Forms are one of your primary points of contacts with your visitors. While many visitors still use email or even the telephone to contact you or to place an order, the vast majority will contact you first via your web forms. Forms that are broken or improperly implemented cause frustration and can greatly reduce your conversion rate for leads and sales.

It is up to your design and development team to test your site's web forms as thoroughly as possible in order to eliminate any errors. While no site can ever be 100% error-free, finding and fixing errors sooner, rather than later, is important to maintaining a usable website. When user and usability errors do occur --and they will-- it is important to employ the right safeguards in order to ensure visitor satisfaction and reduce exit rates.

Data entry

Forms should provide flexible options when entering data such as phone numbers and credit card info. Don't be too rigid in the proper "format". Allow spaces, dashes, dots etc. to be accepted in these fields.

Field labels

Field labels should be clear and unambiguous. Do you want a first name, last name, full name or business name? Make sure your visitors know exactly what you're asking.

Information gathered

Do not request more information than is absolutely necessary. Request only the information you need to fulfill the request. Requiring too much information turns people away from contacting you altogether.

Minimize instruction

Keep form instructions at a minimum. People tend not to read instructions which can then cause frustration if they do something "improperly". Make it easy for them.

Provide choices

Providing options with radio buttons, selection boxes or drop downs are a good way to ensure you get the information you need while not requiring too much extra thought. But be careful. Using these can prevent visitors from providing the correct answer, if it's not an available option.

Required information

Note any field that requires a response with an asterisk (*), preferably colored red.

Submission errors

Forms submitted with improperly complete fields should return user to a page listing instructions on how to correct the error. Such instructions must be clear and obvious.

Data preservation

If a user leaves required form fields blank causing an error, preserve the information already filled in. A system that forces users to re-input all their information creates additional frustration and creates an easy exit point for a would-have-been conversion.

Progress indicator

Forms spanning multiple pages must show a progress indicator so visitors know where they are in the process and how many more "steps" are required to completion.

Progress navigation

If a form spans multiple pages, allow users to navigate back to previous pages in order to change answers or fix mistakes.

Site navigation

It can sometimes be helpful to remove all site navigation elements once a lengthy form process is started. This can prevent distractions and encourages visitors to complete the process.


Providing privacy assurances near the email field or the form submit button can create additional trust in confirming that the shopper's information is safe.

Information verification

After a form has been completed and submitted, provide all submitted information for final review and verification.

Confirmation pages

After submission of data, take the visitor to a confirmation page that explains what can be expected to happen next. Provide as much detail, including time frames, as possible.

Error messages

Error messages should not use technical language and must never assign blame. Keep them simple and polite.

Custom error page

Broken or improperly formed URLs should send user to a customized 404-Redirect page with helpful links back to the site’s main information.

December 17, 2007

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.

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