Online Web forms that capture customer data in exchange for content or another kind of information or service are often the first point of contact customers have with your business.

So, why are they frequently so awful? Or overly ambitious? Why do marketers try to collect too much information, or require extraneous information customers aren’t interested in readily handing over?

Capturing and converting leads online is all about user experience. Provide visitors with a positive experience, and you're more likely to interest them in taking the next step in the pipeline: getting to know your company better.

Here are 14 ways marketers can improve the conversion rates of their Web forms.

1. Avoid too many clicks

If the goal of your online marketing program is lead generation, then keep Web forms as short as possible. Who wants to spend 10 minutes giving away a complete personal history—especially early in the relationship? We don't. Potential customers don't, either.

Even if you don't require visitors to complete every field, a long, visually cluttered form can be off-putting.

Bob DeStefano, one of our go-to experts at MarketingProfs, likes to say, "Don't try to qualify prospects with your online forms—that's the salesperson's job."

You can always ask more questions as you filter leads through the sales cycle; don't turn them away before they've even made it to the door.

2. Make your forms easy to find

Don't make people click away to search for a contact page—provide access to the appropriate form where visitors will want and need it on your site, and keep it visible, especially on pages that require any scrolling. People shouldn't have to hunt for the form.

3. Include a call to action

Provide a call to action on each page that guides visitors to the information they seek and to the appropriate form to address their stage of the purchase process. For instance, you could provide a sidebar with contact options such as "Buy Now," "Send Me a Quote" or "Tell Me More," or whatever is appropriate for your firm.

However you approach your call to action and forms, don't leave people guessing; their guesses may lead them away from your site.

4. Mandate the minimum

Testing will likely lead you to the conclusion we've reached here at MarketingProfs with our own forms: The more fields you require, the fewer people you will hear from. Keep it simple. First and last name, company, phone number, email address—whatever you must have for the next step.

Unless you legitimately need more information to take action, don't require leads to provide their addresses or their titles or... you get the drill. You can gather that information during your next point of contact. Just require the information you need to take that next step.

5. Make your forms simple and interesting

At MarketingProfs, we've used the "Mad Libs" approach for Basic member sign-up, and it's worked well for us. (You can see what we mean at the bottom of every page, where visitors who haven't yet signed up as members see our "perpetual lead form.")

Here's an example of A/B test data comparing a Mad Libs approach with a traditional form approach.

6. Measure your forms' efficiency

Speaking of tests, you need to measure the results of your forms. Test, adjust, and test again. Use your analytics platform to determine where your visitors are coming from and how many of them access your forms; by comparing pageviews with actual submissions, you can determine how many visitors follow through and how many click away without completing.

Break the form into pieces and test that. Check out SmartBrief as an example, which collects minimal information for its newsletters, and then attempts to collect much more information for its advertisers on the next page, using a piece of bait to encourage compliance.

Look at which products or pages drive the most visitors to action (and which result in successful form completion); then, use that information to improve the rest of your site and your other forms.

7. Consider what's "need to have" vs. "nice to have"

Marketers should ask themselves why they need more detailed prospect information and from whom they need it. It's a matter of "need to have" vs. "nice to have."

Doubling your data requirement may make for a complete customer relationship management (CRM) file and a happy sales team, but does it do the same for your leads? Is it worth a lost opportunity?

Provide different options for prospects as they move through the sales funnel; some who are ready to actively engage and are at a later stage in the cycle will likely be willing and eager to provide more detailed information about themselves and their needs—and that's the right time to gather those details.

8. Maintain a long-term perspective

If you provide only one opportunity for your prospects to contact you or share online, and you're not supporting that with qualification efforts in other channels, then a short form with minimal fields could have a negative impact on your data and scoring.

But, if you're relying on a single lead touchpoint to drive your qualification decision making, you're doing your prospects and yourself a disservice.

Engage with them, solicit more information from them at every touchpoint throughout the sales cycle—whether online or offline. Look into ways of capturing data without asking direct questions.

For example, what page or product led them to take that first step? What is their Web interaction history with you? Such data can be tracked behind the scenes without requiring the prospect to fill out a long form.

9. Avoid junk data

The more extraneous the questions, the greater the likelihood that people will provide erroneous answers. By eliminating unnecessary requirements, most marketers will reduce junk data.

To ensure working email addresses, consider delivering lead generation materials by sending a link via email (rather than immediately displaying the information).

Think about what is appropriate for each stage of the cycle: Not everyone is ready to jump out of near anonymity.

For example, provide a short form for newsletter subscribers and a separate submission form for quote-seeking leads—don't tie those together, because they likely attract prospects in different stages of the purchase cycle who are willing to provide differing amounts of information.

Finally, lead database hygiene is just a fact of life. Records that have fixable errors such as mistyped email addresses (e.g., .cpm instead of .com) are different from those that are simply false (e.g.,; don't miss out on a potential deal because of a typo.

10. Treat forms as part of the nurturing process

It all comes down to providing the right calls to action and ways to connect for different prospects in different phases of the sales cycle. Not all prospects are ready to buy today, but that doesn't mean you should disregard them. Don't ask for more information than a lead in each phase is willing to give, and you won't have significant trouble acquiring accurate data up front.

(How do you know what is enough? Think about what you need for the next step and test. Then test some more. We can't emphasize testing enough.)

Actionable data means different things at different points in the sales cycle. Actionable data for people just kicking the tires may be correct email addresses and newsletter opt-ins; there's no need to ask for too much more—yet.

And when they're ready to talk, provide them a way of augmenting existing data to connect with the right member of the sales team, and then let that salesperson walk them through the qualification questions as part of the relationship-building process.

11. Remember that "progressive profiling" isn't a magic bullet

Progressive profiling—a technique that asks new questions of visitors each time they visit your site, thereby "progressively" building a profile with you—can be an effective tool to gather additional information on prospects with each interaction. But it isn't a magic bullet that allows you to stop other qualification efforts.

Visitors don't always comply with progressive profiling (and many marketers don't have the technical resources to do it well), so you need to fill the gaps in other ways.

12. Sidestep potential pitfalls

Marketers can use a lot of profile information to make prospect communications and customer Web experience more effective. But avoid collecting personal data and using it in ways customers find intrusive. That's going to encourage them to provide false data or negatively affect their willingness to provide additional information.

It is important that you be clear with customers about how you will use the information you have about them and that you really think about the interactions from their point of view.

That may seem obvious, but you should use profile information to present the most useful (and effective) offers to your prospects—and not come off as someone who is "spying" on them or using their information inappropriately.

13. Cull the bad data

In January, MarketingProfs reported on a survey that Forrester Research conducted for Silverpop in which respondents cited "improving data quality" as a major pain point for their lead-generation programs in general.

Of course bad data is going to gunk up your pipeline—and it is going to make it appear that you have a greater pool of leads than you actually do if you don't weed out the bad data (which will make subsequent response rates and campaign results appear less favorable than they actually may be because the deadweight pulls your numbers down).

For online collection and conversion, the key is to ensure the data you collect at each touchpoint is as accurate as possible by relying on the ways we've described above.

Additionally, you need to manage leads via nurturing programs that keep prospects interested, develop trust, and encourage honest relationships. This approach encourages accuracy and information-sharing by prospects.

Also, remember that bad data doesn't just come from the point of entry; contacts within companies change, people change responsibilities, and phone numbers and emails become useless if they're not kept up-to-date. Stale data by its very age will increasingly become bad data.

14. Monitor conversion rates

Conversion rates will vary, depending on what you are asking people to provide, what stage they are in the buying cycle, and a bunch of other variables.

Therefore, it's important to actively test and improve your forms over time—trying to improve conversion rates and information accuracy with each test. Make sure that you are really using the information you are collecting by auditing your information collection and information usage periodically.

At MarketingProfs, we also monitor our funnels daily (and we have separate funnels for each entry point for our various paid product lines). When we test, we make sure we are testing only one change at a time, and we allow for sufficient time to let the test settle in. Invariably, we see an initial conversion drop for a couple of days whenever we make any change to our forms—even when the change turns out to be positive in the end. So it is important to give the test a reasonable amount of time.

What amount of time is appropriate? It depends. Thousands of people hit our funnels daily, and we give all tests at least two weeks (and usually much more). You'll need to test your site to determine what timeframe works for you.

Bob DeStefano recently conducted a Take 10 webcast for MarketingProfs—7 Ways You Can Fix Your Website Forms to Get More Leads—which goes into some of these suggestions in greater detail (in just 10 minutes!)

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image of Jo Roberts

Jo Roberts heads up MarketingProfs' web strategy and free product portfolio (among other things). She previously lead marketing for B2B Marketing Forum and Marketing Services product lines.


LinkedIn: Jo Roberts

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Anne Yastremski is vice president of marketing at MarketingProfs. Need to reach her? Find her on LinkedIn (AnneYastremski), sometimes Twitter (@anneyaz), or at any of our live and virtual events.