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Updated Oct 26, 2023

Creating Online Forms: A Step-by-Step Guide

Here are the basics of building online forms and a few tools you can use to get started.

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Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Every company needs the right data to make better business decisions. You can easily collect data from customers and prospects while generating leads by creating and distributing online forms to gather information to help you make data-driven decisions.

Writing, designing, and implementing online forms is straightforward, with a little effort and the right tools to help you feed data into your existing business systems.

Here’s what entrepreneurs, small business owners, and marketing professionals should know about creating, using, and analyzing online forms to improve your business.

How do you create an online form?

Many free and paid online form builders can help you create and integrate forms into your marketing automation system. While the layouts, features, and workflows vary, the steps to create an online form are generally the same with every program:

  1. Create a new form. Regardless of your form builder, you’ll start by creating a new form. In most cases, you can create one from scratch or modify a prebuilt template.
  2. Edit and format your new form. Next, you’ll edit your form by adding fields. These can be preset or custom fields. Once you’ve decided what type of form you want to use, write your questions and responses. It helps to do this in a word processing document in case you need to return to the original form.
  3. Test your form. Double-check to ensure your form works on multiple web browsers and devices. Fill out and submit the form through your non-default web browsers and phone to ensure users’ responses go through regardless of how they submit them. Making your website Google mobile-friendly is among your best practices for maintaining a strong presence through organic web search.
  4. Send or publish your form. Once you’ve reviewed your form and everything looks clean, it’s time to send it out to the masses. You can publish it as a web page on your site or include it in an email marketing campaign.
Did You Know?Did you know
Marketing automation software can streamline tasks, boost productivity, and lower costs.

What is the purpose of online forms?

Online forms are simple questionnaires you place on your website to gather feedback from customers and prospects. They’re interactive web pages or HTML forms that let users input information. Once they hit the Submit button, their responses are sent to servers for processing, analysis, and evaluation.

Chances are, you’re very familiar with filling out online forms, including registration forms, business surveys, order forms, or custom forms on a specific topic. They are often simple questionnaires seamlessly integrated into a company’s website. If you’ve ever purchased something online and typed in your credit card information, you’ve used an online form.

Various online form types can appear across your website, such as:

  • Text boxes. The most common online forms are text boxes where users can type answers to simple questions. You can place these fillable forms on any website page and ask as few or as many questions as you’d like. 
  • Checkboxes. If you’re not looking for open-ended responses, your online form can use checkboxes for multiple-choice questions, drop-down menus, and submit buttons.
Where you place and promote your online form is up to you. However, when you build an effective business website, pinpoint visible form locations to get the most responses.

How can businesses benefit from online forms?

Online forms serve broad purposes and can help businesses in many ways. Benefits include: 

  • Online forms help you collect data. Online forms are an efficient and organized way for businesses to collect data about their target customers and prospects. The questions you pose are objective and original because you’re creating and publishing online forms to glean specific information. 
  • Online forms gather accurate data. The data you collect from online forms is accurate because it comes straight from the source.
  • Online forms are accessible. Online forms help you gain information from a wide swath of customers and prospects because they’re accessible via mobile devices, tablets, and desktop computers. 
  • Online forms can help you improve marketing decisions. In addition to directly capturing data, online forms can capture details on how customers interact with the page on which the form is embedded. Once you’ve accumulated these measurements, you can take this information to your team and make analytic-driven marketing and advertising decisions to improve your company’s marketing return on investment (ROI).

What should your online form include?

Your online form should consist of one or more questions, where users can either type a response or select a menu option. The form’s purpose will dictate the questions you include. Typical online forms include text boxes, drop-down lists, checkboxes, radio buttons, and feedback messages.

Consider these best practices to gather valuable information in your online form:

    • Ask straightforward questions. Your questions should be simple, concise, and easy to understand. Don’t use too many words when a few will do. Additionally, don’t use complicated language when simple words convey the same meaning.
    • Ask as few questions as necessary. While your first instinct may be to ask a multitude of questions to get as much information about your customers as possible, consider precisely what you’re looking for. It’s difficult to zero in on the insights you need when you have excessive data. 
    • Streamline your questions. Capture the information you need in the order of its importance. For instance, if they’re purchasing something, payment information is key. Break down the information-gathering process into steps that build on each other. 
    • Make the process painless. People don’t want to spend a lot of time filling out your form, so make it as quick to complete as possible. To make the process painless for users, ask questions that take advantage of their web browser’s autofill, such as name, email address, location, and phone number. The less time a user must spend filling out your form, the more likely they are to respond to it.
Did You Know?Did you know
If you're creating a lead capture form, you must immediately draw your website visitor's attention and include a strong call to action (CTA) that incentivizes them to complete the form.

Tools for building online forms

An excellent online form builder should be straightforward, intuitive, and easy to customize. Here are a few of the best free and paid online form builders that can help you create your own forms without hurting your small business marketing budget.

  • Google Forms. Google Forms is easy to use and free with your Google account. It saves all your information into Google Sheets spreadsheets for your analysis. Google Forms also has premade templates in case you aren’t sure how you want to format your online form.
  • Microsoft Forms. Microsoft Forms is essentially Google Forms for Excel or Microsoft Office users. It also offers unique response types such as net promoter score (NPS) not always available with online form tools.
  • WuFoo. WuFoo, which starts at $14.08 per month, is a great form builder if you want to collect plentiful data and use it for complex reporting. Its secure interface allows you to receive online payments, which is necessary if you want to start selling online.
  • Typeform. If you’re prioritizing design for your online forms, Typeform may be the way to go. Typeform starts at $25 per month, and you can make your forms more engaging by adding images, videos, and GIFs. It also allows you to customize the welcome screen and menus.
  • JotForm. JotForm’s free builder is more customizable than Google Forms and is one of the only free builders to accept payments. JotForm has an extensive template library, with over 10,000 form templates you can easily integrate with your marketing tools.
  • Formstack. Used by Netflix and the NHL, Formstack allows you to create online forms without knowing how to code. Their workflow lets you connect to all your business apps and keeps you updated on your forms through email notifications. Prices start at $50 monthly.

Forming your forms

Using online forms as part of your marketing plan can be easy when you choose user-friendly tools and create meaningful questions for your audience. The data these forms capture can be uniquely powerful – it comes directly from users who have taken the time to provide it. That means you’ll often get a highly accurate picture of your customer base. With the right form – and the right technology behind it – you can get to know your customers like never before.

Max Freedman contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.

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Nicole Fallon, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Nicole Fallon is a small business owner with nearly a decade of experience overseeing day-to-day business operations. She and her co-founder self-funded their company and now lead a team of employees across multiple disciplines. Fallon's first-hand experience as an entrepreneur running a staffed business has given her unique insight into startup culture, budgeting, employer-employee relationships, sales and marketing, and project management. Fallon's business expertise is evident in her work with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where she analyzes small business trends. Her writing has been published in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Newsweek, and she enjoys collaborating with B2B and SaaS companies.
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