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Supporting image for How to Get People to Fill Out Your Online Forms – @marcusataylor
How to Get People to Fill Out Your Online Forms – @marcusataylor
The Agents of Change

AOCP-Pinterest-Marcus-TaylorAre you having trouble getting people to fill out your online forms? Sometimes it’s as simple as offering some motivation to influence your users. No, you don’t have to offer a free Ferrari to anyone who fills out your form, but there are other – less extreme – ways.

Paying attention to your analytics can make all the difference in finding out things like at which point your potential customers may be consistently abandoning your form, or how effective your forms actual are in converting customers. With a few tweaks, hacks and tips, you can optimize your forms and turn them into powerful, lead capturing goldmines!

Marcus Taylor knows that forms separate your leads from non-leads, and he understands that they are one of the highest points of leverage that an online business has. His “Form Optimization Pyramid” framework outlines the different stages of how likely someone is to convert using a form, and can be used to help you optimize your business’s online forms.

Rich: Marcus Taylor is the 25 year old founder and CEO of Venture Harbour, a company that has built a portfolio of online ventures including BrokerNotes, Qosy, and most recently, Leadformly.

Since building his first website at age 10 – talk about precocious – Marcus has built over 13 online businesses, won numerous entrepreneurship awards, and delivered talks at renowned conferences around the globe, including TedX. Marcus, welcome to the show.

Marcus: Thank you, great to be here.

Rich: I’m really excited to dig in today because we were talking about what we should discuss, and you suggested online forms. Why are you so fascinated by online forms?

Marcus: Over the past few years I’ve spent a lot of time playing about with websites, and I’ve discovered that, more often than not, lead generation forms and forms on your website are typically one of the highest points of leverage. When you think about it, if you increase the conversion rate of your form, you increase the effectiveness of every single channel, every single campaign that drives traffic to that form. It’s literally the point between a lead and a non lead. So when you improve your form, it has such a huge impact. And in combination with that, generally speaking as marketers, we don’t do forms very well. There’s so much opportunity from the testing we’ve done, we’ve had 200% increases in leads across numerous different verticals just by changing the forms. I’m kind of a lazy marketer and I find forms one of those things where you can make a few relatively small changes, and that has a really big impact across the overall marketing funnel.

Rich: That definitely makes a lot of sense. I know when people talk to me about telling me their not getting enough traffic to their website, I often wonder is it the traffic or is it the conversion that is the biggest problem here.

So speaking about lazy, I know that a lot of us that are building websites or having websites built for us are using generic forms like Gravity Forms or services like MailChimp, SalesForce, is there anything wrong with using services like that?

Marcus: So there’s nothing inherently wrong, and to be honest, at Venture Harbour we still use those in certain cases. It’s more that the issue with it is they’re really not designed for conversion. I mean, there’s no one on SalesForce’s payroll, or MailChimp, who is incentivized to increase the conversions to your company. And often with these third parties, the forms are more designed from a developer perspective. The form is serving the purpose of literally submitting the form entry, they’re not really thinking about it from the psychology perspective of what the form actually conveys to the user. They’re not really thinking about all of the different aspects that affect the conversion rate with forms.

So if you’re creating something you just want to serve at your users or do something relatively basic like that, there’s really nothing wrong with using the generic forms from MailChimp or whichever CRM email service you’re using. But if it’s a landing page or a page on your website that you really want to be squeezing as many leads as possible out of, then it really – in my opinion – doesn’t make a lot of sense to rely. This thing that has such a big impact on your bottom line and your inbound leads, I don’t think it makes sense to rely on something that is quite overtly not optimized.

Rich: I would agree. I think that the forms that we get from services like that are necessarily generic because they have to do everything for all people, and of course that just makes them really bland and things we’ve seen a million times.

So if we’re talking about conversions and we want people to fill out our forms, what are some of the things that cause people to either not use a form or maybe abandon a form halfway through?

Marcus: So we’ve come up with a framework at Leadformly that is the Form Optimization Pyramid (https://leadformly.com/form-optimisation-pyramid/) . There are kind of 5 different stages to that impact, how likely someone is to convert using a form. The basis of that pyramid – and I’m sure we can share a link so that we can visualize this – the basis of that pyramid is motivation. Now that might seem like a weird thing when talking about form conversion, but when you think about it, the motivation when people fill out a form, they’re really trying to achieve an outcome.

So the motivation – or the desire – to achieve the outcome is the primary driving factor behind your conversion rate. To put it another way, let’s say you have the worst looking form in the world, but you gave your users a free Ferrari if they filled out your form, you’d probably have a 100% conversion rate.

Rich: That makes sense.

Marcus: It’s high motivation to get the Ferrari. I’m not sure if it’s similar in the US, but in the UK a lot of the government and tax return websites, their forms are awful and they’re really not pretty looking forms, but I’m sure they convert real well because people have to submit their tax returns. So motivation is a huge influencer in conversion rates and how e can actually – as businesses – how we can use that is the same around how you word your forms, the wording of your call to actions and even little things like a lot of people when they use sales forms – like MailChimp – they give you all of the questions in one step.

So you look at this form and it looks overwhelming. You see it at first glance that they ask for you phone number, your email, your address, and all this stuff. There’s one thing we’ve found that actually works really well and that’s if you split your form up into multiple steps, kind of breaking it down into chunks. That actually increases the motivation to fill out the form because it kind of seems like there’s less to do when you can see that it’s only one or two questions per step. So motivation is really important.

Ability, this is kind of where the most common wisdom in this field starts to ensure that the form is accessible and there aren’t any bugs, and you can use it if you’re on a mobile device or in the sunshine. A lot of the forms have fields that you can’t even see if it’s too bright and you’re looking on a small device. So ability is really important, ease of the use, piece of mind – so having trust factors is really important – and then finally, engagement.

I put forms and engagement in the same sort of category, but when you think about what a form is and compare it to a quiz, a quiz is just a form that’s been made engaging. When you can make the outcome of a form exciting and use things like gamification, it has a really good impact on conversion rates.

Rich: Alright, so just to kind of recap your Form Optimization Pyramid. Starting at the bottom and working our way up, “motivation” is the 5th, bottom rung. The 4th one is “ability”, their ability to complete it. The 3rd is “ease of use”. Then we move up to “peace of mind”, in other words, we want to lay our site visitor’s concerns to rest to make sure that we’re a legitimate business and just not capturing information. And then the top of that pyramid is how “engaging” our form is. Did I get that correct?

Marcus: Yes, that’s perfect.

Rich: Alright. So to increase our conversions we need to improve on all of these, but are there certain areas you would recommend we focus on first when it comes to improving our firms.

Marcus: The bottom rung – motivation – is probably the single most important. If you were to give away  Ferrari – that’s a crazy example – you would have 100% conversion rates. When you focus on motivation it has a really profound impact. And then as you go up the pyramid, I would kind of start at the bottom and work your way up and brainstorm as many ideas around each of those.

We actually have a checklist I put together which is completely free of charge that we can link to, which has got a checklist for each of those five areas. It’s got a list of lots of different things that you can look into, things like accessibility points and how to make forms engaging, etc.

Rich: Sounds good, and we’ll definitely link to those in the show notes. Just getting back to “motivation”, I have run out of free Ferraris here at flyte, so are there things that I could be doing to increase the motivation of my site visitors to fill out that form other than giving out free autos?

Marcus: Yes. So I think the most practical advice, in our run to build up Leadformly, in studying forms and trying to understand what the high performing forms was doing. One of the things we found was that forms kind of fall into one of two categories, we refer to them as “me forms” and “us forms”.

So a “me form” is kind of a form that is all about you, it’s all about you trying to capture the lead. So these are the forms that we typically see around the internet that ask you to enter your email or your phone and ask you to leave me comments about your business and we’ll get back in touch with you. That’s a “me form”, there’s nothing really in it for the lead. That’s why you typically get 1-3% conversion rates. In other words, or every 100 people that come to your site, 97-98 of them are leaving without becoming a lead.

Whereas the forms we’re seeing that are converting at 30-40% are what we refer to as “us forms”. Where both you – the business – and the lead, extract value from using that form almost instantly. So an example of this would be forms you use that redirect you to something that has value. Whether that’s a lot of insurance websites where as soon as you fill out the form, we’ll give you a free instant quote. For many businesses that model won’t necessarily work, so we redirect to give the users a free information product or something that is going to help them.

They’re contacting you to solve a problem, so there are many things that you could probably give them to immediately help them to start solving their problem, meanwhile building your authority  that you’re able to then help them. I think giving away some kind of instant value and then shifting the focus of the form away from, “please contact us and we’ll get back in touch with you”, to something more along the lines of, “use the form to get your free checklist on 10 things that you can do to achieve X.” And then that becomes your lead capture form. What we’re kind of seeing with those kind of forms that have value going both ways, is they’re converting significantly better than the one-sided forms.

Rich: I think that makes a lot of sense. And then our incentive is we should be incentivizing our visitors to fill out a form by providing some value that they can get instantaneously, but that also may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship between us and our site visitors.

Marcus: Absolutely.

Rich: So you had mentioned earlier that one of the things you saw that had improved conversions – or reduced abandonment – was creating steps along the way. Can you speak a little bit more about creating those steps, and maybe some other tactics that you’ve seen are effective so that we can improve the number of people filling out our contact forms?  

Marcus: Yeah. So there’s been quite a lot of really good case studies kicking around online about comparing single step forms versus multi step forms. A single step form being the typical kind of asking all your questions in one go. Multi step being where you kind of get a progress bar and you go to the next question, next question, etc.

Generally speaking, the multi step versions generally convert 2-3 times better. Now there’s a few reasons for this that are grounded in what are known as “cognitive biases”. Cognitive biases are kind of mental shortcuts that our brain makes to try and process information. The biases have developed over thousands of years that back in the hunter and gatherer days have helped save us from a saber tooth tiger or saved us from being kicked out of the village. They still affect our decision making, and so when it comes to online forms, we have a lot of these cognitive biases  that we can actually – as designers and marketers – use to actually influence our conversion rates.

So one of the reasons why multi step forms work better than single step forms is because it taps into a bias – actually several biases – and one of them is called the “endowed progress effect”. Now the endowed program effect basically states that an illusion of progress to increase your likelihood of completing something. So they actually discovered this – I believe – by testing loyalty cards in coffee shops. So what they actually did is they gave some people who visited the coffee shop a loyalty card that had 10 holes in it, and 2 of them were already stamped. And they gave other people a loyalty card that had 8 spots on it but no holes punched in it. So in both situations someone would have to buy 8 cups of coffee to get a free coffee. Now what they found is that people that had 2 holes clicked out were more likely to go back to the coffee shop and become a loyal customer.

Now that’s completely irrational when you think about it, because in both situations they had to buy the same amount of coffee to become a loyal. And it’s just because of an arc in a biases we see those two controls as a sign of progress and we have this kind of aversion – this sunk cost effect – that if we see we made progress, we don’t want to back out. This is the same reason why games like Angry Birds and all these popular games that people start playing and they can’t get out of them. They create this progress whether it’s in points or achieving levels, and because of that progress, the illusion of progress makes them less likely to back out. So a multi step form creates the illusion of seeing that progress bar and seeing that you’ve already effectively started using the form, it creates an increased desire to complete the form.

And there’s also a few other things going on. Typically one of the things we found is if as soon as someone sees a form they’re asked for their email address and personal information, and that creates a little bit of friction. Whereas in a multi step form you can ask for that information on the very last step. So by the time that the user actually gets to where you’re asking for sensitive information, they’ve already built up some of that progress. So for them to abandon the form at that stage would be losing the progress that they built up over those two steps.

Rich: That’s brilliant. And I’ve heard of the coffee shop study before, I think it was mentioned in one of Dan and Chip Heath’s books, and I think that’s great, I’ve actually mentioned it at a few presentations. Listening to that and seeing those progress bars that go across the top of some multi step forms, I almost think that there’s a benefit to having some of your biggest gains in that bar being early on so people feel like the form is making much more progress on the form than they actually have. Which would be kind of cheating, but also similar to punching those first 2 holes in the coffee frequency card. So that might be one of the techniques that we could use if the forms could do that sort of thing.

Marcus: Yeah. I think LinkedIn famously had progress bars that you could never get to 100%, but I think when you create your LinkedIn profile, just spelling out your name and a few details gets you about 80%, and I think it’s impossible to actually get to 100%, you have to put in hundreds of things on LinkedIn to actually get to 99.9%.

Rich: Right, and then you’ve got that gap that you’re always trying to fill though you never seem to be able to.

Marcus: Yeah, absolutely.

Rich: So good advice on the multi step forms, for sure. Is there a way that we can start a form and ask for something simple like first name and email and move them to the second phase where we ask them for more information, but there’s an abandonment opportunity where if somebody leaves at that point we can still have their name and email and/or phone number so we can follow up with them? Do some of the forms you’ve seen out there do that?

Marcus: Yeah, I’ve seen a few different approaches to that. One of my favorite examples of a multi step form is TopTell. What they do is really interesting. I think they’ve got a 9 step form, I believe, and when you get to step 4 to 5 it actually says to you, “we’ve submitted your inquiry, someone’s going to be getting in touch with you, however, please fill out the remaining 5 steps to get a faster quote or a better more personalized quote.” So that’s one technique, kind of submitting early and then asking people to continue.

One of the things I’m actually trying to work with is auto submitting the form without the user clicking the submit button as they’re typing. So if they abandoned halfway through, you would still capture what they had typed in so far. Technically that’s definitely possible, I’m not sure that any form builders do it at the moment, but that would be a really, really interesting feature. Definitely something that we’re looking into. 

Rich: Certainly something like cart abandonment except it would be form abandonment. You know as you were talking earlier about the government forms and how awful they are but the motivation to fill them out is high, I had worked with a local government organization that, like you said, had the worst form ever. And this was to get free counseling for your business. And I talked to them and said there’s 27 fields here, I don’t even know where to start. Why don’t we just ask for their name, email, phone number and where they live, so we can bring them to the nearest place. I know you have to get that form filled out, but if you could just hand it to them when they show up. Kind of like what you were saying about you’ve invested too much to turn back. When they’re sitting in your office they’ll fill out that form, and I thought this was brilliant. And what they told me was they don’t actually want everybody to fill out their form, that sometimes they want a little bit of friction so that only the serious people will fill it out. So maybe the flipside of this is you have to decide if you’ve lowered the bar too much to capture some of these leads.

Marcus: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it’s always a bit of tug and pull between when you’re creating forms. The legal guys want their questions, the sales guys obviously want more information, and the marketers kind of want to reduce the fields as much as possible. So there’s always a bit of a tug and pull and you need to ask enough information to be able to qualify that lead and make sure that you’ve got everything you need to ensure that they’re a decent quality lead. Part of it is sort of knowing if you’re asking a 4 part question to a 5 part form, what is that extra question costing you and the leads that you’re using because you’re asking that.

So I think having analytics built into your form is really quite important. There are so many cool tools out there, one of my favorite tools is something called Hotjar, which is completely free. I don’t know how they do it but it’s completely free and they do analytics that will tell you how many people are dropping off at each stage. It’s getting that information and being empowered, and then you can make the call. You can bring in the various departments and say, “Guys, because we’re asking that one extra question that is non essential, we’re losing 7% of our leads. Do you think that’s worth it or should we remove that and get those extra leads?” So just having the numbers I think is really valuable.

Rich: I think that makes a lot of sense. And it does sound like whether we’re getting a little bit of traffic or a lot of traffic that one of the biggest places of friction is getting people to fill out the forms. Now I read one of your articles that you had posted up that was some of the best forms you had seen out there, and I think TopTell was one of them. You mentioned gamification both in that article and here, what are some of the things that we can do to keep a form from looking like a traditional form and maybe getting things that feel almost more like a personal assessment that somebody might be interested in completing?

Marcus: A really easy place to start is to create a multistep form. I think even when you just have progress bars, I think just that look of a 4-5 question form where it’s on top of another, that first impression of it looks like a form, it feels like a form, it doesn’t feel very nice. So I think even just moving from that to multistep is a good improvement in terms of making it look and feel a bit more engaging.

Obviously there’s lots more you can do on that. When you look at companies like Hubspot, Leadpages has a similar leadpage/landing page grader which is really interesting. They’re kind of taking that to the next level where you can punch in a URL and it will analyze that for you. They’ve obviously come down to building custom tools behind their lead capture forms, which is very powerful and working really well at the moment.

In terms of the quick win, just move away from the one step forms, and you can make capturing the information secondary to then you’re actually giving the user something valuable. Asking for things like name and email address can kind of come at the end of that as almost like a side note. So one of the sites at Venture Harbour that we have, Broker Notes, our main lead capture form is actually nothing really to do with lead capture. It’s basically a tool that we built that helps traders find a broker, so the first question we’re asking is, “Do you trade?” So they can then click on these nice big images for whatever kind of trading they want to do, it’s only on the very last step that we’re actually asking and capturing their information. And then we redirect them to the page where we actually give them a personalized recommendation.

All of that is possible and you can use logic and all these kind of different techniques now to give people a nice personalized gamified experience. That is a form but it doesn’t feel like a form, it feels so much more like using a quiz or a tool. I think that’s where lead capture forms are going, I don’t think in 5 years time we’re going to see many of these one step forms that you see in your email CRM. So we’ll be very a lot more tool based and quiz based. Because that’s what’s converting.

Rich: Excellent. And that’s very cool information, definitely want to try some of those tactics out. Where can we learn more about you, what you do, and maybe Leadformly online?

Marcus: I’m on Twitter at @marcusataylor, ventureharbour.com is where I mostly blog, and then leadformly.com. My email address is marcus@ventureharbour.com if anyone wants to send me an email.

Rich: Very cool. We will share all those links – with the possible exception of the email address – up on our website at the show notes, so be sure to check that out. Marcus, thank you so much for your time today.

Marcus: It’s been a pleasure.

Show Notes: