When you think of web forms and user experience (UX), you may only think about the design. But how a form looks is only one aspect of great user experience. It’s also about how your web form talks to your audience—the words you use and how you say them. To follow web form usability best practices, don’t stop at designing the layout or style. Remember to optimize the copy on your web form, too.
Why Is Web Form Copy Important?
The world is full of boring, complicated web forms. You probably don’t enjoy filling out forms, but have you ever stopped to think about why? Maybe it’s because they weren’t optimized for mobile. Or they seemed outdated and ugly. Or maybe it was because they felt too generic and disingenuous.
What are these forms missing? Connectivity—the emotional connection you create with your audience. Words can help you achieve that. What you say can make a huge difference in how people feel about and respond to your web form. The right words have the power to help boost your conversion rate and build trust in your brand. The right words will feel authentic, honest, and friendly.
We’ve put together this quick guide on how to use copywriting to improve the experience users have on your web forms.
1. Write iteratively
Writing iteratively means creating multiple drafts or versions. You don’t just leave it at one go, but your writing will develop and evolve through a series of iterations, going through a process of feedback and editing each time you move to the next iteration.
First, outline what types of information you need to collect, and how you’ll phrase the questions. Draft the form title, intro, question labels, submit button copy, thank you page—basically anything that needs text.
Keep in mind how the text will flow from one step to the next. Does everything make sense in that specific order? If you need to, diagram and wireframe to make sure that you’ve mapped out all the steps and possible sequences.
Once you’ve got the outline down, fill it in. Feel free to come up with several different spins on a word, sentence, or paragraph. And then rewrite, revise, and rework your words until they’re ready. Depending on the project, you might go through three or more rounds of revision. Build on the things you learn, and keep iterating.
2. Make data-driven choices
This applies to any decision, but it’s essential to writing, too. Whenever there are multiple options, it can be tough to know which one to choose. People on your team might have different opinions, some stronger than others. But it takes more than someone’s keen intuition and wealth of experience. In the end, it’s all about the user.
So take time to analyze the data. Do an audit and evaluate how closely your words hit the mark. Survey your users: ask open-ended questions about what they think. Conduct user tests and gather feedback.
Why? Because A/B testing is the only way to truly know what works. Testing gives you the opportunity to see what you’re doing right, and what you could do better. You’ll be able to identify bottlenecks and pain points, and understand what will ease the frustration for your users.
You might not have the resources to do a lot of user testing, especially if you need to put together dozens of web forms with multitudes of text. But your words matter. Since your web forms are how you draw in new customers, clients, or constituents, user testing will help you make the most effective decisions and drive the most impact.
3. Be clear
Time is valuable, and people are always on the lookout for something better to do with their time. The more words you use, the more you’re asking them to read. Make sure your words are as clear as possible. Use fewer words.
Most of the time, it’s a lot easier to close the tab than to give your time and energy to a web form. Don’t forget that there are endless distractions to keep respondents from filling out a form. If any part of your form is confusing, ambiguous, or complicated, that creates a lot of friction. You want the clearest possible path, so people can speed right to the finish line.
With online forms, less is often better. Less text means there’s less to parse, and it’s less overwhelming. After cutting form fields and going from 11 to four questions total, one company increased conversions by 120%. So keep your words lean and take away anything that’s not necessary.
4. Delight your users
You need to develop and harness what makes your organization unique and appealing to your audience. It doesn’t have to be a huge, flashy gesture. But explore ways to make your words meaningful. Delighting your audience can be as simple as customizing the thank you page of a form, so that people feel appreciated through your genuine gratitude, or assured by a confirmation that you’ll get in touch ASAP.
Think about how you’d interact with them face-to-face. How do you try to connect with your audience? Figure out how you can take your conversations online. Write like you talk.
Order your form fields and paragraphs so that they follow a natural, logical order. Add section headers and emphasize key points. Make the space clean and inviting. People will take shortcuts wherever they can, so they’re likely to skim. If words are readily organized, then people will get more info from just a quick glance. That’s very convenient for anyone short on time.
We’ve already said that shorter is better, but if you must have a long form, you can cut down the mental strain by splitting up your form into multiple pages. It’s like dividing a phone number into small blocks of three to four digits, rather than leaving it as a long string of numbers. Break an unwieldy form into bite-size pieces so it’s easier to understand and to fill out. Add a navigation bar so it’s easy to flip from one page to the next.
6. Talk to your audience
This goes hand-in-hand with user delight. Who’s your audience? Have you refined your words so that you’re specifically talking to them? Be mindful and respectful of who and where they are. The words you choose should reflect this. If your organization is in the healthcare industry, it may be a good idea to have welcoming and supportive language. The tone will be different for the financial services industry or nonprofit audience, etc.
If your audience is international and spans many ages and nationalities, then you’ll want to be as plain as possible. You’ll need to avoid using any American English idioms and phrases, because people could get confused or misunderstand what you’re saying. Ideally, your web form will be localized for your audience, so that the text, buttons, and error messages are in your audience’s language.
7. Match your brand’s voice
Your words should align with your organization’s messaging. It should be a seamless transition from your website, storefront, office, email, letter, text, or however your audience finds yo
Is your organization’s voice playful or professional? If it’s playful, it doesn’t mean you have to go overboard, but you can feel free to have a little fun in the right place. For example, MailChimp’s voice is bright and expressive, but the tone changes depending on the context.
If you have a professional voice, you can be interesting and friendly without leaning too casual or silly. Just take care to steer clear of cookie-cutter text that’s dry and generic. Does it seem like it could belong to any old website, or is it clearly and specifically your organization’s voice?
Personalize your words as much you can, whether you’re designing a homeowner loan application or a pizza party event registration. The unique details of your web forms will help you stand out from the crowd, and help you make a human connection with prospective clients and customers.
8. Focus on the benefits
If people fill out your web form, what will they get at the end of it? Maybe you’re offering a free consultation, or an eBook download. But the benefits go beyond these things themselves, so uncover the real values for your audience.
For example, a financial consultation could help people save money and time and find more freedom in their lives
The benefit of a user filling out your web form may be broader. A survey response could help you change an important policy for low-income households for the better, with a significant boost to their quality of life. Regardless of what your web form offers, show your audience exactly what kinds of great things they can gain or contribute by giving you their information.
9. Use better verbs on your submit buttons
Does your submit button say “Submit”? While this is a common word to use on a CTA, there are no rules that say this has to be the only word you use. In fact, most likely there are better words or phrases you can use instead that provide better context on your web form.
Think of five different words you could use instead. Specific verbs are more helpful:
- Register Now
- Send a Message
- Download the Guide
- Schedule My Consultation
When you use specific verbs, respondents can tell immediately what the submit button does. And better verbs encourage people to take action, because the words paint a clear picture of what they’ll get or accomplish. The CTA button also provides an additional way to add your organization’s personal brand messaging.
Learn More Web Form Design
We hope our web form writing guide has helped you think more creatively about the copy on your forms. Be sure to read our eBook, 4 Steps to Better Web Forms, to learn more about this topic.