If you’re like most people, your first instinct is to remove form fields to reduce friction. Sounds simple and, well, pretty obvious, right? If you want more people to complete your form, ask less of them. A best practice was born.
So, is it true? Does reducing form fields always increase form conversion rate? Are there any advantages to designing forms with more fields? Do they convert?
Table of contents
Busting the best practice
Michael Aagaard, Unbounce‘s former senior conversion optimizer, is well-known for his advocacy of conducting conversion research instead of relying on best practices. Here’s what he had to say on the subject of reducing form fields…
Evidently, the easier and simpler it is to complete your form, the more conversions you’re likely to get. However, the number of form fields isn’t the only factor that contributes to ease and simplicity.
Size does matter, but there are exceptions to the rule. [Tweet it!]
What other data is out there?
You’re probably used to seeing this Imaginary Landscape (i.e. imagescape.com) case study from 2007-2008…
In over a decade since the study was conducted, it’s been covered by Unbounce, HubSpot, CXL, and many others. It’s not hard to see how one little study eventually became “reducing form fields will always increase conversions.”
More recent research has presented some more interesting arguments. Above, Michael talked about a client he worked with, a case study he described in detail at CTA Conference a few years ago.
Before conducting conversion research, Michael assumed reducing the number of form fields from nine to six would increase conversions.
As you can see, it actually decreased conversions.
After conducting conversion research, Michael found that, in his original treatment, he had removed the three forms visitors were most engaged with. In his second treatment, he decided to leave the number of fields at nine and tweak label copy to reduce friction instead.
Well, a 19.2% increase isn’t too bad.
In this case, reducing form fields actually had a negative impact. Again, length isn’t the only type of friction affecting form completion rates.
If you have only one to three fields, you’re likely going to see a higher conversion rate. It’s not rocket science. The form is simple, there’s little room for error, and it’s not a big ask. There’s very little friction there.
If you have eight to ten fields, you’re also likely going to see a higher conversion rate. Why? Consider the context and desire.
- If you’re filling out a government form or a form to have the value of your house estimated, you’re expecting to answer a lot of questions. The context is there and the expectation is set.
- If you’re filling out a form to get access to an awesome, value-packed webinar or eBook or online course, you’re so motivated that you’re willing to answer a lot of questions. You want that value so much that no ask is too large.
A few years ago, Blivakker.no, a leading beauty ecommerce store in Norway, ran a test to discover the impact of removing form fields. According to VWO, they created three different versions of the registration form:
- Control with 17 fields;
- Skjema-Light, the original form minus three fields (account number, phone number, evening phone number);
- Skjema-Uberlight, a completely stripped-down form with fewer fields and navigational elements.
Here are the results:
Karl Philip Lund, the Norwegian interactive marketer behind this small test, concluded that “when you reduce the number of unnecessary fields in a form, you increase the number of registrations. The test also shows that it’s not optimal to remove too much information from a form.”
The solution is not simply “reduce form fields as much as possible.” While reducing form fields to increase conversions is usually effective, the data concludes that it is far from being an absolute truth.
When is having lots of form fields okay?
As Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers and Airstory wrote in a Copyblogger article…
It’s a difficult question with a lot of grey area. I can’t offer you any hard and fast rules or absolute truths (as usual). Instead, let’s take a look at some examples.
With eight fields to fill out in exchange for an advertising plan kit, HubSpot is a good example of a company with long(ish) forms…
Column Five is somewhere in the middle…
To download their eBook, you only need to complete four fields. (Note: According to Oli and Unbounce’s research, Column Five could ask three more questions with only a marginal conversion rate fluctuation.)
Finally, you have examples like the one from Instapage…
All it takes to get a copy of their eBook is your email address. Pretty simple!
So, who is doing it right? The answer could be all three of them and the answer could be none of them.
There’s a chance Instapage is missing out on valuable information, making it more difficult to qualify incoming leads. There’s a chance HubSpot is missing out on leads who aren’t willing to disclose all of that information for a free PDF.
You can’t possibly know how many form fields you can pull off without conducting conversion research and running your own tests. Even then, you have to compare the ROI of additional information with the ROI of increased conversions. How much does having a phone number really help the sales team? Is it enough to warrant a potential decrease in conversions?
Your form should have enough fields to achieve the following:
- The form is easy to understand and complete; there’s limited friction.
- The value of the information your visitors are asked to provide is equal to or less than the value you are going to provide.
- You are able to qualify incoming leads and provide the sales team with enough information to close deals.
Once you begin thinking of forms as a transaction, you begin to focus on the need to create a win-win situation for your visitors and yourself. How can you both get the most value as quickly and easily as possible? That’s the real question.
Here’s what you should be exploring in your conversion research to answer that question:
- What fields do your visitors interact with most? Least?
- Where are visitors dropping off and abandoning your form?
- What takes your visitors the longest to complete?
- Where are your visitors running into issues? What fields are triggering errors most often?
Tools like Formisimo can help you answer these types of questions.
Getting more from your lead gen forms
Now that you’ve run through some of the major points of friction, what’s next? What are some other optimization tips to consider when it comes to forms?
Joanna has some starting points for you…
Still eager to optimize? You can also try implementing a progress bar, asking higher value questions, and removing optional fields.
1. Use a progress bar
If asking for a lot of information is absolutely necessary, consider using a progress bar to show visitors how far they’ve come and how much farther they need to go.
If you’ve ever purchased something from Amazon, you’re probably already familiar with this concept…
Imagine asking for all of this information at once, on one page. If you listen closely, you can hear the faint sound of thousands of your visitors closing the tab.
Bryan Eisenberg of IdealSpot.com agrees that time/effort perception and expectation setting are key, adding that forms often look more daunting than they really are…
A progress bar sets expectations and breaks the process down into easy steps.
If you’re not an ecommerce site, you likely don’t have the need for a form this long… Or a progress bar. However, you might have a list of questions your sales team would like to know. Instead of trying to place all of those questions within the first step, creating friction, place them within the second (or third, or…) step.
Take a look at how Buffer does it…
Step one: Enter your email and password to get started.
Step two: Complete these three fields in an onboarding flow, where Buffer gathers the information they need to customize (and improve) your initial experience. The progress bar below indicates you’re already halfway through.
Progress bars, and the concept behind them, aren’t just for ecommerce sites.
2. Ask higher value questions
Instead of asking more questions, simply ask higher value questions. For many of you, the “business email address” example comes to mind here.
By asking for a “business email address,” you will: (1) increase deliverability, (2) reduce the need for a “name” field, and (3) set the context for your product or service (i.e. “this is a business tool”).
Of course, there are other high value questions you can experiment with. For each question on your form, ask yourself:
- Do I already have this information from this visitor?
- Can I get this information from another source (e.g., IP address)?
- Will this information bring me closer to a sale?
3. Required vs. optional
If you have optional fields on your form, you’re likely asking for “nice to have” information too soon. If you optimize for retention, this initial form won’t be the only touchpoint you have with this visitor.
Initially, focus on what information is necessary to get the visitor started. Maybe that’s one or two fields, maybe that’s eight or ten fields. The number isn’t so important. What’s important is that your visitors aren’t sitting at home thinking, “Why do they need this?!”
Here are some optional vs. required field testing ideas:
- What happens when you remove all of the required asterisks, implying everything is required?
- What happens when you make a field you consider required optional?
- What happens when you make a field you consider optional required?
Your idea of required could be vastly different from your visitor’s idea of required. Ask yourself whether each field is required to deliver value or whether it’s required to satisfy a database.
Now we’re back to the original question: should you really reduce form fields? Probably, but the only way to know for sure is to run the tests for yourself.
Reducing form fields to increase conversions isn’t a myth, but it’s also not an absolute truth. [Tweet it!]
Just because it works often, doesn’t mean it will work always.
Here’s what you really need to remember about lead generation form optimization:
- Some of the most commonly referenced form field data is over a decade old.
- Be purposeful about what you ask. Conduct conversion research to see which forms visitors are engaging with and which they are not.
- If you need more information, weigh the value of that extra information against the conversion rate. Is it worth it?
- Ask yourself whether quality (longer forms) or quantity (shorter forms) is more important. Design your forms accordingly.
- Only ask for the information you need. Don’t get greedy!
- The length of your form can be as daunting as the number of fields. Be aware of how greedy your form looks.
- Reducing fields isn’t the only way to reduce friction. Examine each field to identify points of friction and eliminate them.
- Use a progress bar for long forms, ask higher value questions and really experiment with the idea of required vs. optional fields.