Optimizing Opt-in Forms

Posted by Amy Peveto on January 26, 2011

Lead generation is the lifeblood of an inbound marketing campaign, and the best way to get leads is to place relevant, targeted content behind forms which are designed to gather information about the people who visit your site.

While most companies gather basic information such as name, email address, and company name, demographics like age and gender, and contact information such as phone numbers are not collected.

A balancing act

Registration and sign-up forms are an integral part of the inbound marketing cycle, but creating them is similar to walking a tightrope: lean too much to one side or the other, and down you go.

Because marketers want to collect as much information about their leads as possible, the temptation is to make forms longer. But as research shows, the more form fields a form has, the fewer people fill it out:

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No one likes being confronted with a long list of text fields, areas, and drop downs -- especially when they are asked to provide information that they don’t wish to provide.

Although shorter forms generally mean more conversions, they also mean less information; if your form only collects first name and email address it can be difficult, if not impossible, to have any real idea of who your leads are, and whether or not they are qualified.

Possible solutions

Consider: If you came to a website and wanted to download a piece of content, what would you be hesitant to provide? Don’t make your visitors give information that you wouldn’t give were the roles reversed.

A/B testing -- There’s no excuse for not testing your sign-up forms. Programs like Google’s Website Optimizer make it easy to set up a test in minutes, and it’s free. Test forms of different lengths with different fields, and see which gets the best conversion rate.

Optional fields -- HubSpot opened a can of worms in a recent blog post about the optimum number of form fields, with commentators expressing their frustration at the company’s overly long, all-fields-required approach to lead generation. Optional fields are a great way to request less relevant information in a way that isn’t pushy.

Create a “second chance” form -- Keep the first form short, raising the likelihood that visitors will convert. After that form is submitted, take the visitor to a thank you page that also includes a second optional form; invite them to help you improve your content by providing a bit more information. You may be surprised by the number of people who are willing to participate.

Lead tracking -- Is the same person downloading multiple pieces of content? You may only know their name and email, but the content they’re choosing to download could give you some clue as to the problem they trying to solve or the subject about which they’re trying to learn more.

Final thoughts

Optimizing sign-up forms is just as important as optimizing any other piece of content on your site. Each website will be different: by finding what works best for your site, you will maximize conversions and generate qualified leads that convert to customers.


Your turn to weigh in. Do you think there's an ideal number of form fields, or does it depend?

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