Can longer forms have better engagement?

May 28, 2020

If you run a B2B website, part of what you’re trying to achieve is form fills. You want to get people to give you their contact information so you can:

  • Have them talk to a rep now, or
  • Keep communicating with them in hopes of having them talk to a rep later.

Isn’t that it? (If you’re B2C, it’s not so different, maybe instead of “talk to a rep” you want them to buy something directly.)

Most of the time, when you receive this information, it’s a trade: Your visitor gives you their contact information, you give them access to a whitepaper, or brief, or webinar with information they want.

A much more desirable situation, though, is that your visitor fills out the form because your content establishes your credibility and the value of what you offer to solve their problem. And so they want to stay in touch!

Because you, as a content marketer, are partly graded based on form fills, we want to suggest a different way of thinking about this critical part of your content stack, based on the latter scenario.

Boring old best practices for forms

There are a lot of guides out there on form UX. Norman Nielsen Group guides are classics, and here are their guidelines for web form design(https://www.nngroup.com/articles/web-form-design/), with links to plenty of other resources.

All advice on form usability will say that you want to avoid as many as obstacles as possible to getting your form filled out, and add as many incentives as you can. This means:

  • Making it clear what the promise of your content is and why the user should care. This means landing page text that’s compelling and clearly describes what the user will get.
  • Keeping it short. Use as few form fields as possible, of course. Also consider omitting optional fields altogether. And consider using tools that automatically enrich the data so you don’t need to ask for Company when you have an email address.
  • Design is key. The placement of labels, indicating which fields are optional, etc. are all important to avoid confusion. Reduce the cognitive load of filling out your form. And remove any questions about your credibility by keeping your form design consistent with the rest of your site, and generally keeping the design of form controls at the same level as everything else.

But even better…

Instead of thinking about it as a transaction, think of it as a conversation

Here are some frustrating realities about gated content:

  • People will give you whatever information they need to, to get the asset they’re interested in. That might mean a personal email address, which a lot of companies regard as unhelpful.
  • It might also mean a fake email address, for which the workaround is to email your customer their asset. If you email their content, they have to give a valid email address, right? Unfortunately, the context switch required to fish your asset out of their inbox, when they were already in their web browser, makes it much less likely that they’ll look at it.
  • Gated content isn’t indexed by search engines. That means people won’t find (or read!) a lot of your best stuff.

What if, instead of this adversarial model, visitors wanted you to have their personal information because they see you as delivering valuable information?

Why longer forms can have better conversion

Here’s an interesting article by VentureHarbor about a couple of cases where longer forms actually had better conversion rates. Why?

If you think about the form as part of a conversation, you’ll see how this could be true.

  • Short forms may not be credible for some products or services. If you walked into a car dealership and a salesperson asked you a single question, would you think they were in a position to help you buy?
  • If a user views information as necessary to get what they want – for example, they want to talk to you on the phone, and so you ask for their phone number – they’ll fill out the phone number field with accurate information.
  • Forms can be fun! Try asking a user about their day, or what their favorite color is.
  • A form can serve an important purpose for your user, which is to help them think through a process, or think about what they really want.

Also, don’t forget about an important hidden function of forms – maximizing conversion rate isn’t everything. You want to use your form to set the stage for an experience with your brand, and to disqualify prospects who aren’t a fit.

Really making it a conversation: live chat

Live chat can be helpful for lots of reasons. With that said, not every industry or website finds live chat effective, and not every visitor wants to engage in real-time. Experiment to see what works best for you.

Conclusion

Forms are important – there are lots of best practices out there. But instead, think of forms as a conversation, rather than a transaction. Motivate your prospects, and think about how the content leads logically, and naturally, to filling out the form.