When you think of web usability, you probably think about landing page optimization, design, and the overall user experience. But there’s one missing link — something that is vital to web usability. Something that not many people think about.
So, what the heck am I talking about, anyway? I’m talking about web form usability and best practices, an aspect of the user experience that is extremely underrated.
When was the last time you filled out a form? It might be difficult to remember at first, and that’s because we use forms so often that we don’t even think about it. We often don’t think about things that we do all the time. For example, most of us don’t put much thought into opening a door, driving a car, paying with a credit card, or other everyday occurrences.
Forms have become such a common part of the online experience that we sometimes don’t realize how much we really use them.
But here’s the thing: You will benefit from thinking about how to make forms more user-friendly. Oftentimes, forms are what’s standing between you and communication with a customer — or even a new sale!
Why does web form usability matter?
If you think about it, online forms are a digital gateway of communication between you and your customers. Whether you’re creating a newsletter subscribe form, a contact form, survey, application, or feedback form, a lot of important information is sent through forms.
How much work does your company put into its website’s overall look and feel? I’m guessing a lot. So, your forms should be no exception. You want the best experience possible for your users.
The last thing your visitors want is a frustrating, confusing user experience. Read on to learn 7 ways to create awesome, user-friendly forms:
1. When it comes to design, less is (really) more
If you’re design-minded, you’ve probably heard this a million times, but it’s especially true with forms. The more bells and whistles you add, the more annoyed your respondents will be.
When was the last time you were genuinely impressed by a website (and didn’t leave within 5 seconds)? What do you remember about the experience? Chances are, you noticed the site was easy to use and that its design was pleasant.
There’s a reason why websites like Airbnb and Twitter are so popular: They’re simple and straightforward. People aren’t left wondering what to do. And guess what? It’s easier said than done, but if you aim for simplicity and strip out anything that may be unnecessary, you’ll have a much easier time.
2. Don’t throw in unnecessary fields
Nobody likes being presented with a form with an endless amount of fields. That’s like hiking up a mountain and not being able to see the top, and who wants that?
According to Oracle, people are not inspired to answer long questions. It’s not all that surprising, and yet there are forms and surveys that break this rule ALL the time. Don’t let yours be one of them.
So, take some time and think about the number of fields in your form. If something isn’t completely necessary, or if you could do without it, then consider saving it for another time. That way, you won’t overwhelm your respondents.
In the form example above, you can probably guess that not every field should really be there. For example, knowing someone’s Twitter handle may not be necessary in this particular case. And if your company communicates via email primarily, then the mailing address field really doesn’t need to be there.
Also, focus on asking questions in the most straightforward way possible. If you construct a question in a way that makes people stop and wonder, “What the heck do they mean?”, they’re not going to want to stick around. After all, people are busy!
3. Choose a bold call to action button
Form optimization best practices often state that a bold call to action button is more noticeable (and clickable) to users.
Yep, it may sound silly… but it’s true. Sometimes small tweaks can make the biggest differences.
With a call to action button that contrasts the rest of a form, people know exactly what they need to do. So, whether you choose a button that is blue, red, or orange — make sure it’s bold!
4. Avoid going validation-crazy
While you certainly don’t want spam submissions, it’s also not cool to put too many obstacles in front of your users. Too many validation tests can potentially frustrate your visitors and leave a bad impression.
In other words, don’t make someone translate a CAPTCHA and then solve a math problem. If you must add a validation rule, stick with just one.
5. Keep questions short and concise
When forms are full of text (even the most entertaining questions in the world), many people will subconsciously think they might take more time to complete. That’s why you should condense your thoughts and questions in a way that makes sense and doesn’t take up a whole lot of space.
Rather than go on and on about this and bore you with details, I’ll instead show you the difference so you can see for yourself.
Which one do you think is most user-friendly?
Sure, the first one may be more conversational, but the second version is much simpler. The second version is shorter, and as a result, less intimidating.
I know what you’re thinking: How exactly could a form possibly be intimidating?
But the truth is that a long form sends a subconscious message to respondents, and that message is “This will take longer to read and respond to, and will take up more of my time.”
6. Think like a salesperson
A form would have to be pretty good looking to sell itself without being accompanied by any convincing marketing or sales copy.
So that’s what you need to do: Convince people to fill out your form. Why should they take time out of their busy days to signup for your newsletter, product, or service? Play devil’s advocate, and then let them know why signing up would benefit them. Don’t be shy. Do be authentic and put yourself in their shoes.
Make it interesting, and make every word count — because you’ll need to convince them with words.
You don’t need to go crazy and write an essay about why to fill out a simple form, but a brief introduction will do the trick.
7. Say goodbye
When you’re out to lunch with friends, you don’t just get up and leave after your meal without saying goodbye, right?
Of course you wouldn’t, because you’re not a jerk — and you know that people don’t like to be left hanging. The same goes for form submissions. Tell people what they can expect next by adding a thank-you message and indicating when they’re likely to hear back from you.
If someone on your team typically responds to messages within 48 hours, let them know after they hit the “Send” button. Also give them a heads up that the message was sent successfully, so that they’re not left wondering if they need to re-submit their message.
What do you think?
Do you have any form usability tips that we missed? Can you show us an example of an amazing web form? We’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts with us in the comments, or tweet with us @FormAssembly.
Other great resources you should really check out:
- An Extensive Guide to Web Form Usability (Justin Mifsud, Smashing Magazine)
- 14 Steps to Building Sign-up Forms That Convert (Peep Laja, ConversionXL)
- Sensible Forms: A Form Usability Checklist (Brian Crescimanno, A List Apart)