5 Sign-up Form Design Mistakes That Can Kill Your Conversion Rate (and How to Fix Them)

5 Sign-up Form Design Mistakes That Can Kill Your Conversion Rate (and How to Fix Them)

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.

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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.

lcicue9zr teddyrooseveltquote

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 following 5 design mistakes. Don’t worry, we have ways for you to fix them if you are.

Mistake #1: The CTA button is boring



Zzzzzzzzz…… *hand falls off the mouse and can’t click any button*

If a CTA button is uninspiring or just makes you see the color beige when you read it, start making design changes here. This is the literal action point for potential subscribers, and everything from the copy to the color will make a difference.

How to fix it: Make your call-to-action…well…an action (and an inspiring one at that). Use copy that is specific, decisive, and leaves no other option but to click.

 CTA button exampleI fancy myself a tequila cocktail girl, but do I even know myself? Fly Beyond sounds like they might know me better. *Click*

Also, if you’ve ever watched as much HGTV as I have, you know that a “pop of color” or an eye-catching detail (like the flying birds in the above example) can make an impact on the success of the design.

But, why stop at one CTA button? People like choices, so entertain the idea of providing an opt-in CTA button and an opt-out button (the odds are still in your favor when it’s done well).

opt out choice exampleA choice is a fine thing. (Source: CopyHackers)

“I have to choose to opt-out, meaning that if I decide not to take the freebie offered, I have to choose (or say yes to) a negative consequence.

I don’t get to escape unscathed. If I decide not to opt in, I have to live with the consequences of my actions. “No, I reject the persuasion guide.” It’s the expressly stated alternative choice that sets up a clear consequence for not clicking the orange Yes button: rejection.” – Joanna Wiebe, CopyHackers

Mistake #2: TMI(R) (too much information requested)

Earlier, we talked about how it’s a bit of a myth that shorter forms with less required info fields convert better. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. But a longer or shorter form is not mutually exclusive with the types of information you’re asking for.

A longer form might include a bulleted list of necessary details, but for a first-time subscriber, you don’t need 10 form fields where 5 of them ask for either irrelevant information, or for information you can ask for down the line.

too much information formNo….just, no… (Source: OptinMonster)

How to fix it: Chill. Out. And don’t require a phone number unless it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary. For a first sign-up form, don’t ask for what you don’t need.

Think about this:

Someone who you are trying to convert into a first-time subscriber is just getting to know you. You do not need to know their phone number, social security number, address, first pet’s name, nickname, or typically any information other than a name and an email address to start.

Making unnecessary information a requirement (especially phone numbers) will ensure that it will be a long time before you see any sign-up conversions again.

Mistake #3: You’ve underestimated the power of a progress bar

“Are we there yet?”

Wouldn’t it have been nice if, on every family road trip, you had had a progress bar following your car to tell you how much was left to complete?

A progress bar on a sign-up form accomplishes this.

progress bar form exampleOnly 3 steps left, woohoo! (Source: Neil Patel)

People are naturally driven to complete goals. Showing exactly how close they are to completing a goal (or in this case a form) is a good way to incentivize them to cross the finish line.

How to fix it: Test having a progress bar! It doesn’t even have to be an actual bar, it can be a checklist or some other organizational method that shows live progress and a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mistake #4: There’s too much clutter in or around your form

Your form might be on a blog or a pop-up on the home page, or it might be its own landing page. Wherever it is, be careful of clutter.

Imagine staring at a page that has a blog, 3 ads, a header, and a sign-up form on it. And that sign-up form has several images and large blocks of text that make it difficult to see the button.

No thanks.

How to fix it: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Silly). The best sign up page designs are simple.

Your form might be an exit-intent pop-up, a lightbox, or on its own landing page (like many are). There are two things to consider for a landing page:

  1. Placement
  2. Purpose.

Think about the pros and cons of having it above or below the fold, and think about the purpose of any other content that is on that page. Don’t overwhelm people with multiple ads, extra forms, and various links to other pages all at once.

Find a reasonable content limit that doesn’t distract from the main event (the sign-up form), and make sure the design doesn’t give people a headache. Too much clutter and you can K.I.S.S. conversions goodbye.

Mistake #5: Low-quality copy and bad (or lack of) images

We’ve definitely mentioned this in a past post – don’t talk like a robot to your customers. Just like the aforementioned CTA button copy, the rest of the form copy should inspire action, but it should also be put into language that isn’t over everyone’s heads.

But it’s not all about words.

According to psychologist Albert Mehrabian, 93% of human communication is nonverbal. Visual components, like product images and graphics, improve comprehension and engagement of a subject. This is why quality images can help make a sign-up form more inviting.

How to fix it: Step into your audiences’ shoes. Study customer testimonials and use language that they would use. Consider what kind of imagery you would like to see as a visitor, look at what competitors are doing and make sure everything from copy to images is the best quality.

One lesser-known quote from a popular series, Gilmore Girls, comes from the grandmother Emily Gilmore, who knows quality.

“If you make it look cheap, people will think you’re unsuccessful.” (via GIPHY)

People are on the lookout for things that make a brand look less than legitimate. One small sign-up form design misstep can send them running to your competitors. Focusing on quality over quantity means the quality of your content, copy, brand colors, images, everything.

Sign-up forms are supposed to increase your conversion rate, not kill it.

Keeping these 5 mistakes in mind as you develop your own will help ensure that when it comes to forms, it’s all uphill from here.

And remember – test, test, test!

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