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8 Optimisation Experts’ Tips on Form Design

Conversion Rate Optimisation

At Formisimo we can give you all the data you need to understand how your users are behaving in your forms.

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We also want to point you in the right direction to making changes that improve your forms. That’s why I asked these top optimisation experts for their tips for great online forms. All contributors are experienced, successful and respected, with many running their own optimisation or user experience agencies.

Keep it simple

Paul Boyce, Co-founder of Popcorn Metrics

“Keep the form as clean and simple as possible. For lead generation forms, we’re big fans of First Name + Email pattern. That’s enough to send a personalised email to any lead.” – Paul Boyce, @paulmboyce

Paul shared this example of a lead generation form that converts really well:

Lead Gen form on datadrivengrowthmarketer


David Mannheim, owner of User Conversion

“It’s not necessarily about making the form as ‘short’ as possible, but ensuring that the form is persuasive enough to fill out. Gamification, urgency and improved usability go a long way in form design.” – David Mannheim, @userconversion

Chris Callaghan, User Experience Lead at McCann Connected

Chris Callaghan suggests using smart forms for progressive profiling. This allows you to present shorter forms but build up information about your customers over time – like IRL.

“Try asking for less information up front and then complete remaining information through eCRM or on the following page.” – Chris Callaghan, @CallaghanDesign

Motivate your users by making copy goal-orientated

Chris went on to give tips for three major form types:


Transactional forms are any that a consumer has to fill out to complete a purchase. Think of an online checkout or PayPal payment gateway.

Completion rates for checkout forms average at 12%, even lower than other online forms.

Globla checkout conversions starting in checkout

“Make CTAs outcome modelled rather than task modelled to show the user what they’re going to get, not what they have to do”


A survey is pretty self-explanatory but keep in mind that these types of forms tend to be much longer.

“Size of fields relate to perception of effort. So for open comments boxes in surveys, large fields communicate that the survey maker wants lots of information which users perceive as lots of effort which in turn may reduce completion rates.”

Lead generation

Lead generation forms imply first contact. The potential lead has no obligation to you.

“Use reciprocity. Give users something as a value exchange for their data – if you can give a little something upfront first and deliver more on the other side of the sign up, then even better.” – Chris Callaghan, @CallaghanDesign

Connect with Chris on LinkedIn:

Karl Blanks, Co-founder of Conversion Rate Experts

“Start your form with an irresistible one-sentence summary of the value proposition. It’s your final chance to remind visitors why they should do all the hard work of completing the form.”

“For each form field, consider explaining why the user will benefit from submitting that information. A great example comes from our friend the legendary marketer Drayton Bird. Drayton was working on an application form for a loan product. He decided to move the ‘your address’ field from the end of the form to the start of it, giving it the following title: ‘To which address would you like us to send the cheque?’”

“The words on the call-to-action button should be irresistibly appealing. ‘Register now’ isn’t irresistibly appealing.”

Connect with Karl by receiving his newsletter.

Use innovative solutions

Henry Thomas, Senior Web Developer at PCA Predict

Take away the pain of typing an address

“A step up from traditional postcode lookup, predictive search tools in address fields can significantly reduce form friction by presenting a list of matching addresses as you type. Because you can search any part of an address, it is far better than old-school solutions when an address has no postcode or when the user is less familiar with the address (perhaps a gift purchase or the address of their holiday accommodation).”

We’ve seen errors in forms account for a high percentage of drop offs in our customers’ reports. One form suffered 59% drop off due to an issue with the postcode field. When fixed, successful conversions increased significantly:

Overview report showing increase in conversion rate

“Innovative address tools like Capture+, improve user experience and reduce form abandonment rates by providing customers with a quicker way to enter delivery and billing address details. The suggested options are refined as you type, avoiding the need to scroll down a huge list of matching addresses. Predictive address search not only delivers better UX but also guarantees accurate customer data is captured at the point of entry.” – Henry Thomas, @PCAPredict

Design with the user in mind

James Robinson, Head of Analytics and Optimisation, Zuto

James’ advice is to put yourself on the other side of the form. Think through the possible pain points and create a design that heads potential problems. Your users are real people, who are private and time-poor, who make mistakes. Be understanding and forgiving.

“Use mandatory fields to reinforce what great service you give – for example, if you need a phone number because you call every customer as part of a personal service, explaining this reason turns a negative to a positive and should soften any drop-off from making the field mandatory. If you can’t explain to the customer how you having their number benefits them, rather than you, it helps trigger discussions around removing the field altogether.”

“Start with loose field validation – rather than restrict what the user can enter too heavily on any new form, start with relaxed rules until you identify a problem with certain entries and tighten from there. That way you learn the rules from the customer, rather than forcing them to meet your requirements and losing conversions.” – James Robinson, @jamrobinson

Formisimo generates several reports that will help you understand the impact of strict validation and high error rates in your forms. One such is the Most Corrected Fields report. Another feature, useful for identifying when users are making corrections is Real Time Statistics. Watch the GIF below to see users engaging with and typing in form fields:

Real Time Statistics report updating

Here’s some more info on how to prevent high correction rates in forms.

Tom Parson, Director of Huddle Digital

“With returning users, assume their choices based on previous activity and make it easy to make corrections, rather than starting at square one every time. This drastically reduces the required effort for users who repeatedly use the same details, while allowing others to make specific changes easily.”

“Always be sensitive to what information you’re asking for, and consider what the mindset of the user will be when providing that information. People don’t want to be asked about their medical history as if it were their shoe size.” – Tom Parson, @huddledigital

Editor’s note: Tom and I were both moved by Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s closing keynote presentation. Everybody Hurts: Content for Kindness at NUX 2015. In it, Sara shares a very personal story that makes a hard-hitting point about how your form can make your users feel. You can watch a version of this presentation below:

Do what you can to prevent errors

Preventing errors is another way to ensure a pleasant user experience. It’s also to you as you’ll have good quality data.

Manuel da Costa, Conversion Optimisation Strategist and owner of Digital Tonic

“Use inline form validation with tick marks to show users their input is valid. This is a form of positive reinforcement rather than just using red X’s. This also prevents the situation where a form has been submitted with incorrect details only to be reloaded again for the user to correct their mistakes. Help them get it right the first time” – Manuel da Costa, @digital_tonic

Thank you to all the contributors for your tips. If you have a question for anyone, comment below.

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