One of the best ways to start a relationship with somebody online is to offer them something free in exchange for their name and e-mail address. But don’t make the mistake of asking for too much too soon!
I recently went to a Web site to download a free report. The report sounded interesting, but I decided not to get it, because the Web site expected me to fill in seventeen fields before I could get the report! Here’s a snapshot of the page, with identifying information removed to protect the guilty (click the picture to see a bigger version):
This is a ridiculous amount of information to request on a form, especially for a form that’s the first contact with strangers. Many people wouldn’t bother completing it; and some others would complete it with false information. So it’s probably not very valuable information for the Web site owner anyway.
The big mistake on this Web site is that it’s asking for too much too soon. It’s unreasonable to expect complete strangers to take this much time and part with this much information. It’s even stretching a friendship to expect this of long-term clients!
Broadly, a number of studies have shown that the more information you ask for on a form, the less likely it is that people will complete it. And even if they do complete it, some will use false information just to get through to the other side.
So, if you would like users – especially strangers – to complete an online form, here are some guidelines to increase your chance of getting accurate information:
- Ask for as little as possible. Consider what information you absolutely must have in order to fulfill your part of the bargain (for example, an e-mail address so you can send the free report), and eliminate everything else.
- If you want other information for marketing purposes (for example, the person’s name), keep this to a minimum.
- If you really want to ask for more, make this optional.
- If it’s not obvious why you are asking for the information, explain it.
- If you’re asking for sensitive information, allow them to remain anonymous (in other words, don’t ask for their name or e-mail address).
- For unavoidably long and complex forms, give them an estimate of the time required to complete it.
Above all, keep in mind that starting a relationship will usually be more useful to you than gathering demographic information. In other words, ask for as little as possible initially, knowing you can ask for more information in the future.