First impressions are everything. They make or break whether a successful conversion is in your future.

You don’t get a do-over. You’ve got to get it right the first time, every time. This includes your sign up forms.

The first interaction with your sign up form is a tricky moment. It’s the final obstacle between you and a lead. What does your form say about you? About your business?

Get it right and enjoy a list of prospective customers. Get it wrong and… well… sorry, thanks for playing.

Do you know what happens when you make sign-up form design mistakes?
Allow me to give you an example of what the outcome looks like (forgive me, but the first thing I thought of was a moment in an episode of Friends).
In this iconic series, there is a scene where one of the least favorite characters, Ross, is stood up on a blind date. The waiter comes up to him and says, “Do you think your date came in, saw you, and left?”
Ouch. That had to hurt.
This moment is an exact mirror example of what happens when you have a poorly designed sign-up form.
Did you know that 38% of people will just up and leave your website if any part of it (including forms), doesn’t look good to them?
This can happen for any number of reasons, including…

  • They can’t find what they were looking for
  • Your copy is confusing (don’t be clever, be clear)
  • You’re asking for too much information
  • There is too much clutter with images and text
  • The colors make their eyes hurt
  • They hate all forms (basically, it could be any number of reasons)

These and other sign-up form design mistakes can result in so many lost leads…

lead generationRest in peace, almost-leads. You will be missed.

Good news for you though, because this post will teach you everything you need to know so that your leads will never stand you up again.
If there’s one important thing to remember going into this post, it’s this – design isn’t just about how something looks; it’s also about how something works.
Let’s do this.
In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What a “good conversion rate” is (and what qualifies as a conversion)
  • 3 myths about sign-up form “best practices” (that may not actually be best practices for you)
  • The top 5 design mistakes you can make on a form (and how to fix them for a better conversion rate)

No time to waste! There are leads to convert.

What is a “good conversion rate?”

Generally speaking, an average email opt-in conversion rate is anywhere between 1-5%, but this varies depending on where your traffic is coming from (like forms, or Facebook Ads, or others).
Of course, a number of factors beyond just traffic influence what your conversion rate will be. And, don’t get down on yourself if you’re currently on the low end of the spectrum.
Because high conversion rates are not always what they seem.
Higher conversion rates are great! Well, they’re great if they are actually worthwhile. Your conversion rate is only as qualified as your leads are.
What’s qualified? A prospective customer who lines up with a buyer persona created based on needs, business type, budget, and other factors. And if you don’t have buyer personas clearly defined yet, it’s definitely time to do so.
Did you know that organizations who define their ideal customer profiles will advance leads more often than those who don’t?
That’s because they don’t waste their time on people who are never going to become customers (because they already know exactly what customers they want, and can get).

In one case study, a cloud automation service provider clearly defined their target audience and increased:

  • sales leads by 124%
  • online leads by 97%
  • organic search traffic by 55%
  • North American site traffic by 210%

ghostingEnd the ghosting trend when you target the right people.

Converting less qualified leads is not only a waste of your time but also your money. So, pay attention to your numbers, but don’t let them fool you (or bum you out).
Now, what exactly is a conversion? They can be any number of things, like…

  • Purchases
  • Content downloads
  • Page visits and clicks
  • Opening and clicking an email
  • Filling out a form and confirming a subscription

But how do you design a form that won’t kill your conversion rate? You’re about to find out.

Are design “best practices” really the best practice for you? The answer may surprise you.

In your Google searches, you’ve probably come across 213,470,973,109,230 web results that tout the “best practices of XYZ.”
I should know, I’ve written some of them (and searched for some to read myself), and these articles can be extremely helpful.
The thing is, there is no official set of best practices that work for every business. And that includes designing a sign-up form.
Take a modal sign-up form, for example.
In one of his WhiteBoard Friday videos, Rand Fishkin of Moz talks about the differences between pop-ups, overlays, and modals.

modal sign-up form*Motorola voice* Hello Modal.

With modals, some people view these as good opportunities for customer interaction. More chance of interaction means more chance of conversion, right?
Maybe. But, not necessarily for everyone.
For some, the sudden appearance of a sign-up modal can also be seen as taking away from the customer experience.
Personally, I sometimes get irritated if I’m halfway through a page’s content and suddenly a box appears blocking the rest of the sentence I’m reading. But, being irritated doesn’t mean I won’t still give you my email address.

modal form exampleOne of two reactions: “Trying to read here…” or “Weekly food news? Why didn’t you pop-up sooner?” Image from OptinMonster

That’s why best practices should really be called “best-educated guesses” or “common practices” (those just doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily).
For that reason, we will go through 3 “myths” about designing sign-up forms. Get ready to be debunked (or rather, Devil’s Advocated).

1. Shorter forms are better than longer ones

I’m calling this (and all of these best practices) a myth because it is. And it isn’t.
Stay with me.
On the whole, a shorter opt-in form with a simple design and only a few necessary information fields is going to be the obvious choice for marketers to give you as a customer.

Less work = less friction = more conversions. Right?

Yes, often. But not always.
Here’s one instance from a 2008 study with Imaginary Landscape where it definitely did. They reduced form clutter by reducing the number and type of required form fields.

long form vs short form5.4% to 11.9% is quite the nice jump. (Source: Quicksprout)

However, more conversion research done by Michael Aagaard of Unbounce showed that, sometimes, longer forms can work better. Originally, he reduced the number of form fields and saw a decrease in conversions because he eliminated 3 fields that people wanted to engage with.
To reverse the decrease, he put the fields back in and altered the copy instead. Ultimately, the longer form converted better than the shorter version from a simple copy change, not a length change.

long sign-up form conversionsPoor, sad conversion rate.

sign up form design19.21% higher, well that’s a LOT better.

Sometimes, a longer form will contain the necessary information. This could be:

  • Including important information request fields
  • Explaining the details of an ebook about to be downloaded
  • A description of what to expect from a weekly newsletter.

Some people like to have all of the information up front, which would result in a higher conversion rate from a longer form. Others would prefer to do less work upfront and convert better on a shorter form with simple copy and only 1-2 fields.
Long story, short, it’s a little bit of a myth that shorter forms convert better than longer ones. In fact, with the right follow-up process, a longer form may lead to more qualified leads (and save you a lot of time getting them). But, it will work differently for everyone.
While you test different design elements, test length too. What you find out might surprise you.

2. Less friction = more conversions

While creating less work for customers is definitely a perk for them to complete a sign-up action, a little pushback may actually work to your advantage. Not all friction has the negative implications of the word itself.

I personally think this is true. If I think a form has something that’s really worth my time (and the form copy and design is able to affirm that for me), I don’t mind putting in the extra work to complete it (and many customers won’t either).
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should create the hardest sign-up process of all time using multiple pages of required information, a secret password and a signature dance move. Just make sure your form is clear and provides value.
Like in the example above, people were converting at a higher rate because the extra information they were asked to provide was worth it to them. People with high intent are more likely to fill out a form, no matter how long it is, because they’re highly motivated about what awaits them when they do.
As you’ve probably heard a thousand times before, it’s often more about quality than quantity.
Sometimes, asking for little extra work will result in the bigger conversion payout.

3. The presence of security badges make customers more confident

This best practice could be considered a myth when it comes down to an issue of transparency.

It’s a lot like using the word “spam” on a form.
On one hand, telling subscribers on your form that you won’t spam their email addresses is a nice, transparent thing to do. It instills trust in your brand and confidence in customers.
On the other hand, mentioning the word spam at all might plant a small seed of doubt anyway. The presence of the word itself is sometimes enough to worry a potential subscriber so much that they don’t complete a form at all.
The same can be true of using a security badge on a form.
Adding a security badge might be killing your conversion rate. Sometimes the smallest reminder of the potential risks can deter more than it can reassure. But, again, transparency is important to people, so it might also do the opposite.
The best way to find out what works best for your form design is to test it out.

5 mistakes you’re making on your form (and what to do instead)

Maybe by now, you’ve tried experimenting with longer or shorter design, or with using a security badge. And maybe it’s made a positive difference, but you’d still like to bump that conversion rate up.
So, how do you increase lead conversion from your sign-up form? Look and see if you are making any of the followin