In this article, we’ll explore the topic of online form abandonment, what causes it, and what websites can do to minimize the issue.
Form abandonment in this context isn’t as well documented as cart abandonment, so there is less data out there. For example, we know from our client data that 76.9% of shoppers abandon checkout forms, but data for other types of forms is less commonly available.
Other types of online forms may not have an immediate transaction at the end of them, but they are no less important.
Some forms drive leads for sales teams. For example, a test drive request completed online is of great value to dealerships as it provides them with a lead from someone with an obvious interest in the product.
Are people motivated to complete the form?
There are several reasons for form abandonment. Some are to do with the actual design of the form, while others are around the motivation of the user to complete the form.
If, for example, I’m asked to complete a five minute survey on my most recent experience with a mobile phone provider, I may lose the will to live before completion. It’s a dull task and there’s little in it for me.
However, if the form can be completed easily within two minutes, or if the reward at the end is sufficient, then more people will complete the form. In other words, people need to be motivated to complete a form.
That motivation is a starting point, but form designers then need to make sure that the effort required to complete forms doesn’t outweigh the momentum generated by the desire to book that test drive or the need to find an insurance quote.
Here are some ways to make forms less painful…
1 Keep Forms as Short as You Can
Long forms look like hard work, and it’s often because they are. The obvious answer would be to produce shorter forms, but some forms will necessarily require lots of fields. Insurance quotes for example.
The types of sites with longer forms sometimes have higher abandonment rates.
So, travel abandonment rates are often higher as forms to select booking and flight details are longer and more complex than those on the average retail site.
There are ways to make longer forms easier though, and good design can make even longer forms more user friendly.
For example, gocompare’s home insurance quote form is long, with lots of information to cover, but by breaking it up into five sections, it seems like less work than if it had been presented on the one page.
It can be as much about the user’s perception of the amount of effort required to complete forms as the actual reality. If it doesn’t feel like hard work, it isn’t so bad.
2 Avoid Unnecessary Questions
There’s a natural temptation to get as much data as possible from users completing forms, as this can help the sales team, or inform future marketing strategy.
However, this can also increase the likelihood that people will bail out before completing the form.
There needs to be a balance between the value of the extra questions asked of users and the risk that fewer people will complete forms as a result.
The Question Protocol can help here. It’s a way to find out which form fields are really needed, by asking a series of questions, such as:
- Why do you need this information?
- Who uses the information and what for?
- Which users need to provide the information?
- How will the business check that the information is accurate?
One field that may be unnecessary now is the one which asks where you heard about the company.
It’s a field that users aren’t likely to be interested in (it’s obviously irrelevant to them), and it’s a question which can be answered through analytics in many cases.
3 Show How Much Progress Users Have Made
It’s easy for people to become discouraged when completing a form, but a progress bar can offer vital reassurance that there’s not too much form-filling left to do.
Here, Mercedes clearly indicates both the number of steps in the process, as well as the user’s current progress.
4 Make Forms Fun to Complete
Completing web forms can be dull, and the look of some can be enough to deter users. This is where good design can help.
Take this example from Typeform. It’s actually enjoyable to complete, thanks to good design and a nice conversational tone to the copy.
5 Use Visual Cues
Imagery can also be use to aid form completion. For example, on Mercedes’ test drive request form, it uses images of the cars for users to select the model they’re interested in.
Not everyone will know the differences between models, so the visual clues aid completion. Also, it’s a more pleasant form to fill in, as it looks appealing.
Autoglass makes it forms easy to complete with simple questions aided by visual cues to help people assess the damage to their windscreens.
Using references such as match heads and coins to help people describe the damage makes it so much easier for people to complete forms.
6 Guide Users Through the Process
While many form fields will seem self-explanatory, users can be tripped up or delayed by certain fields.
Things like postcode or password fields can be a problem if the rules are too strict. For example, some sites will insist on passwords with a mix of upper and lower-case text, symbols and numbers.
If sites have rules for password entry, then explaining this in advance will minimize the risk of annoying customers with error messages telling them they got it wrong. Some simple microcopy next to the relevant form field can help here.
7 Offer a Helping Hand
People often need some support when completing forms. This may be in the form of relevant messaging, or perhaps online FAQs, but some people will prefer some one-to-one assistance to complete forms, especially long and often complex finance forms.
A well-timed message can provide help to users before they decide to abandon forms. Offering to call people to help, or to email their application to finish later can help to boost completion rates.
8 Use In-Line Validation
Rather than wait until customers submit the form, or a section of it before they’re informed of errors made, in-line validation can provide instant feedback as users complete form fields.
If there’s an issue with a form field, then the problem can be explained clearly right next to the relevant field.
Twitter uses in-line validation for its sign up form. So, when a customer makes a mistake on password entry, the message is there right next to the field.
The email address suggestion is another excellent example. Twitter has recognized what is likely to be a common mistake and, rather than ask the user to re-type the address, they can just click to confirm the suggested correction. It can often be a better approach to anticipate common data entry errors.
9 Provide Shortcuts to Reduce Effort
Anything which reduces the effort needed to complete forms reduces the chances that users will abandon them. So, any shortcuts which can be added are valuable.
An obvious examples of this is the use of postcode lookup tools which save users the need to enter their whole address.
Here’s another from Moneysupermarket’s home insurance quote form.
Rather than ask these 11 questions individually, it merely asks users to check the statements and ensure that they’re correct, thus reducing the effort required.
Overall, the key to reducing cart and form abandonment is to provide the best possible user experience for your users.
Obvious sources of friction, which can often be identified through analytics, should be removed, while it’s important to find the right balance between gathering key information from the user and making forms so lengthy that users abandon the process.
Good visual design is important too. As in the Mercedes examples shown above, strong design can lift a form and make it a more pleasant experience for the user.
If customers are motivated to complete forms, then the trick is to ensure that the desire to complete the form doesn’t disappear during the process.
Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.