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Web Forms DilemmaInternet marketing blogs went crazy recently with Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) case studies and examples of tiny changes influencing a serious rise in conversion rate. You can easily find examples where buttons, navigation, special offers,
testimonials and lots of other elements boost the conversion rate of various websites.  Web forms, on the other hand,  are usually extremely underrated.

Who cares about forms?

Rarely will you find a business or e-commerce website that doesn’t contain a form of some description. Moreover, in the majority of cases it is going to be the last step in the conversion funnel. The last piece of friction, the last roadblock between your user and a conversion.

Imagine an ordinary user’s journey on a typical site:

  1. They enter the website via a search engine, social media link, website referral or directly
  2. They land on the page and engage with the content
  3. They follow the conversion path after begin persuaded page by page
  4. They reach the final page which in the majority of cases is a form (email subscription, checkout, lead generation, contact, sign up etc.)
  5. They convert

Now let’s try to imagine the same path but from the business owner/manager view

  1. They invest in customer acquisitions strategies (SEO, email, social media, etc.) in order to attract that user
  2. They invest in site design and development with the intention of engaging them
  3. They invest in web copy and CRO in order to convert that user
  4. They gain a return from successful conversion

No matter which type of business website you operate, visitor conversions are the only way to get return on your initial investments and 99% of the time it is going to be a form standing between you and your customer’s money.

E-mail subscription/capturing form

The reason I decided to start with e-mail capturing forms is the extreme lack of actionable advice online, even in niche e-mail marketing blogs. The probable cause of this is that e-mail marketing has evolved over the last couple of years to become one of the cheapest and easiest mass marketing tactics available. With solutions like mailchimp you can create a proper list, craft a template and start your first campaign in less than one hour for free. When there is no real investment required (neither time nor money), optimisation becomes useless because there are no costs to justify or to get a return from.

After that, it is not a big surprise the majority of e-mail subscription forms look like this:

No headline, no label and the call-to-action is integrated in the input field. All they ask for is the actual e-mail address, nothing else.

You would be wrong to argue that this is all we need. What are  your main KPIs for the campaign? Is it list size? Or maybe actual conversion rate of the campaign combined with softer metrics like click-through rate, opens, shares, etc.

If it’s list size then the tips below will likely not be of use as they are designed to generate a list that is more focussed and targeted – this may even reduce your list size! We are only interested in attracting users who are actually looking for your content and will engage with campaigns. What we don’t want are random surfers submitting their details because of perceived incentives.

How much info should I ask for?

The answer directly correlates with the level of personalisation you want or are able to offer. Even if you are not planning to personalise your campaigns (although actually you always should!) at least ask for the first name. Show some manners. It won’t hurt your subscription rate but can dramatically increase the opens, especially if you use it in the subject line.

5 tips on optimising your e-mail subscription form

1. Incentivise

Any form causes friction. The friction level will depend on the length and complication of the form. All users (being materialistic at heart) will not tolerate this annoying friction without an incentive.

When we talk about incentives in this sense we don’t mean a free prize or bonus (although for some site these might work brilliantly) . We are talking about your content. Descriptively explain what your users will get after signing up for your newsletter. Steer clear of marketing puff and stick to a list of direct benefits attractive and relevant enough for your user to spend half a minute now and much more later. Simply put yourself in place of your user and think if you would care enough about the content promised to sign up.

2. Provide a link to privacy policy

There are many people who are seriously concerned about their privacy. Especially with a new wave of unethical sales techniques and email affiliates  more and more people are valuing their “spam free” email accounts.

You don’t need to be very creative here. There are plenty of free sample policies available. Just choose the one which suits you best, customise it (make sure there is your company name, otherwise it might end up quite embarrassing), and create a special page somewhere deep near the about us section.

The optimal placement for the link would be somewhere close to the call to action (submit button), the majority of sites would include it exactly under:

Just make sure it is visible for users who care and not really distracting/annoying for those who don’t.

3. Ask how often to send

Another very obvious but somehow very rarely implemented point. This simple question would rise you to the top of the Permission Marketing heaven, a term coined long ago by Seth Godin. There is nothing more satisfying for users than knowing that you really do care about their needs and they welcome you asking when and how often to send them your campaign. Don’t test their patience, especially if your e-mail marketing is just about you (special offers, discounts, new products, etc.) !

Again, implementation should not be very hard. A simple drop-down menu would do the job. You can try something like this:

Quick and easy. Not a lot of additional friction created but loads of value for your users.

4. Show an example

We all know plenty of examples of this tactic in both offline and online worlds:

  • A publishing company sending an example of paper
  • A local cheese maker attracting his customers with a huge plate of samples
  • A web app provider giving us a 30 day trial

Why not do the same with your e-mail newsletters? If your user’s primary goal is the content you are providing, why not to give him a chance to see one of your previous mails?

I can give you some insights on implementing these samples:

  1. Email templates are in html usually, so you can easily upload it as a page on your website
  2. Within the form, provide a small clickable thumbnail linking to the full size page
  3. Use something like “View a sample newsletter” or more detailed “View our July (previous month is better for credibility) newsletter” as the call to action.
  4. Place that thumbnail just before the primary call to action (submit button)  because it might be your strongest persuading factor.

5. Don’t opt-in by default

My last point is not really about e-mail capturing forms. It is about all others though.

Never pre-populate the “subscribe to our newsletter” tick box in your sign up/checkout/lead gen forms. We have all seen that a million times and perhaps this tactic is so popular because good old “Everybody is using it”.

Users who want to keep in touch with your brand and get all new products and offers will tick that box by themselves, don’t worry about that. But all those who got signed up by default without noticing the tick box are not going to engage with your content or buy anything. In fact, a good amount of them will mark your newsletter as spam because it’s easier than looking for that little unsubscribe text link.

And to finish…

This is the first of hopefully many web form optimisation posts to come. The next one will be focused on lead generation forms including our latest case study on how simple changes in form provided a huge 73% increase in overall website conversion rate. Make sure to subscribe to our RSS or start following us on Twitter @Attacats so you won’t miss it.


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