July 17, 2014 | Rob Spurlock

What Information Should I Ask for in My Online Forms?

What Information Should I Ask for in My Online Form?

So you're building a website, and now you want to interact with the people who visit it, right?

While you can get all kinds of traffic analytics on visitors, you have no idea who they are on a personal level unless you can convince them to give you a little personal information.

One of the easiest ways to gather that information is with an online form. Online forms are like faceless, discreet digital sales reps at work for you 24 hours a day, only they don't take weekends or vacation days.

So, just build it and they'll tell me their deepest, darkest secrets?

Not exactly. Just because you put a form on your website and load it up with 40 of the most personal questions you can think of doesn't mean anyone will fill it out and click that submit button.

Visitors are much more likely to provide information when there's a benefit to them, like a free guide, ebook, or software trial to download.

Even then, there's a limit to how much information they'll give you, and it's probably less than you expect.

Think of your form as a chat with a complete stranger who just visited your booth at a convention. Would you ask them "Hey, what's your phone number, and when should I call you?" or "When's your birthday?"

Save those questions for a first date, and only ask the minimum number of questions necessary, namely those that will get them into your database and help you identify them when they come back.

The quickest and easiest data to get from a new visitor to your website is:

  • Full name, because everyone has one and they're used to giving it out
  • Email address, which is basically the currency of the Internet

The more valuable the offer, the more information the visitor will be willing to share. To get that initial form filled out, stick to the basics and make all of the fields required.

Three or four form fields is usually the most you can effectively include in a top-of-the-funnel form. If you're giving away a physical product (like a free sample) then you can ask for more detailed info.

What information should I avoid putting in top-of-the-funnel forms?

Once they're familiar with your business and the value you offer, they'll be comfortable providing more information in exchange for your content.

However, violating that trust, or looking like you're going to, will prevent you from building that relationship. Building trust includes letting them know what contact to expect from you (e.g. weekly blog digests or occasional offers), but also not scaring them off with certain types of questions.

Be sure to avoid these kinds of errors:

  • Junk Mail Alert - Avoid fields that makes it look like you'll send them tons of annoying junk mail, like a full mailing address. If you need location data, at least leave off the street address. People will more freely give out their city and state than they will their own mailing address. The only exception is if you're mailing them a free product; if so, state that clearly in the form.
  • Telemarketer Alert - On a top-of-the-funnel offer form, fields like phone number, best time to call, and permission to call are overkill. They barely know you, and may worry that you will call them until they have to block your phone number and report you to the FCC. Save the phone number field for larger offers further down the funnel that required actual contact, like a sales consultation or product demo. If you have to request a phone number, at least make it a non-required field.
  • Getting Too Personal - Personal information should be avoided is most cases (at first). Do you really need to know their age? You can ask, but if the field isn't required many will leave it blank, and if it is required (or if there are too many fields), many will avoid filling out the form altogether. You can often get this information by turning on demographics tracking in Google Analytics rather than asking them directly.

There are always exceptions, but as a general rule, don't ask if you don't have to know. To create that perfect top-of-the-funnel form, think about what you need from your site visitor in order to track them when they return and reach them with future offers.

At this stage, your primary goal is to get them into your database.

Inbound Marketing versus Outbound Marketing

If you practice Inbound Marketing instead of Outbound Marketing, your primary goal is to build a relationship with your ideal customers and nurture them down your sales funnel.

Armed with their names and email addresses, you can send your leads targeted emails letting them know about your other offers, but here's where it gets good... when they return to download the next offer, you can ask for more (pertinent) info.

Do this bit by bit until you have a full picture of who they are and what they need. Then, you can begin to classify these visitors as qualified leads and guide them to your more valuable offers such as case studies, webinars and eventually free consultations and quotes for services. We use the closed-loop marketing software HubSpot to do this in a strategic manner for ourselves and our clients!

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Rob Spurlock

Rob Spurlock

Principal and Founder of VIEO Design™, LLC. Rob has a love for the East TN community. Server environment, web functionality and WordPress expert. He has extensive expertise in the Internet industry and related Internet software with over 15 years experience.

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