Marcus Taylor, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in London and sought-after guest lecturer, is founder and CEO of Leadformly, provider of intelligent, interactive forms that increase the quality and quantity of a website's inbound leads. We asked Marcus how website forms can make or break a business. Here's what he shared. 

In our evolving digital world, every business faces increasing pressure to operate a fully functioning and accessible website―one that is responsive no matter which device your audience uses to browse. But even after you've aced the checklist for achieving a perfectly optimized website, there's still one potentially looming disaster: your forms.

Expedia is a prime example of what can go wrong. They lost $12 million in a single year due to the labeling of one―yes, just one―of their form fields. Being a consumer-focused brand, the field "Company" confused a large portion of customers, who mistakenly thought the field requested the name of their bank. They then entered their bank's address instead of their home address, which caused their credit card transactions to fail.

While this is an extreme example, you may be unaware of some minor form mistakes that can cause major losses to leads, customers and revenue.

At my company, we see a lot of data and examples of how forms impact conversion rates. Websites, social media platforms and apps have evolved to provide improved experiences over the years. Yet, forms haven't undergone much change since the dawn of the internet.

There are many technologies available to help businesses increase conversions and enhance revenue by improving their forms. Here are three of the most significant form mistakes I've seen that could impact your organization's bottom-line results:

1. Complex CAPTCHAs

Many of us roll our eyes when a form asks, "Are you human?" before allowing us to submit information. CAPTCHA codes, whether they invite you to enter text or click on pictures of traffic lights, prove that it's a person filling your forms rather than a robot.

But is there a cost to using them? As much as CAPTCHA codes seem necessary, a study by researchers at Stanford found they reduce form conversions by up to 40 percent.

A 40 percent conversion increase is nothing to scoff at, and presents a strong argument for testing how removing CAPTCHAs from your forms would affect conversion rates. While you may have security concerns around this approach, there are other ways to validate user information.

One popular approach is adding an invisible "honeypot" field to your form, which only spambots can see. If that field is filled out, the submission is marked as spam.

Stopping bots from spamming your database is vital, but it doesn't need to be at the expense of user experience and conversions.

2. Long-winded, unnecessary questions

Are you ever frustrated by the sheer length of a form? If so, you're not alone. Marketo found that longer forms tend to convert at a lower rate than shorter versions.

BrokerNotes experimented with replacing drop-down fields which require a minimum of three clicks to answer, with "image-select questions" which only require one click to answer. By reducing the number of clicks necessary to complete its forms, conversions quadrupled from 11 percent to 47 percent.

Why? Simple: It's faster and more enjoyable for users to fill out the form. In addition, by lowering the number of questions from 15 to three, the company significantly reduced the time it takes for users to submit information.

Take an honest look at your online forms and ask yourself whether you need all of the information you're requesting. While it's fantastic to get vast amounts of data, it's a best practice to avoid alienating users with an overwhelming number of questions. Respect their time.

3. Failure to conduct user testing

Expedia lost a significant number of potential customers in one year because of a single form error. How do you know you're not suffering the same phenomenon if you haven't tested the very forms you expect your audience to submit?

I've seen hundreds of form errors go undetected, including:

  • Unresponsive forms, meaning mobile visitors struggle to continue their journey
  • Forms programmed to send submissions to an inactive email address
  • Validation and formatting glitches, making it impossible to submit―even if data is entered correctly

There are two ways to find out whether your forms are functioning optimally:

  1. Conduct user testing
  2. Wait until a frustrated user brings it to your attention

Which will you choose? Prevent form errors from impacting your business bottom line by testing your form on multiple browsers and devices before publishing it.

Remember: Your forms don't work unless you do. Make it easy for users to file a submission, value their time, and always performance-test forms to ensure that you're not asking for responses which won't be received.

Instead of asking, "Why are our forms not performing well?" ask, "How can we make this experience as easy for the user as possible?"

Published on: Jan 19, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.