Best Practices for Creating Web Forms

How do you make it as easy as possible for users of your site to communicate with you. Senior Application Developer Jedd Jones walks through things to keep in mind the next time you create a web form.

Jedd Jones

Web forms have become the go-to communication bridge between users and companies. For that reason alone, it is necessary that you focus a maximized effort on using some best practices to make them not only easier to fill out, but also more robust and functional.

The primary goal of any web form is to transmit data. Whether it be a registration form, checkout form, simple contact request or any other type of form that your end users are filling out and clicking ‘submit’ on, you want that data to be transferred to the appropriate place in a manner that is both efficient for the end user to supply it and to be received in a way most organized and systematic for you as well.

To achieve that primary goal, there are some key things to consider.

A Step-by-Step Approach vs. Optimal Content Structure

How much information do you need from the end user? Is your form going to be tiny and require a minimal amount of effort and information, or will it be a more time-consuming endeavor for the people who are filling it out?

When your business need requires you to gather a large amount of information from an end user, your web form can become quite large. In these cases, it is essential to design your web form in a manner that does not cause the end user to shrug and click the ‘close’ button once they lay eyes on it.

There are a couple of different approaches to building larger web forms. You can choose to build your web form as a series of smaller web forms (or “steps”), or you can lay it all out on a single page. If you are taking the latter approach, you will want to optimize the content structure to reduce the amount of scrolling needed to traverse the form and to better guide the user as they complete each field.

Ultimately, the decision as to which approach you take is up to you and your business needs. Although, extremely long forms are usually best presented with a step-by-step approach.

Typing Stress

You should ensure that your end users need to type or switch from the keyboard to the mouse as little as possible. Minimizing the manual labor of data entry will go a long way in keeping the end user engaged in filling out your form.

The easiest and most basic approach to reducing typing stress is (believe it or not!), simply eliminating unnecessary fields. Carefully consider each piece of data and determine if it is needed and remove it if possible.

Keep in mind the various reasons and rules for using different field types such as radio buttons, dropdown lists, checkboxes. Be sure to take advantage of tools such as calendar controls for dates and auto-formatted fields for things like telephone numbers that have a somewhat predefined format.

A simple feature such as auto-complete not only reduces typing stress by up to 90 percent in many cases, but vastly minimizes keystroke and spelling errors as well!

Interactivity, Validation & Feedback

It is also essential that your web form responds to the end user appropriately. A form that does not supply any sort of feedback to user entry is nearly useless. If the end user cannot submit the form, but does not immediately know why, how long will they keep trying? The answer depends, but it is a risk that can be avoided entirely with some basic field validation and proper feedback.

Use tooltips for proper guidance when necessary and ensure that the messages displayed for your end users are short, clear and concise in what they are trying to convey or ask of the end user. Visually, make it evident to the user that the tooltips are there to help them and not to be distracting or disruptive.

Data Security

Consider the type of data you are asking for from your audience and determine what precautions will need to be implemented to keep that data secure and safe in transfer. Secure browsing by way of https/SSL is recommended, and any data being stored should be encrypted.

If you are capturing information such as credit card numbers, then you will want to make sure your web form is PCI compliant. If you are capturing any medical or health-related information, then you will want to be sure to brush up on and follow any necessary HIPAA or ePHI guidelines.

Utilize a Captcha to reduce spam as needed and to ensure that the entities filling out your web forms are actual humans and not “bots” or other computers designed to make your life miserable by cluttering your data.

Responsive Designs

Think of the most common tasks you perform on any of the websites that you use daily and it’s quite clear that web forms are nearly as important as content. If you can’t seem to agree with that opinion at first, it’s okay. But, consider these scenarios:

  • Have you used Google today? That search box is a web form.
  • Did you post any status updates to your social media accounts? If so, then you used web forms to do that.
  • Did you have to login to post those status updates? You just used yet another web form.

Now… think of performing those tasks on those websites on your phone or tablet. A form should respond to the size of the screen or device to provide the end user with an optimal layout and workflow. Additionally, using the correct HTML5 input types for entry of numbers, dates, email addresses will ensure an end user’s device prompts them with the correct keyboard.

We’re Smart When It Comes to Web Forms

From what we have seen, there is definitely a fervent business case for making forms better. As we saw earlier in our Google/Social Media examples, forms are one of the most important things that we use on websites in general.

They facilitate communication, purchases and transfer of vital information between consumer and business (or patient and healthcare provider, or potential member and organization – you get the point). A web form ends up being the last step in a lot of very important marketing funnels, and thus can have a bevy of leverage over the results of those marketing activities.

So, if it’s possible and there’s a business case, why aren’t we all building better web forms?
LRS Web Solutions can help with that. We are constantly deriving the latest methods and best practices for optimal web form design and development. Our goal is to bake these insights into our development processes so that every form we build is optimized for its purpose, making our customer’s marketing efforts and other endeavors enticing for their end users to contribute to and participate in.

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