Sign-up form stuff up: Avoid three simple mistakes

I came across an instructive example of what not to do with an online sign-up last week. This business made such simple errors, including one that has negatively impacted both me as their customer and them in their efforts to capture new clients. So what exactly did they do?

What is the form for?

First let’s remind ourselves of the intent of forms. You want your customer to provide information in exchange for something you are offering. It is a ‘give to receive’ deal.

Now as businesses we tend to believe that people are honest when they fill out forms. However, according to research by one firm, as many as nine out of 10 online buyers have intentionally left registration information blank or used incorrect information when signing up for a new account at a website (admittedly the survey was commissioned by a firm who provides alternative social sign-on solutions).

The problem as articulated by Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim: “People are now becoming reluctant to give organisations information and are … finding ways to give incorrect information.”

So this brings me to the form I was asked to complete in return for free entry to a seminar.


Three areas where the form went wrong

1. They are being greedy with too many fields

Thirteen fields were laid bare before me. First name and last, company, email, phone, street address, city, state, postcode, my role, preferred seminar date, how I heard about them and an open-ended question.

I was exhausted before I started typing and began to really wonder if the seminar was worth this effort. Remember that everything you ask of your user should be guided by the ‘effort: reward equation’.

When effort exceeds the payoff your customer won’t proceed. Including extraneous fields (from the user’s point of view) adds load to the effort side of the equation and means you have to increase the reward.

2. No indication of which fields are mandatory

A simple one – if you are going to add more fields than absolutely necessary (anything beyond name and email for example) let your user know which fields are optional.

3. No reason given for requesting a street address

This turned out to be the big mistake and one that has negatively impacted both me and this business. I was expecting my ticket to be emailed and so fudged my street address. Imagine my horror when I the confirmatory email included in this statement:

Tickets: You will be mailed a ticket that will be required for entry to the event (be sure the address details when you registered are correct.

Whoops! Guess I won’t be going after-all.

Two things that would have averted this issue.

First, the form should have instructed me that the street address was important because that’s how I would receive my ticket. Suddenly the payoff for form honesty has just increased.

And second, the confirmatory email should have provided a mechanism for me to correct my address.

I should say they didn’t do everything wrong.

What they did well(ish)

  • Call to action was a descriptive ‘register me now’ rather than ‘submit’. This is important because it tells the user what happens when they take the action, which reduces anxiety. Could have been “request your ticket to be delivered now”.
  • They let me know I’d be receiving daily emails and gave it a sense of value to me. Important because they are really using the seminar to sign me up to their marketing propsects list.
  • Included a secure and confidential statement and icon along with ‘Your information is 100% protected’. These elements provide confidence that personal informaton will be treated appropriately. Absence of these types of markers leaves your user wondering whether they should take the risk.
  • Sent me an email to confirm my registration. Don’t give your newly signed up customers the silent treatment – let them know that their details have been received and the process has worked.

Remember that by the time someone has reached your Call to Action you’ve done a lot of the hard work. You’ve created interest and intent. But the form is your moment of truth; here you must keep your customer’s momentum flowing by limiting the effort required of them while maximising the payoff they’ll receive.

Only when reward exceeds effort will the customer proceed.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues. Bri is a presenter, consultant and author who you can find out more about at, or by following on Twitter @peoplepatterns.


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