How To Create Frustration-Free Web Forms

Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, not more difficult.

It still surprises us the number of misinformed businesses (big and small) who set out to reproduce their paper-based forms on their websites...

Forms are a valuable component of any website and also a vital part of the lead generation and customer relationship strategy. Through online forms you get access to what's going on in the mind of your visitors - their likes, dislikes, intentions and even their express permission to market your products and services.

The problem is that there is a strong belief that simply taking a printed version of a form and translating it into HTML is all that's needed. Where a printed form is accompanied with information on how to complete it, web-based forms usually are not as comprehensive when it comes to assisting visitors. More often than not, visitors abandon the form (and the website) and go elsewhere.

Usability-conscious web designers can make users' lives easier by thinking about the way people interact with your websites by providing clear direction and instructions. And they do this by then placing the burden of sorting out the details in the hands of the computers - not the users.

Automation and interaction

One of the greatest advantages of online forms over paper-based forms is that you can automate the validation (checking to see that the information entered into the form is acceptable before submitting it) process and add helpful features to guide people so that it’s easy for them to complete the form correctly.

Validation

When it comes to validating the information your website visitor has entered into your form, there are lots of things that cause frustration. From failing to provide instructions on how you want information to be entered, to showing error messages that don’t explain how to correctly enter information when it has been incorrectly entered.

Here are several things you can do to make it frustration free for your form user –

  • Be flexible in what you can accept as input for postal codes, telephone and other contact numbers to accommodate the many different ways people around the world will enter this information.
  • Be strict with information that has a known format, such as email addresses and credit card numbers to make sure you have it exactly right.
  • Wherever possible use validation code to convert the information entered, into the format you need for your database, rather than asking the form user to do the work.
  • Minimise the potential for entering incorrectly formatted information by providing contextual help (help that is provided for every form object - this can be done with AJAX or JavaScript as tooltips for example).
  • When errors have occurred, highlight the form objects where the information entered, or not entered, have caused the errors.

Interaction

Interaction is to do with getting the computer to do some of the work in a way that is helpful for the computer user. In the case of our forms, we want interaction that helps the form user to get the jobs done correctly with the minimum about of effort from them.

Simple things your website developer can do to improve the interaction appeal of your forms –

  • Use ‘focus’ to highlight the first form object that the form user needs to enter into when the web page with the form is opened.
  • Use ‘tab indexing’ on form objects to assist form users who use the tab key to move from one form object to the next in a meaningful order.
  • Assign ‘accesskey’ values consistently to your form buttons to provide a keyboard shortcut alternative for form users using disability supported web browsers, such as N for next page, P for previous page, R for reset form and S for submit form.
  • Use JavaScript or CSS to highlight the border of the form object the form user is currently working on, to prevent them from loosing track of where they are up to in completing the form if they are momentarily distracted.

Using these guidelines you can eliminate the quirks from your forms to make the process of successfully completing and submitting them painless for your website visitors, which means more leads and great customer relationships for you.

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