Designing an online form may not be as glamorous as creating an animated Flash movie or dreaming up cool ad copy. But for many Web sites, online forms are an important marketing tool—and often the place where actual revenue is generated.

Whether you're a community site trying to gain new members, a news site aiming for more newsletter subscribers or a financial site processing loan applications, your online forms can be indispensable to your business.

Here are eight tips for creating forms that succeed.

1. Shorter Is Not Necessarily Better

A mantra of online form design is “shorter is better.” Of course, this is common sense. Ceteris paribus (“all other things being equal”), who wouldn't prefer a shorter form to a longer one? But, as the Latin phrase hints, consumer preference depends on the context.

For example, if you're promoting an e-newsletter subscription, you probably need only two pieces of info: email address and permission to subscribe. However, if your form asks only these two questions, some users may be turned off. Asking relevant questions—contextualizing the offer—can lend credibility. For instance, if the newsletter is aimed at graphic designers, you could also ask what platform they're on and what programs they prefer. Adding minimal contextual questions won't discourage many users from completing the form; in fact, it will probably reassure them.

2. Design Multiple Pages—or Not

Besides deciding on the number of questions, you also need to decide on the number of pages. If your form consists of 20 questions, should you build one page with all 20 questions, or do you create two pages with 10 questions each? Of course, the correct answer is to try both—and compare completion rates.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Grayson (David_Grayson@yahoo.com) is Senior Product Manager at Military.com (www.military.com), the largest military and Veteran destination Web site.