How to optimize your contact form to get more leads (7 best practices)

Summary: Follow these 7 essential — but frequently ignored — best practices to ensure your potential customers fill out your contact form and you can get more leads.

The other day I bought a toner for my printer and asked the cashier for an invoice.

She directed me to a kiosk where I had to fill out a form to receive a printed invoice.

Already a bit annoyed, I filled in my VAT number and expected the fields to be filled in automatically.

Wishful thinking. I had to manually fill out everything.

Then I tapped into a field and found that the placeholder text had to be manually deleted before I could even fill anything in.

"Are you kidding me?"

This is a real-world example of how frustrating a form can be.

It shows you how most companies put little to no effort into designing a user-friendly form.

And what's even worse, they usually don't put any effort into the most important form on their website: the Contact form.

Contact forms are usually just an afterthought and get tacked on without any strategy or thought process involved.

That 'that'll do' mindset is a crucial mistake. Your contact form is essential in converting your potential customers. A bad form will most definitely lose you customers.

So if you're reading this and you think:

"Oh boy, I didn't put any effort into my contact form. I'm doomed!"

Don't worry. I've got you covered with 7 best practices for optimizing your contact form to get more leads.

1. Set clear expectations

How to set expectations with a short contact form intro text

Filling out a form takes time and is not very fun. Therefore, people are hesitant to fill it out.

Website visitors have questions they want an answer to before filling out the form such as:

  • When will they get back to me?
  • Who will get in touch with me?
  • Are entries to this form even followed up?
  • ...

Make sure to reassure them. Answer those questions upfront shortly and politely. In other words: set clear expectations of what will happen when they fill out your form.

This lowers the bar for your visitors to take action because:

  • You reassure them that their efforts are not in vain.
  • You come across as a human by acknowledging their feelings.

Key takeaway — Add a human introduction to your form that at the very least answers two main questions: 1) when will you get back to me and 2) who will get back to me?

2. Be careful with asking too much information

A comparison between a small and a large form

The bigger a form is, the more likely it is that your visitor will simply not fill it out. That's because large forms have the same effect as large blocks of text. They overwhelm your user.

The solution is simple: don't ask for any information you don't (really) need. The main goal of your contact form is for people to get in touch. Don't make it harder than it should be.

As a rule of thumb, you can stick to these three basic fields for a regular contact form:

  • Name (first and/or last)
  • Email
  • Message

Do you need more information?

If that's the case, ask yourself: do I REALLY need more fields than the three basic ones?

If your answer is still yes, consider either of these two techniques.

Multistep form

An example of how to transform a long form into a multi-step form

You can divide your form into multiple steps. This makes it more interactive and allows you to hide fields that are more difficult in later steps.

This technique makes use of the sunk cost fallacy. When people have already filled in the first step, they're less likely to abandon your form in any of the next steps because they have already put in time and effort.

And you better believe that this is an extremely powerful technique. According to Hubspot, multistep forms convert 86% higher than regular forms.

Supplement afterwards

Another technique is to keep your form minimal, but supplement that information later when you're actually in contact with your potential customer. For example during a sales talk or meeting.

Key takeaway — Think carefully about how much information you really need. If you do need a lot of information, consider dividing your fields up in steps or asking for more information after the form has been submitted.

3. Don't call your form a 'form'

An example of how to use a custom title for your contact form

Most people have experienced filling out a form that was bugged, tiresome, or just plain irritating. The word 'form' tends to evoke those past negative experiences.

In addition, people also immediately recognize a form. It's redundant to state in a title that it is a contact form.

So don't call your contact form a form. Give it a 'fun' title like "Get in touch", "Nice to meet you", or something else that adds a touch of personality.

Key takeaway — Give your contact form a fun and welcoming title to avoid any negative feelings.

4. Use logical field labels

An example of confusing form field names and how to fix them

The clearer your labels, the fewer errors. Fewer errors, less frustration, and likely less abandoned forms.

Adding clear field labels might sound easy. But frustration can lurk in a small corner. For example: using a label 'Name' without specifying if you're asking their first or last name. Or using a label name 'address', without specifying what structure it should be.

Make sure every field in your form has a label that accurately describes what exact information is required. If needed, divide fields into multiple fields if it makes sense (Address -> street name, street nr, zip code, etc.).

Here's a couple of tips to label your form fields:

Short, sweet and obvious

Use simple, short, and descriptive labels (1, maybe 2 words) that everyone understands. This makes for a contact form that's easily scannable and fillable.

if you're unsure if your label is clear, ask your mom or a friend to fill out the form and note what they struggle with.

Don't shout at me

Never use all caps (YOUR NAME). This makes the form less scannable and difficult to read because there are no character height differences anymore. Use title case ('Your Name') or sentence case ('Your name').

Key takeaway — By making your form field names as clear and as simple as possible, you'll minimize friction and make it much easier for your potential customer to fill it out.

5. Show me what's necessary and what's not

A comparison between a form that has clearly indicated optional and required fields and one that doesn't clearly indicate it.

First of all, make sure to only ask for details you really, really need (see practice #2).

Another easy way to minimize the effort your users need to put in is to clearly indicate which fields are optional and which ones are required.

"Using an asterisk to mark required fields is an easy way to improve the usability of your forms. Only marking optional fields makes it difficult for people to fill out the form."

Profile picture of Raluca Budiu, director of Research at Nielsen Norman Group
Raluca Budiu
Director of Research at Nielsen Norman Group

The most common way to do just that is to add text just behind your field labels:

  • The word 'Required' or an asterisk (*) for fields that are required
  • The word 'Optional' for fields that are optional

Key takeaway — Show your visitors what fields are necessary and which ones are optional. This ensures that your visitor needs to put in as little effort as possible.

6. Don't use placeholders as a replacement for labels

A comparison between a contact form without labels but placeholders and a form that has only labels

This is a technique you see quite often used by designers because it makes a form visually sleeker. But it's terrible for usability:

  • If a user has filled in the fields, it's impossible to quickly glance at the form and check if all responses are correct.
  • When there are error messages after submitting the form, it's probably impossible to know what went wrong.
  • When starting to type, the placeholder dissappears leaving the user with no clue what the input is about.
  • Users might mistake a placeholder for an already filled-in field.
  • In most cases, placeholder text has a lighter color than default body text causing poor visibility.

"Placeholder text within a form field makes it difficult for people to remember what information belongs in a field, and to check for and fix errors. It also poses additional burdens for users with visual and cognitive impairments."

Profile picture of Katie Sherwin, Senior User Experience Specialist at Nielsen Norman Group
Katie Sherwin
Senior User Experience Specialist at Nielsen Norman Group

Key takeaway — Don't use placeholders as a replacement for labels. It can lead to confusion and frustration hurting your contact form's conversion rate.

7. Use a powerful call to action

An example of how to write that aweful default 'submit' button when submitting a form

Almost all forms use the default 'submit' text on the action button. But is that the best text to put on your action button? It's quite technical and doesn't provide any clue of what the result will be when a user clicks that button.

Here's the deal.

When users fill out a form, they’re doing a specific task. The action button should affirm what that task is so your user knows exactly what will happen as soon as that action button is clicked.

On top of that, research by Fidelity Investments in 2003 showed that users are more likely to click on buttons with action phrases (for example: "go to accounts").

Want to learn more about call to actions? Read my article on how to write and design the perfect call to action.

So we want to 1) affirm the task of our user and 2) write that into an action phrase. Follow these steps to create that perfect action button:

  1. What action is your user trying to take?
  2. What is the action verb?
  3. Rewrite into an action phrase

If we follow these steps for a contact form, it might look something like this:

  1. The user wants to send us a message.
  2. 'Send'
  3. 'Send my message'

This will make for a more natural experience that makes it clear what your visitor can expect when he clicks the action button, ultimately increasing form submission.

Key takeaway — Avoid confusion by using a clear, specific button label that describes the result of the user's task in an action phrase.

Conclusion

Your website's contact form is essential in converting your potential customers into leads. A bad form will most definitely lose you customers due to frustration and confusion.

Don't make that mistake.

By using these 7 simple best practices you can quickly and easily optimize your contact form to be a pleasant experience for your potential customer ultimately resulting in more leads for you.

Maarten Van Herendael

Maarten Van Herendael

Maarten is Heave's founder. His passion is to help businesses like yours do great things with a website that looks better and sells more. You can find Maarten on LinkedIn.