Are Web Forms Old School?
Being the paranoid consumer I am, I have to assume they are going to do one of two things. They are either going to sell my personal information to someone else and try to make a buck off of something that I consider my property. Or, they are going to send me junk mail, thereby wasting my time, cluttering my home and eventually filling my local landfill. Both of these assumptions turn me off so much that I rarely complete a form that asks for my address.
I’m not alone in my aversion to sharing unnecessary information on a web form. Mike Frichol writes about his research into the way ERP Software vendors are using forms on his blog The Marketing Melange. He says that the worst example he found was for a vendor that required the visitor “to create a full profile with over 25 data fields to become a supposed member of some privileged inner circle group before you see their information.” Yikes!
Those of you who follow David Meerman Scott, author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR know that he is a proponent of tearing down the gates in front of your content. Joe Pulizzi recently quoted some stats he brought back from David’s presentation at the Branded Content Conference. He says that “a white paper or eBook will be downloaded 20x and up to 50x more WITHOUT a gate in front of it.” This allows people, such as bloggers, who are the most likely to share your content easy access to it. And, it improves the chance that good content can go viral.
Mark Palony at SoftBrands, an ERP vendor located in Minneapolis is testing this theory. In his company blog, he’s shared with his prospects and customers that he has removed all the forms in front of his content. When I asked Mark what lead up to the decision he cited the higher abandon rates on the forms and that he wanted to remove any obstacles to getting the information in the hands of his prospects.
As for me, I’m not ready to abandon forms completely. If you are looking for a way to build an opt-in list web forms are a great tool. However, a well executed form strategy is needed to avoid turning off today’s savvy (or paranoid) customer. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t put your brochures behind a form. I know you spent a lot of time and effort putting those together but they just aren’t that high of value to the customer.
- Watch the download rates. Put what you consider a great customer-focused piece of content behind a form and watch the bounce rates for the form as well as the download rates. Then take the form out from in front of it and see if your stats come anywhere near the stats quoted by David Meerman Scott.
- Test various landing page and form layouts. It could be the layout or verbiage of your landing page or the form itself. Try some A/B testing to see if you can increase your response rates while still keeping the form.
- If you decide to take Mark’s plan and remove all forms, watch your inbound contact rate. It is sure to take some time, but if the number of calls you get doesn't increase, your problem may not be the forms.
- Ask for no more information than is absolutely necessary. In most cases, name, company name and email are sufficient. You may think you need the phone number but asking for that information can increase your abandon rates. How many people do you know want a rep giving them a call? If you really do need to follow up by phone, the numbers aren’t all that difficult to obtain through other sources.
- Allow for an opt-in on every form you have. If you can get prospects to opt-in to your nurturing program, you'll feel less compelled to out everything on your site behind a form simply because you are desperate for leads.
All the best!