Left unsupervised, your online forms can cause a lot of trouble for your conversions. However, make optimize your forms for performance, and they'll become your website's greatest money-making asset.

Most people don't give their Web forms much credit or blame for their overall conversion rates, and that's a problem. The good news? Making a killer Web form just takes some know-how.

Worrying about online conversion rates might sound like a 21st-century phenomenon, but the tenets behind it have been around for decades. In 1981, William McGuire introduced his communication response sequence, suggesting that for every communication directed at a consumer, the brand must overcome the probabilities of the consumer paying attention to the messaging, liking it, comprehending it, yielding to the information, remembering it, then acting on what they've experienced.

Now imagine that applied to your website's form, and you can start to see where things could go wrong. But, take a deep breath... Here are some best-practices that are bound to help your conversions—and bottom line.

Brand appropriately

Whether you're using your form as a standalone link or you're embedding it straight onto your website, its look matters a great deal. Your company has already taken the time to craft the perfect look and brand, so don't let an ugly and inconsistent form destroy all your hard work. If your company has structured branding standards, make sure your online forms match your organization's look exactly.

Most do-it-yourself online form platforms give you customization options. Make sure your fonts (and font sizes), hex-code specific colors, and logo placement are a perfect match for your company.

Brand dilution happens anywhere you don't take the extra time to follow your guidelines, including on Web forms. Customers may not immediately notice, but if they see inconsistencies in the branding, it will feel confusing and it won't deliver an optimal experience.

Craft the perfect headline

Just like a good book title, a news article headline, or an email subject line, the introductory words of your form need to be carefully chosen.

Spend the time to make sure the words at the top of your form will grab attention and encourage people to take the time to fill it out. You can go about it various ways, but you can pretty well be certain that "Contact Form" isn't going to boost your conversions the same way that "News Story" isn't going to encourage you to read an article.

(This detailed guide on writing headlines works well for online forms, too. Also check out this infographic "cheat sheet" for writing headlines.)

Pay attention to placement

Sure is hard to fill out a form if you can't find it. Sounds simple enough, but placement needs to be executed well. If you bury your form at the bottom of a website page and ask the site visitor to work to find it, you are vastly overestimating your potential customers' willingness to spend time trying to find the form. Consider a (not too loud) form above the fold that's easy to find.

However, there's also more to it than simple placement; people need to notice it. According to Acquire Convert, "ensure the most important task you want your user to complete on each page is high up in the page's visual hierarchy."

Make your offer known with clear calls to action

Maybe your offer is a follow-up phone call or an email with a specialist, a free e-book, or an informative brochure. Whatever the case, if you make your offer crystal clear, visitors will feel more compelled to give away their valuable information.

Fuzzy calls to action will always stand in the way of a terrific conversion rate, even if the rest of the form is wonderful.

Refrain from using the standard "submit" button that shows up as a default with most online form-building tools. Instead, consider something a little more descriptive, like "request more information," "subscribe now," or "create account." (Check this article for some ideas.)

Complicated forms kill conversions

You may be tempted to use a form as a means to squeeze as much information as you can from your site's visitors. Let's put a hold on that. Every extra second your visitors spend trying to fill out a form risks that they leave for good.

Because as fun as it might be for you to make your form, customers generally don't share the joy when actually filling it out. Forms with great conversion rates ask for information they absolutely must have, and they ask for it as clearly as possible. That's why a simple design matters.

Web form expert Caroline Jarrett wrote in Forms That Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability that "during an ordinary conversation, if one person asks a question that the other one doesn't understand, then there are many opportunities to backtrack, to clarify meaning, and to correct misconceptions. Your form is a sort of conversation between the user and your organization, but this conversation takes place remotely, without those opportunities for clarification."

Using radio buttons and dropdowns is another great way to save a form submitter's time. Consider also that many of your form visitors are coming from mobile devices, and the less time and effort you ask of them, the better.

Measure your success

In marketing, guessing gets you only so far. Analyzing your forms' conversion rates with a form analytics tool is going to improve performance and your company's bottom line. If your site is getting lots of traffic, and your form is converting only 10% of its visitors, then it's time to make changes; but you'll only know to make the changes in the first place if you take the time to analyze performance.

The beauty about modern analytics tools is that you don't have to be a numbers person to understand their implications.

And, of course, don't forget to A/B-test your forms, with different variables for headlines, submit buttons, and field placements. Tools for doing so, like Unbounce, are easy to set up and give you good results.

* * *

With so many things to think about when you're dealing with customer acquisition, it's understandable that your online forms can take a back seat. But paying a little extra attention to optimizing them for performance can significantly improve revenue. And you don't need to be a technical expert to make simple changes to online forms with today's build-it-yourself platforms.

Do you have experience building your own Web forms? Do you agree with the tips mentioned here or do you have additional pointers? Let us know!

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Best-Practices for Increasing Your Online Form's Conversion Rate

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image of Chad Reid

Chad Reid is director of communications at JotForm, a San Francisco-based online form-building tool.

LinkedIn: Chad Reid