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Getting Better Answers from Your Forms Getting Better Answers from Your Forms

Getting Better Answers from Your Forms

There are lots of ways to engage your online customers and one simple way is to ask them a question. However, the way you ask the question can have far reaching impact.  Let’s go right to the heart of the matter, the way you ask your visitors to answer a question can impact the kind of answers you get and ultimately how that information can help you improve your business.  One of these is the infamous pre-filled select fields or drop down fields.

Think about your website – do you have any pre-select fields on your web forms? If you do, why? The most logical answer is that you want your visitors to answer a question and you have given them a choice of answers. So you have created a set of mutually exclusive categories and to answer your question, they pick the most appropriate category.


The problem with drop-down fields

Well, there are a few problems with this strategy, even though the theory behind it is valid. First of all, ask yourself why you have given them a set of categories. Is it because it is easier for you? Maybe you don’t have a lot of time and if you have categorised responses, it’s simply easier to sort through the answers.

Is it easier for your customer? Well, not necessarily so. That’s because their answer may not fit easily into any one of your categories. It depends on the question you are asking, as to whether a categorical response system is the best technique to use.


Let’s look at an example

One of the most common questions we see on feedback or enquiry forms is “How did you hear about us?”  Most of the time, the user is asked to select from a list of answers such as word of mouth, blog post, search, event, etc.

The problem with this is that it restricts the users’ answers and prevents them from giving you further information that can help you improve your business or identify new products or services. A better strategy is to use open text field questions, or simply put – ask them an open ended question.

Open ended questions can get a bit messy, but there can be some hidden gems lurking amongst these types of responses. Yes, you need the time to read these responses, but it doesn’t take long to read a simple sentence and the responses you receive will be much more insightful and actionable, than simple categorised responses.

So continuing with our example, some of the answers you may get from an open ended question include:

  • Your site was mentioned in an article on X publication.
  • One of your customers, Joe Blogs, referred you.
  • You are featured in a YouTube video on X site.

With a pre-filled selection list, you would have received “word of mouth” as answers for all of the above.  With the open-ended question though, you got much more interesting and actionable information.

Asking open text field questions, can provide a wealth of information to website owners, all of which can be used to increase conversions and engage customers. From the example answers above, you could reach out to Joe Blogs and thank him personally (builds further brand loyalty). You could add “As featured on X publication …” on your website to provide further social proof.  Or you could take the snippet from the YouTube video and add it to your website to help people get further assurance of your product quality.

So if you’re using pre-filled selection fields on your website, give some thought to using open text field questions instead. They might just give you some actionable responses that will increase your bottom line.

Have any other ideas on getting useful information out of website visitors?  Please email us at [email protected] so we can share with everybody.

Michael Lam

Co-founder of Cornerstone and web junkie, Michael knows just how to diagnose your online problems and remedy the issue. An online enthusiast who believes in technology as an enabler of growth, Michael worries about all the details so you don't have to.

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