Your Online Form Not Converting? Here’s Why


For service-based Web sites, you often live and die by your ability to convert people through your online form. Whether the form is intended to get their information for a follow up call, to allow them to register for an online or physical event, or just to send them a free product or subscribe them to your newsletter, it’s a Must Hit conversion point your Web site can’t afford to mess up. Get them there and convert them and you get to keep playing. Lose them and they’re gone forever.

If you’re analytics are showing that customers are getting to your online form but aren’t converting, it may be time to figure out why. Here are some common mistakes businesses make with their Web forms, all displayed through one awesome example.

Check out the online appointment form for an organic hair salon located in Troy, NY. The good parts are numbered.

1. Don’t let them do what they need

No one likes feeling stupid. If I land on your site with a mission and you don’t allow me to accomplish it, I feel like I did something wrong. And then I’m going to run to Twitter and tweet about how worthless and emo this makes me feel. The radio options on the form above only allow me to select one type of service to make an appointment for. If I want a haircut, a massage or a styling, then this form works for me. But if I want to have a spa day and get all three, well, I’m out of luck unless I want to go through the process three separate times. And I don’t. Because as you’ll soon see, the process itself isn’t so easy.

Anticipate what it is your customers will need when filling out their form. I’d also recommend doing some user testing to watch how customer’s interact with your form. You’ll get their thoughts straight from their own mouths.

2. You’re using jargon I don’t recognize

This is a really big problem for sites. As an expert in your field, you’re naturally going to use different language when referring to things than an everyday user. As a common person, I’m not sure what the difference is between an apprentice, an associate stylist, a senior stylist and a creative director. I have some level of intelligence so I can grasp the hierarchy being laid out, but I don’t know what that means in terms of price differential, availability or time. I may not want a n00b cutting my hair, but I also don’t want to pay $500 an hour for the creative director of the shop to squeeze me in. Or what if I’ve been here before (which I have), how do I know what title “my girl” has? I don’t.

Whether it’s your online form or the rest of your Web site – remember that you are not the customer and it’s not your likes and wants that matter. It’s theirs. You only matter if you can give them what they want in the way they want and understand it. Use the words they know and are looking for.

3. Be consistent

Up above I’m asked to select if I want an apprentice, a stylist or a creative director. Suddenly, that language is gone. Now these people are referred to as therapists. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe a therapist is something different to this salon. I don’t know. Again, I’m left to feel dumb. And because you just assumed I needed a therapist now I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR JUDGING ME!

If you’re selling [rain boots] on your home page, don’t start selling [wellies] on your interior product pages. Because while they’re technically the same thing, they’re not the same to a customer who came looking for [rain boots]. Know what terms you’re customers are going to be looking for and use them. And once you know – stick to that term. Save your creativity for other areas.

4. You ask for more than you need, with too many options

For someone looking for a simple haircut, this form comes off as a little intimidating. There are too many options, too many ways to get to the same destination, and too many places to get utterly and completely lost. I haven’t seen that many options to fill in information since I look at my SAT Scantron. And I’m pretty sure I misnumbered that monster, too.

I know it’s tempting to squeeze as much information as you can from someone while you have their attention – but show a little restraint and only ask for what you absolutely need. Otherwise you run the risk of someone getting turned off, distracted or just too annoyed to make it to the end. If you don’t need someone’s full name, address, date of birth, SSN, astrological sign, pant size, favorite number, and name of their HS principal, don’t ask for it. Get what you need to take the relationship to the next level, and then ask for it once they trust you.

The online form on your site should not act as a hurdle. It should be welcomed, intuitive, and the building block for the rest of the relationship to form. When it comes to Web forms,

  • Keep it simple.
  • Make it intuitive.
  • Don’t start a relationship and propose in the same step. This is not a Hollywood marriage – build slow.

Easy, peasy, without the TSA cavity search.  What are your online form pet peeves?  Sound off in the comments.


Your Comments

  • Jerry McCarthy

    Online Pet Peeve # 1 for me is #2 for you Lisa. From a consumer and a business to client standpoint-“easy on the corporate techmo schmechmo talk” I’m not an expert in your field nor am I pretending to be. Just give me the basics. I tell clients all the time “there is an art to simplicity.” The key to conversion is to slow walk your visitor. Too often business owners make the mistake of giving it all (their product information) away on their website before they’ve even started a conversation. This ultimately leads the visitor to believe they already have enough information to make an educated decision about whether your services are a good fit for their needs without ever making an inquiry. Then the visitor leaves your site only never to return.
    With all the competition in today’s world; can you really afford not to strike up a live conversation to separate yourself from your competitors? It’s called leaving money on the table. Thanks Lisa!!! :-)

  • Robert Brady

    Amazing how one little organic salon can do so wrong in such a small space. It’s almost like they deserve an award.

  • M_Roberts82

    Wow… Maybe they just don’t like their receptionist and figured a horrible online form would get him/her to crack under pressure by driving enough people to call in to complain about the confusing nature of the form and about needing to schedule a haircut/color/massage/waxing/line dancing lessons/spa day/lobotomy immediately.

  • Jeanette McCulloch

    Working on our online forms right now, so this was really helpful! Hope I don’t end up as an example of what not to do :). I’m looking for a online service to manage class registrations, with forms, calendars, etc – would welcome any suggestions! Thanks.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    The last point is the most important. It’s kinda like on Twitter, you have to learn how to ask what you need in the most minimal way possible. For example, I don’t really like forms asking for password AND email repetition. The first one can be swapped out for a simple checkbox to unmask your password and make the verification easier, the second simply doesn’t make sense. Every small little detail DOES matter in stuff like this.

  • Antown

    It is necessary to create such forms that you would like to see for yourself. Create a form and try to fill it out themselves. You immediately realize where you made ​​a mistake while writing the questions and answers. This is the easiest way to get back on track to achieve a good result.

  • Molly

    Thanks for this article! I read all the blog posts from Outspoken and each one has helped me build my photography business. I went to one of the best, elite photo colleges and yet learned nothing about actually running a business. I am going to check put my contact page and see if my form stands up to this.

  • David Johnston

    I think that’s called “eating your own dog food.” Most forms fail because the people making them do not take the time to use them enoough to catch obvious issues. Funny how people are too busy to make more money.

  • Matt Fogel

    Great points, Lisa. Couldn’t agree more. Something I’ve seen that works really well is to add some immediate contact options to a form. For all the reasons you list above, and others, some people just don’t want to go to the trouble of filling a form.

    I’ve seen that adding the option to chat or click-to-call (where the visitor types in her phone number and is called immediately by the business) can have a great impact on conversion and retention rates.

    • Matt Fogel

      (Full disclosure: my company offers some conversion tools like the ones I mentioned, so I’m biased, but the results and stats I’ve seen certainly speak for themselves)

  • Richard Garand

    Funnily enough I’ve had this post in my reader for a bit but I just got to it now, the day after I got some feedback that changed the direction I’m going with a new service to replace this exact form. Using something myself is usually my first line of defense against creating a rage-inducing interface, but this time I didn’t catch some of the real issues until I saw a non-technical person using it.

    It only takes minutes to test something like this yourself and then have someone who doesn’t know it try; there aren’t many good reasons not to do it!