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Form tracking and Contagious Yawning in Tortoises – are they important?


At Formisimo, we are committed to spreading the word about the need to keep a close eye on how visitors interact with the forms on a website, but are we just data nuts? Are we like those people that insist on measuring everything? Should we be nominated for an Ignobel Award, and stand alongside those that undertake interesting, but ultimately useless research projects, such as investigating contagious yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise (yes this has been done and no, there is no evidence)? We do not think so, and I would like to explain why.

We need to go deeper

We need to go deeper…

Almost all websites contain some sort of form, and all of them are a gateway through which a potential new customer can get in contact in some way with your business. This event, and its importance, should not be understated. Imagine for a second the journey of one of these people – they may have seen a blog by someone in your organisation, then heard a radio advert explaining what you do, then started following you on Twitter, visited your website, then gone away for a while, then seen another Tweet by you, and then decided to come back to you website and been compelled by what they saw there to get in touch.

Think of the marketing spend to get a potential customer to that point! Then, they roll up their sleeves, start typing away, fully intent on getting in touch with you, when suddenly; they give up, close the window and go elsewhere. Why? The website looks great, there is a contact form on every page, and the information and blog are engaging and relevant, so why did the visitor not complete the form? We need more information.

Comparing visits to conversions is not enough

Tracking the number of visitors to a page and comparing it to the number of enquires you receive is not enough. It can give you some information, but is basically a binary indicator of how your form is performing – it can tell you if it is working, and what rate the form is converting, but not a whole lot more. This simplistic measurement does not reflect the complexity of the intentions and experience of visitors. It does not even tell you how many of those visitors started to interact with the form at all.

There can be a number of reasons why someone may visit a page but not interact with a form. The form may be a Contact Us form on a page filled with other information, in which case many visitors will not ever be intending to get in touch, and may leave with the information they wanted. If you have a newsletter sign up on a blog page, visitors may not choose to enter their email because they are a returning visitor, subscribe to your RSS feed or follow your blog on Twitter. If it is a shopping cart, visitors may be on a scouting mission to discover what kind of information they have to provide to complete the transaction – I did much the same kind of visit this morning when I was thinking about registering for the Great Manchester Run 2014 – did I need to pay now? Would I have to choose my charity over a year in advance?

Not me.

This is not a picture of me.

This measurement is not useless. Comparing page visits to conversions (or form completions) is not insightful enough, but it can give you some useful information. If the ultimate aim of a blog is to get people to get in touch regarding your service, you can track this via Google Analytics, which can show that a visitor read a blog, clicked on a link on your Twitter, visited your site and then signed up. But this falls short, because a proportion of your visitors may have been on the same customer journey, start to get in touch, and then give up. Visits to a page are one thing, but starting a form is a whole different ball park.

Intention is everything

The reason why it is so important to track your forms and see how visitors interact with them is because of the intent behind starting a form. This action, these few keyboard presses, are the clearest indication possible that someone has (almost) bought into the dream and wants to find out more, or even buy from you. When someone starts to complete a form, a more significant commitment has been made than visiting a page. There is intent in this action, and it will be extremely rare that someone starts to complete a form ‘just for the sake of it’ (other than fellow form enthusiasts like us at Formisimo). So for a person to not follow through with that intention is a big deal, and one that you as a business should care about protecting and nurturing. Neglect it, and your online conversions will plummet.

So what does form tracking (and yes, Formisimo has these features too) show you, and why are they important metrics to track?

Form starters – as mentioned above, there are a number of reasons why a visitor may not start to complete a form, but without this important bit of information, you have little data with which to change your form. It may convert 100% of all those that start it, but only 10% of visitors to that page will click on it at all. In this case, your form is fantastic at doing its job, but it does not receive much attention. In this instance you would not want to change the format of the form at all, but may think about its positioning or prominence on the page if you wanted more people to start interact8ing with it.

Drop offs – a hugely important metric. Drop offs as a proportion of form starters will give you the clearest indication that there could be some serious issues with your form. If 80 – 90% of all form starters are not finishing your form, you should consider making urgent changes to it. Drop off percentages per fields will give you an indication as to which ones you may wish to cut.

Completion times – how long are people taking to complete your form? Given that a form is always an obstacle to some greater good, this is an important measure of how much of an inconvenience your form is. Think about how much time you would spend to find out more information about a product that you found interesting – 20 seconds? 2 minutes? 10 minutes? If users are spending a long time on your forms, you may want to cut it down to size.

Fields completed before submission – if you have any optional fields in your form, this will be of interest. If you have 7 fields and 2 of them are optional, how many people are bothering to complete them? If a tiny fraction complete the optional fields, why have them at all, as they may simply be holding people up as they regard the form field, consider it, and decide not to fill it in.

Field times – certain fields will by nature demand more time than others to complete – if you have a ‘message’ field where visitors are invited to write as much or as little as they want will always take more time to complete than the ‘first name’ field.  But others may, in principal, be simple to complete, but actually take users longer – if it is an address field with a postcode finder function, are users entering their postcode, finding their address, and then completing it manually anyway?

There are many more interesting metrics, many of which feature in Formisimo (and others that are in the pipeline), but these examples serve to show that it is incredibly important to find out more than just the numbers of conversions compared with page visits. Sticking with this is like knowing your car is broken but not lifting the hood – knowing why gives you much more information with which to make meaningful and effective changes to your online form. Form tracking is an essential tool in the big utility belt of anyone looking to maximise the effectiveness of their website, and should not be underestimated. Now, back to those Tortoises…