I don’t need to convince you that shorter forms are more user friendly. I might need to convince you that there’s no optimum number of questions. The best rule of thumb is to only ask the questions you need to.
First of all, cut any questions that aren’t pertinent to the purpose of your form. Here’s some question you can cut straight away:
- Remove Title as a required field.
- Don’t use a second form field to confirm password.
- Remove optional fields.
Once you’ve done that what more can you do? Well, lots actually. You need to be cleverer about how you gather information. Here are 4 hacks to shorten your forms.
Use smart forms
Skip location-based questions with IP lookup
Implement address lookup
Ask the right question for your purpose e.g. Date of Birth
Smart content may also be referred to as dynamic or adaptive content, meaning there’s code on the web page that recognises the user and delivers specific content based on past behaviour. Smart forms adapt questions presented, based on each visitor. New visitors see a different set of questions to returning visitors. This means you never ask the same visitor the same question twice.
It also means you can stagger the process of gathering information from a user, shortening your forms but finding out new information each time they fill out a form.
Hubspot smart forms are just one of the options available. Hubspot explain that smart content enables you to
“recognize a visitor as a customer, and give them a call-to-action that either minimizes the form fields or lets them bypass the download form entirely.”
The call to action adapts to the visitor too, helping you optimise the prompt to best speak to the visitor.
We use smart forms on our landing pages. The first time a visitor downloads content they are asked for their name and email address, as in the form below.
A returning visitor won’t be asked for their name or email address again. Instead, the form will display either pre-filled form fields or a new set of questions.
We frequently recommend designers and builders of web forms to help out users by detecting where they’re visiting from and adapting the form accordingly. Adaptations can include pre-filling a question about country or, even better, feeding back the country detected in a visually obvious way (FYI, web users find pre-filled fields more difficult to notice).
Here’s some tips on how to do it, based on Amazon CloudFront’s Dynamic Content Delivery service.
Amazon CloudFront offer Geo Targeting. Servers in different locations around the world detect where the website visitor is and then deliver the right content.
“Your origin server can generate different versions of the content for users in different countries and cache these different versions at the edge location to serve subsequent users visiting your website from the same country.”
At Formisimo, we pre-select Country in our signup form and the currency of the detected country on our account plan page (shown below).
By detecting currency in this way, users are saved from completing that question and the form looks shorter.
The EasyJet app goes further by using geo location from a user’s device to deliver the most appropriate content. The form to search for flights is made shorter and easier by putting the three closest airports to the users at the top of the ‘Flying From’ list.
Address forms are one of the longest parts of an online checkout. In some cases address is asked twice where a shipping and billing address are required. Although necessary, this form is still a point of friction for users. Address lookup, where users can search for their address in a database, speeds up the process.
Capture+ is a great example of this technology in action. It allows users to start typing any part of their address i.e. street name, house number or postcode and immediately feeds back a list of addresses to choose from. The options narrow as the user provides more specific details.
The screenshot above shows Capture+ at work. You can type any part of your address, which is explained via a tooltip, in this case it says “Start typing a postcode, street or address”.
Below the list of possible address is an option to change country. The country has presumably been set using my IP address. It’s useful to be able to change the country if you’re trying to enter an address abroad, for example.
Increasingly, ecommerce sites include postcode lookup in the online checkout but tools like Capture+ allow even greater flexibility for any type of form. The user doesn’t have to know the postcode to start searching for an address.
The form can be made extremely short, just two form fields; one to search in and one to display the selected address.
Address lookup has the added benefit of reducing the chance of errors through typos. Address lookup databases aren’t perfect though, sometimes addresses can’t be found. Always provide the option for users to enter their address manually. This will avoid creating a blocker if the database doesn’t have the user’s address.
Asking the right question can significantly reduce friction. I’ve used the example of gendered questions in web forms before, this time I’ll use Date of Birth as an example.
Date of birth is sometimes asked in place of simpler questions. By clarifying the purpose of the question you may find that you can change it, saving users from scrolling through dates and often putting their mind at ease too.
Reason 1: Personalise content by age range
Date of birth can be useful for personalising content by user to optimise their experience. In actual fact the user’s specific date of birth is not important (unless you want to personalise content leading up to and on their birthday – more this below). The significant part is the user’s age.
In the case where you want to know age or use age range to build a profile of the user then you don’t need to include a date of birth question.
Facebook also ask users to provide their date of birth. The site’s policy says account holders but be at least 13 years old. However, this is not the reason given for asking for date of birth. Instead, Facebook explain
“Providing your date of birth helps make sure you get the right Facebook experience for your age.”
This explains why they don’t simply ask new registrants to confirm that they are over 13.
Reason 2: Verify users meets age minimum requirement
Any websites related to alcohol or that contain adult material have to verify that their users are of the legal age in the country from which they’re visiting the site.
This means that the visitors birthday is irrelevant. So too is their specific age. Therefore, asking for date of birth isn’t the shortest way to confirm that the visitors are over 18.
Diageo use date of birth dropdowns, a method that is more effort than necessary visitors.
Soho Knives use the tick box method to confirm customers are over 18 when buying knives.
Both sites explain why they’re asking visitors to confirm their age. For both these sites there is a clear explanation that it’ a legal requirement.
Reason 3: Birthday specials
Asos ask new customers for their date of birthday, promising “There’s a birthday surprise coming your way if you do.” The form includes a birth year, which would also tell Asos how old the customer is but, interestingly, it doesn’t appear to be a required field.
If you’re using birthday gifts as incentive to get users to tell you their date of birth then this isn’t the option for you. Really you should be honest about how you’ll use the information.
If it is advertise but you’ll also send them perks/gifts on their birthday then say that. If you really just want to give them a gift on their birthday, no ulterior motive, then don’t ask for the year of birth and tell them you won’t use the information for anything else.
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