May 28, 2015 | John Goethert

How to Get Better Responses through Your Online Forms

Better Response Through Online Forms

“So, Russ, what is your biggest challenge with your website?”

When I asked my friend Russell about his day-to-day digital experience as a small business owner, I thought he would say something like “not enough organic traffic” or “creating content for social,” so I was surprised when he said his consistent headache was his employment application form.

You see, he has a lot of employee turnover, and his primary source of potential employees is an online form on his website. The problem is that many (most) prospects simply check every box and highlight every drop-down option, making his vetting process a nightmare.

With a little thought and some simple changes to his form, the whole process could become much more efficient. When I analyzed his form, I recognized a few issues led to form submissions from unqualified candidates:

  1. The form was too short for the purpose
  2. There were too many check boxes
  3. Many of the fields weren't required
  4. It lacked conditional formatting

Now, let's talk about how you could go about addressing those issues.

1. Ask More Questions

Normally we try to limit “form friction” by keeping the number of fields as low as possible. Hubspot recommends between 3 and 7 fields, especially when a visitor is still at the top of the sales funnel. But in Russell’s case, using more form fields will weed out people who are not willing to go to the trouble of filling them out. Since it's a job application, anyone who isn't willing to fill out the additional fields is clearly not that interested.

2. Limit the Check Boxes

One thing I've learned being a parent is never to ask my children a yes-or-no question. Always ask "how" or "what." If you ask “did you have fun at school?” you will inevitably get a vague “yeah.” A much better question is “what was the most fun thing you did today?”

In the case of Russell’s form, we can use the same concept by asking questions that require more than a simple yes or no. A check box might be easy for visitors to use, but it limits what you can learn about them. Instead, consider a form field that allows them to give a more complete answer.

3. Make It Required

Another way to guarantee that you get the most information is to make certain fields required. There's no way to avoid answering an important question you can't submit the form until it's complete!

4. Build in Important Restrictions

Required fields are very good at making sure YOU have the information you need, but there's information that the submitter needs as well (like job requirements, for example). Adding text above or beside the form reminding people of essential information helps them know up front if should even bother filling it out. If a college degree is required, for example, you can include both a message and a form field to prevent applicants from spending their time as well as yours on something that just isn't going to work out.

In some cases, I use conditional fields to help narrow the pool of applicants to likely candidates. Many of today’s forms, like those made with the Gravity Forms plugin for Wordpress, have the ability show different information depending on the user's selections in earlier fields. For instance, I might have a required drop-down field for the person’s level of education. If they haven't graduated from college, the form could redirect them to another page on the site restating the requirements and thanking them for their time.

It's also a more positive experience for the visitor, especially if those questions are near the top of the form so people don’t spend a lot of time on the application before being redirected. It's always worth it to be considerate, because you never know; the person could become a customer or refer a friend who is more suited to the job.

Conditional fields can also be used to offer up different questions based on what the person answered. If you require a college degree for the position and the visitor selects high school as their highest level of education, the form can “suggest” that they apply for a different job and continue with fields for that job.

warehouse position

As marketers, we strive to minimize “form friction” and receive more submissions, but in some cases more isn't necessarily better. In this case, a few strategic changes will save Russell lots of time and, help him zero in on some well-qualified job candidates. When it comes to forms, it's good to remember that more isn't actually the goal—attracting the right people is.

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John Goethert

John Goethert

John Goethert served as VIEO’s senior inbound marketing project manager for many years and enjoyed using his varied expertise on behalf of our clients.

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