Creating the Perfect Form

When it comes to marketing, the most important thing you can gather is data. Data is more than just an idea or a thought, data is concrete evidence that can prove a theory to be true. But like with anything in marketing, data can be interpreted in many ways so the most important thing is to make sure that the data you receive proves your theory true.

A Web Brief

In website design, the most important item to gain information is through a forms and these forms can serve many agendas. Such include:

  • Registering for a product demonstration / event
  • Contacting the company/person behind the website
  • Getting a PDF download

And the list goes on and on. Each form has its own agenda and each has a goal to prove.

One way I like to look at this is similar to the five-second rule of website design. That rule states that a visitor will make a decision whether to interact with the site within the first five seconds. The same theory holds true for website forms. Forms must accomplish the task at hand and they must give the marketer the necessary information, but they should not be too overwhelming to lose the interest of the visitor. The keyword here is necessary. The common mistake I see far too often is that marketers want to gather more information than is necessary. Let’s take a look at Product Demonstration / Event Registration Forms.

Product Demonstration / Event Registration Forms

One of the most common forms on a corporate website are product demonstration and event registration forms. These forms are used to gauge interest in a product/service/event and are the first stepping stone to the sales process. It’s the one chance you have to make a first impression and the key to converting organic web traffic. So what is important?

First and foremost a name. Whether you ask it as a single field or separated into a first and last depending on the nature of the business, this is the single most important item and most people are willing to give you their name if they are interested. Their name allows you to personalize email campaigns, mailings, phone calls or whatever type of communication you have planned as a follow up.

Next there is a way to communicate back with them. Depending on what you have planned this could be an email, phone number or address. For most modern cases we typically look at email or phone numbers. There are many who believe that asking for both of these is not out of the question. However, think back to the five second rule. Every second you wait is a chance you have to lose your visitor. While asking for both does not seem like an issue, requiring both can be a mistake. Think about this scenario. You are not the final decision maker in the buying process. Maybe you are just doing initial research so maybe you preferred to be contacted by email to see whether the solution is a right fit, but you don’t have time to sit around all day and talk numbers or figures in the early stages. In this case, you may preferred to be only contacted by email. Or let’s say you cannot find a phone number on a website, not like this has never happened before, and you want to only leave a phone number because maybe this is an important print job that you need answers to immediately that would be better discussed in a conversation versus an email. So the point of the matter is that you should allow that freedom and act accordingly based on what you are selling and not require every point of contact since your visitor may have a preference and requiring information could lead to inaccurate data in your database which no marketer wants.

Website Contact Form

This is the one form that every website seems to have, whether it’s because of a instinctual necessity, or because it’s something that your visitors desire. Regardless of the reasoning this is by far the most common and most complex form you will encounter on a website.

Much like the Product Demonstration / Event Registration form you have a few key fields that must be on your form to gather enough information about who is contacting you and how to get in touch with them. The issue with the Contact form is that, unlike the product demonstration / event registration form, the contact form can have multiple destinations once the form is submitted. It could be a question for your support, a general question of directions or it could be someone who had issues with an overcomplicated sales form.

The simple solution to any form of this nature is to add a drop-down selection where someone can select the type of question. Based on that response, the form can then send the form data to the appropriate department or individual. The all-too common mistake that is made with these forms is to send them to a single person to sift through all the responses that come in. While that may work for low volumes or small organizations, eventually the need for control will succumb to the need for organization and departmental roles.

PDF / File Download Form

And at long last we come to the file download. Unlike the previous two forms discussed, this form is the simplest of all mostly due in fact to that this is the coldest lead of all, if you can even call the responder that. In a previous post I talked about Marketing Automation and this is a perfect example of where that automation works. While you may want to contact this prospect or sell to them right away, most users who will fill out this form will be turned off immediately by those tactics. Instead work them in slowly.

Start by just asking for an email address. Then follow this up with an email that introduces your services to them and links them to your mailing list and social media outlets. Test the waters and see if they take the bait. See if you can get them involved and then introduce them to more.


What we see in looking at the different forms is that they all lead to different results and all have different agendas so they should never all be looked at as the same thing. While this is a brief overview of forms, the hardest part at times is setting it up. But there are plenty of solutions out there to make form validation and processing easy from the marketing automation solutions to extensions or add-ons to the common content management systems like WordPress, or even 3rd party hosted solutions like Wufoo. Regardless of what you use to build your forms, make sure they accomplish their goals first and you will get more of of your form processing then you ever imagined!

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