, now that you’re finished answering the above questions… what sentences can you cut from the copy you’ve written? :-)

At this point, you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned a magic number yet. That’s because the magical landing page copy length is nothing more than a mythical creature (a unicorn, the Loch Ness Monster, whatever you want)—nobody is sure it actually exists.

The truth is that it all depends on your audience and will vary from company to company. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but there happen to be some really great arguments on both sides of the debate.

For example, Crazy Egg’s Neil Patel swears by landing pages with 500+ words. On the other end of the spectrum, Patrick Shea of HubSpot has said that it’s important to keep it short and simple. So, find what works best for your audience and run with it.

Share your event marketing strategies!

Do you have some additional insights to share about landing pages for event marketing? Feel free to tell us your thoughts in the comments.