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If I walked up to you and asked for your social security number, you’d laugh in my face, right? Even worse, what if I asked you to send it to me through a form on my website? Do you think I could get anyone to fill out my form if SSN were a required field? Not in a million years.

Except once, I actually DID fill out an online form that asked for my SSN.

They asked the questions in a way that sucked me in so well, I just got in a groove of answering, answering, answering, and I pressed the button to send off my most sensitive information through the hacker-infested interwebs…at which point I realized what I’d done and proceeded to freak out.

Are YOUR forms so compelling that you could convince people to give you their SSN? Not that you should, of course. But if your forms don’t convince people to give you the information you need, read on and we’ll get to what made that form so good. As long as you promise not to actually start collecting people’s SSNs.

But first, let’s make sure you even want people to fill out a form on your site.

If you sell services, the purpose of your website is probably to get people to take one of these actions:

  • Call you
  • Fill out a form

You may have other micro-conversion goals like live chat to answer sales questions, or content download or email opt-in for long-term nurturing, but when people are serious about buying your services, they’re probably going to convert via a phone call or a form fill.

Do you know which one is more valuable?

If you do, kudos to you! You can skip this section and find out how to get more leads through that method. But it’s surprising how many lead gen companies don’t know that, and as a result, their website gives equal weight to phone calls and form fills. They may justify this by saying that they want to let the user decide how to contact them, but this could be costing them. Big time.

According to the Conversion Scientists, a phone call is worth 7 – 10 times more than a form fill for most lead gen sites. This really isn’t all that surprising, because it’s easier to move a prospect to the next step over the phone especially when they’ve called you. If they filled out your form, it’s a race to see how quickly your salespeople can respond before that lead gets cold.

A 2014 study by InsideSales found that:

“The odds of making a successful contact with a lead are 100 times greater when a contact attempt occurs within 5 minutes, compared to 30 minutes after the lead was submitted. Similarly, the odds of the lead entering the sales process, or becoming qualified, are 21 times greater when contacted within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes after the lead was submitted.”

But before you optimize your lead gen site for phone calls, remember that effective conversion optimization means not just following best practices, but making decisions based on your site’s data. If you don’t know with absolute certainty which method is more valuable, and by how much, answer these questions:

  • How many phone calls do we need, on average, before we close a deal?
  • How many form fills?
  • What’s the average value of a sale from a phone call?
  • From a form fill?

If you put the answers to those questions into a table like this, you can easily calculate the value of a lead in terms of revenue:

You may need to talk to sales managers, dig into your data, or even start with an educated guess to fill in rows A and B. Once you do that, though, you simply divide B by A in order to figure out the values for row C.

Let’s imagine your numbers look like this.

You’d know that a phone call is 10 times more valuable to your business than a form fill. Yowza!

What do you do with that information?

Now you optimize your site to steer visitors toward the conversion goal that’s more valuable to you. Do it boldly. Don’t feel guilty about manipulating your site’s visitors into doing what makes you more money. If you offer legitimate services, you’re making it easier for your prospective clients or patients to get the help they’re seeking.

If a phone call is more valuable

Here are some best practices and elements we’ve tested to drive more phone calls:

  • If you’re not already doing it, start using call tracking software, which uses dynamically inserted numbers. Make sure whichever software you use integrates nicely with your A/B testing platform so you can A/B test your site’s pages for phone calls.
  • Put your phone number on every page of your site, with a compelling reason for people to call. “Call” or “Call Now!” are NOT compelling reasons. Again, be bold and tap into people’s emotions. Test different messages that get at the heart of the problem your prospects need to solve (which is why you have to integrate call tracking with your A/B testing software). If that compelling reason doesn’t fit in your header, make a CTA banner or box elsewhere on the page, so there’s no question about what people should do on your site.
  • Don’t put a form on every page of your site. Even on your contact us page, tell people why it’s better for them if they call you rather than fill out the form.

  • Consider going against best practices for forms so people won’t want to fill it out. You may be thinking that you should just remove the form from your site so the only way people can contact you is by calling. Don’t do that! Then the choice becomes whether to call or not call. If you have a long, overwhelming form on your site, their choice becomes whether to fill it out or call you.  
  • Even if they’re diehard form-filler-outers, don’t give up on that phone call! On the thank-you page, tell them when you’ll be in touch, and remind them that the fastest way to get their questions answered is to simply call.
  • For the mobile version of your site:
    • You MUST have click to call. Don’t even bother testing this; just do it if you haven’t already.
    • Test a sticky footer, with the CTA of a phone call.

If a form fill is more valuable

  • Remove any fields that aren’t absolutely necessary
  • Test breaking long forms into multiple pages with a progress bar or other indication of how close they are to completion

    Image source

  • The first question can be the most important because you need to make it easy and appear to be in their best interest to take that first step. Don’t start off asking for their name, address, company, etc. Put a lot of thought into asking questions in an order that keeps their momentum going. Put the questions that people are most reluctant to answer at the end, when they’re less likely to abandon because they’ve already invested their time and want to wrap it up. This is how I got suckered into giving my SSN on a form. I was shopping for health insurance before ACA and wanted a quote. It was a very long form that started off with innocent questions that were reasonable for getting a quote. After typing in my age, height/weight, smoking/drinking habits, health history, and contact info, my fingers got ahead of my brain, and like a zombie, I entered my SSN.
  • Don’t label your buttons with “Submit”; describe what the person wants to get, such as “Find a Specialist”, “Ask a Question”, “Get a Quote”, “Compare Rates”, etc. A good rule of thumb is to have your buttons answer the phrase, “I want to…”
  • Use inline validation so error messages appear right away – and right next to the error, rather than showing a list of mistakes that the user needs to hunt down and cross-reference.

    Image source

    Image source

  • Follow best practices regarding radio buttons/checkboxes and drop-downs:
    • Use radio buttons or checkboxes if there are 2 – 6 options
    • Use drop-downs for 7 – 15 options
    • Use auto-complete text boxes if you have more than 16 options, such as a list of countries
  • In most cases, you’ll want to put form field labels above the input field because that reduces the eye movement necessary to go from one to the other.

    Source for all 3 images

  • For the mobile version of your form:
    • First, ask yourself whether it’s reasonable to expect people on mobile devices to fill out your form, or whether you should aim for another goal, such as just capturing their email address, or having them log in via Facebook or Google
    • If you must have your full form on your mobile site, use clickable icons rather than text questions if possible

    • Use input type attributes so the right keypad appears for certain questions, such as the numerical keypad for the phone number

      Image source

 

“By convincing more people to convert, won’t I sacrifice lead quality?”

Sometimes, yes. If you reduce your form from 17 questions to 2, you’ll probably get a lot more unqualified leads filling it out.

They key is knowing at what point sacrificing a little quality increases your quantity so much that you end up with a higher quantity of qualified leads in the end. Clear as mud?

Let’s walk through it with a little math: say your site gets 1000 leads a month, with a 10% lead to close ratio, resulting in 100 deals.

After optimizing your site for more leads, you get 2000 leads but more of them are less-qualified, so your close ratio goes down to 7.5%. Guess what? You still end up with 150 deals, which is more closed deals.

There’s a certain percentage of people who will convert on your site as long as you don’t do anything really bad to turn them off.

  • Maybe they’re repeat clients
  • Maybe you were highly recommended to them
  • Maybe they’ve had bad luck with your competitors and you’re their last hope

==>You don’t need to put effort into converting them.

 

There’s also a certain percentage of people who will never convert, no matter how hard you try.

  • Maybe they’re students or your competitors just doing some research
  • Maybe they used to date your CEO
  • Maybe they came from a site that linked to you for a random reason, but they’re not really interested in your services.

==>Don’t try to convert them.

 

But there’s a certain percentage of people in the middle. THAT’S where your opportunity lies. These are the people on the fence. They’re the ones you have to analyze. Understand. Motivate. Convince.

If you’re only focused on optimizing for quality, you may be asking too many, or too personal, questions on your form so you’re getting highly-qualified leads. But those leads mostly consist of the easy wins, the people who’ve already made up their minds to do business with you. By trying to qualify your leads too much on the front end, you could be losing the group in the middle, the ones who take some work to convince.

Balancing optimizing for both quantity and quality is unique to each business. You may have salespeople following up on each lead in which case, it doesn’t make sense to increase the volume so much that it requires too much time and money to qualify the leads. So do the math. Figure out where that balance lies for you.

 

Oh, and about sending my SSN on a form: after I realized what I’d done, I called the company in a bit of a panic. It turns out, they were totally legit. They gave me the quote I wanted and my digits were safe and secure. Crisis avoided, thankfully. But I don’t recommend going into zombie mode when shopping online.