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It's likely that if you are asking your visitors to interact with you and give you some information, you'll need to use a form or two. Forms are a special kind of interface, because they require people to follow instructions and give sensible information to you. Filling in forms is not normally high on people's list of enjoyable activities. So, how do you create a good user experience around a disliked activity? The short answer is you make it as painless as possible. The easiest way to get good information from people is to make sure they understand why they're giving the information to you.
That means asking questions that are focused on the task at hand and not slipping in ten other marketing questions you feel might be useful to you somewhere down the line. It also means asking the questions at the right time in the interaction. For instance, there is a large difference between asking people to provide registration details before you let them browse your site, and asking them for exactly the information in a checkout process. In the first instance, people are likely to see it as a barrier and just back away from your site, but if they have already committed to making a purchase, they will see the purpose for giving you the information.
In the second case, you presented the form at the right in the interaction, and it doesn't just have to be for checkout. Red Hat, the Linux software form found that removing capture forms that they used to collect visitor information increased the viewing of white papers by 95%. There is a lot more people getting important information and understanding how Red Hat could help them, rather than being scared off by questions that asked for information they weren't prepared to give yet. So, if you are going to ask people for information, make sure you do it at the point in time where they see the value in giving it to you.
In other words, when they prepared to reciprocate for some informational service you have already given to them Downloading some software is a great chance to ask for something from your visitors, they should see the value in the trial software, but they will weary about giving away too much information, because they still haven't made up their minds to buy. This interface tells people what they'll get, a few emails with tips and tutorials, and what they won't get-it says clearly their email isn't shared-in return for being able to download the trial software. This makes the transaction quick and relatively painless.
Forms are a big deal; people don't like filling them out. They particularly don't like answering marketing questions they don't see the value in. Or questions they know will be used to send them information they probably don't want. The answer is to ask the smallest number of questions possible and to do it in context at a time when your visitors are ready to reciprocate.
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