There is perhaps no greater web annoyance than a poorly constructed form. Whether they’re clumsy, picky, or just plain confusing, too many forms make submitting data a cumbersome chore. The worst forms transcend mere annoyance and actually drive users crazy (or drive them away alltogether.) The sorry state of web forms need not and should not continue, however, it all begins with knowing why so many are so bad in the first place. Here are 7 form tactics to purge from your website ASAP:
Insisting that passwords have certain characteristics
It’s one thing to require that passwords be more than 3 or 4 characters. It’s even okay to reject obvious passwords like “password.” What’s not okay is forcing annoying requirements on your users, such as making them capitalize the first letter or use at least one number in the password. Even worse is when the form does not state these requirements up-front, allowing the user to set what they believe is a fine password and only telling them after the fact that they need caps or numeric characters. While your goal – keeping your users safe – is noble, going about it in this way serves only to annoy and frustrate them as they try to join your website.
Insisting upon perfect formatting
Ever type your birthdate or credit card number into a form, only to be told that you didn’t use dashes or slashes the way the form wants you to? Weren’t you completely annoyed when you had to go back and fix it before going further? Well, guess what – most of your users feel the same way if your form is doing this or similar things to them. There is simply no excuse for this other than laziness on the part of the website owner. Your users are doing you the favor of trusting you with valuable and sometimes sensitive information. The least you can do is let them give it to you in a way that’s convenient for them.
Vague error messages
Nothing is more frustrating than a form that gives you vague error messages. Just because you were a computer science major doesn’t mean your users are, which means most of them wont have the faintest idea what “could not connect to database” or “fatal submission error” means. Sometimes an error truly is technical and can only be expressed as such. However, when possible, you should make the effort to display errors in ways that are meaningful and intelligable to your audience. Otherwise they might just give up and close the form alltogether.
- Having to re-enter all your data just because you messed one thing up
It’s bad enough to complete an entire form and have to go back because you left something out. (For example, not including a number in your password!) It’s even worse to have to go back and type everything out all over again, just because of the one thing you missed. Not all forms do this, but the fact that some do is another indicator that improvement is needed.
- Poorly coded drop-down menus
Another inexcusable form annoyance is when you click a drop-down menu and it either:
- Doesn’t drop down, or
- Does drop down, but wont let you select any of its choices
This, again, is nothing more than laziness from the programming team or web designer. But it’s far from trivial, for if the user literally cannot select anything from the menu, she is stuck with nowhere to go. Nine times out of ten she will simply close the form and forget about it. Clearly, this is not what you want!
Requiring information that has no business being required
Given the choice, most users wont fill in information they don’t want to give out. Webmasters, in turn, seem to have concluded “well, we’ll just require that information by not letting them submit the form without it!” Unfortunately, this is one instance where the intentions fall far short of the results. People don’t suddenly leap to share information they feel you don’t need just because you put a “Required” asterisk next to the box asking for it. Some will, but most will ditch the form or fill it out with bogus information. Neither does you any good.
- No clear indication that the information was submitted
It’s best to assure users (particularly if your form is long) that the form they just filled out out was successfully submitted. That said, it’s astounding how many forms simply drop users at a blank webpage or some vague message instead. This creates nervousness and panic in the user who is now unsure of whether you received her data. Rather than risking this perception, take the time to type out a small blurb along the lines of “Thank you! Your information has been sent and received. We’ll be in touch shortly!” This leaves no doubt that the time filling out the form was well-spent.