Using Forms to Capture Critical Data about Website Visitors

As a website owner it is critical that you know your audience. Hundreds to thousands of people visit your website each day, how much do you actually know about them? Most websites are built around assumptions. Usually website owners are pretty accurate in their assumptions of their target audience. That said, it is much more empowering to have real data to back up those assumptions. One way to prove your assumptions to be true, or to confirm that you made an incorrect assumption, is to capture data from your website visitors.

Using Forms to Capture Critical Data about Website Visitors

Capturing data from your website traffic doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Yes, people are sensitive about what information they give others, but when the right questions are asked and the right incentives are offered, most people are happy to provide insight into who they are and what they are interested in. The best way to accomplish this task is to use online forms for capturing data about your website visitors.

In this article I will cover the benefits of using online forms, explain how to use online forms to achieve your data capture goals, provide tips for using online forms, list examples of online form software that can be used for your website, and discuss possible ideas for leveraging online forms which you can implement on your website.

Using Online Forms to Capture Data from Website Visitors

An online form is a software product that collects data from people online and stores it in a database for website owners to retrieve and use to learn about their customers. You’ve probably used online forms many times and I’m sure most of the people reading this article are very familiar with what online forms are. That being the case, we’ll keep this section of the article very short.

Online forms are used by savvy website owners to collect data from website visitors. A few examples of the data collected from online forms are as follows, but not limited to:

  • Email Addresses
  • Personal Information (Name, Address, etc.)
  • Answers to questions about products/services
  • Interests
  • Favorite “things” (related to your website topic)
  • Opinions on products/services, website changes, etc.
  • Recommendations

Below is an example of an online form.

instantShift - Login and Register Forms

Benefits of Using Online Forms on Your Website

Online forms, when used properly, can be HUGELY beneficial to website owners. Online forms can give website owners insight into the people who are visiting your website. Below is a list of the major benefits that you will receive if you decide to use online forms on your website:

  • Get to know your website visitors
  • Understand your visitors’ preferences or opinions on your website, products, services, etc.
  • Market research
  • Opt-ins for email marketing campaigns in order to sell to them in the future
  • Prove or disproved assumptions
  • Engaged visitors

What do you think of this list of benefits? Do you have other benefits of online forms that you think should be included on this list? If so, we hope you will take time to share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

How to Use Online Forms on Your Website

Using online forms is quite easy these days with all of the out-of-the-box online form software that’s out there. We will get into some of the top form software on the market today a little later in this article. In order to use online forms successfully you must first think through exactly what you want to accomplish by using online forms, what data you want to capture, why you want to capture it, and most importantly, what you’re going to do with the data once you have it. You should have a plan for using the data PRIOR to even collecting it. Far too often website owners collect data from their website visitors without having a plan ready for how they will use that data. What usually happens when you don’t plan for how you will use the data, the data just ends up sitting there and it never gets used. Why go through the effort to collect data from your website visitors if you’re not going to use it for anything?

Below are the steps that I recommend you take when thinking through how you will use an online form on your website:

  • What are you goals for using online forms – What information are you trying to collect?
  • Who do you want to respond to your campaign by providing you with their information? Is it EVERYONE who visits your website OR is it only a specific sub-set of your website traffic? If it’s a specific sub-set, then how will you target them while not targeting the rest of your website traffic?
  • What data do you absolutely need to collect? There is a delicate balance when it comes to collecting data from your website traffic. You want to ensure that you collect all of the information you need, while not trying to collect too much. Even the most interested people in your campaign don’t want to spend more than 1 minute or so filling out a form. The shorter the better.
  • What incentive will you use to attract people to fill out your form? This should play directly into the item above. The more information you’re collecting (ie. The more time your website visitors have to spend filling out your form) the bigger the incentive must be. We will discuss incentives a little later in the article.
  • What pages will you put the form on? I always recommend creating a landing page for your form. This is a standalone web page that’s usually not connected to your website through your navigation. It’s usually linked to from other web pages, banner ads, social media, search engines, etc. The sole purpose of the web page is to house your form and explain the incentive offer.
  • What are you planning on doing with the data once you have it? Make sure you think this through before implementing your online form. This way you are ready to rock-and-roll as soon as you’re finished collecting the data.

Once you have a plan for both your form and what you will do with your data, you can begin to think through how you will implement your form and where on your website to implement it.

Implementing Online Forms on Your Website

instantShift - Login and Register Forms

Once you’ve taken the time to think through your plan for using online forms on your website, it’s time to implement the online form. This process can be pretty easy depending on what software you’re using to run your website and what online form software you use. Some website developers may even choose to create their own online form and not use online form software. That works too. You have much more control this way. That said, those who code an online form themselves will usually spend more time setting it up and maintaining it then those who use third party software. Either way will work fine. It’s really up to you on which route you choose.

No matter if you use online form software or you code an online form yourself, the steps to implement the online form are very similar. Below are the main steps that you should follow when putting an online form on your website:

  • Determine which web page(s) you will put the online form on. Does the page already exist or will you have to create a web page for the online form? Perhaps you simply want to put the online form in a sidebar on your website. That works too. Either way, determine where you’re going to house your online form.
  • Set up your form questions. This plays back into what data you want to collect. Set up each question and determine the type of response you’ll want to capture. Do you need a text box, radio button, checkbox, etc.?
  • Create your Thank You page and/or email that will be displayed to everyone who completes your online form.
  • Determine how those who complete your form will receive their incentive. This largely depends on the incentive being offered. Most people either, redirect participants to their gift after they complete, email them their gift, or mail them their gift. Again this is really based on what you’re offering. For example, if you’re offering a free eBook for completing an online form, you can simply redirect people to the eBook download page upon hitting “submit” to complete your survey.
  • Test! Test! Test! It is absolutely critical that you test your form before going live. I would recommend that you test it in multiple browsers. These days people are using many different browsers, from Mozilla Firefox to Google Chrome, and yes, even Internet Explorer (UGH). Most online form software works the same across all major browsers, but it’s still important that you test your form to ensure everything is working properly AND THAT DATA IS SAVING TO YOUR DATABASE.
  • Launch your form. After you’ve tested everything and determined that your form is working properly it’s time to launch your form.
  • Promote your campaign. After you launch your form it’s time to execute your marketing campaign geared towards getting people to complete your online form. Depending on the type of survey you’re running, you may use a multitude of different marketing tactics. You might use social media, blogs, YouTube videos, direct mail, banners on your website, or maybe all of the above.

It may seem like a lot of steps, but truthfully, once you’ve done this a few times, it’s actually pretty easy to setup and launch an online form for your website.

Online Form Software

Now that we have gone over everything about planning and launching an online form, let’s take a look at some of the top online form software on the market today. Below is a list of some of my favorite online form software. I would recommend that you do your research, figure out your needs, and then pick a form software that will allow you to accomplish your goals.

  • PHP Forms – Easy to use form editor
  • Gravity Forms – WordPress plugin for online forms
  • Adobe Forms – Build online forms from Adobe Forms Central
  • JotForm – Online form builder
  • Wufoo – Web application for building online forms

Any of these online form creation tools will help you build high quality online forms for your website.

Get Started Building Your Online Form

At this point you should have all of the information you need to get started building an online form for your website. Remember take time to think through your online form campaign to ensure you have a plan for building a quality online form. Once your plan is ready, it’s time to start building your online form.

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3 Comments

  1. Critical data can be most important factor in the website. Such a kind of article will help a lot about the same. Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Excellent stuff.Really nice works.Thanks for sharing.

  3. For Europe Theres a need to be careful with new Eu Cookie Legislation Recently in place

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