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Creating Online Forms: A Step-by-Step Guide

Nicole Fallon
Nicole Fallon

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

  • Online forms allow you an easy way to gather information from current and potential customers.
  • Some forms require answer boxes be checked, while others allow for written responses.
  • Using these forms can provide you with the information needed to make data-driven marketing decisions.
  • This article is for small business owners and marketing professionals who want to know more about online forms and the benefits they offer.

Every company needs the right data to make better business decisions. You can easily collect data from customers, prospects, and leads by creating and distributing an online form that provides you with information to help you make data-driven decisions.

Writing, designing, and implementing online forms is simple with the right tool and some effort. There are numerous available tools for creating online forms that can feed data into your existing business systems.

Here's what you need to know about creating, using and analyzing online forms to improve your business.

What is the purpose of online forms?

Chances are, you've filled out a few online surveys. Perhaps it was a registration form, an order form or a custom form 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.

An online form is an interactive web page or HTML form that allows the user to input information. Once they hit the Submit button, their form responses are sent to servers for processing, where it can be analyzed and evaluated.

There are different types of online forms that can appear in various places on your websites. The most common is a text box, which can ask a simple question and then the user types in their response. These fillable forms can be placed on any page on a website and ask as few or as many questions as you'd like. If you're not looking for open-ended responses, your online form can use check boxes for multiple-choice questions, drop-down menus and submit buttons.

Where you place and promote your online form is up to you. However, you should put it in a location that is visible and will get the most responses.

Key takeaway: Online forms are simple questionnaires that you place on your website to gather feedback from you customers.

How businesses benefit from online forms

Online forms are an efficient and organized way for businesses to collect data about their customers. Because you're creating and publishing the online forms yourself, the questions are objective and original to you and the information you're trying to learn. The data collected comes straight from the source, so it's accurate, and because most forms are responsible across mobile devices and tablets, it's easily accessible.

These forms can not only capture the data that is directly submitted with them, but they can capture details on how customers are interacting 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 decisions.

Key takeaway: Online forms allow you to ask visitors to your website objective questions that can help you make informed decisions about how to effectively target them.

What type of information should be included in an online form?

Your online form should consist of one or more questions, where users can either type out a response or select an option from a menu. As mentioned above, the most common types of online forms include text boxes, drop-down lists, check boxes, radio buttons and feedback messages.

The questions you ask should be simple, concise, and they should be 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.

While your first instinct may be to ask several questions to get as much information about your customers as possible, consider exactly what you're looking for. When you have an excess of data, it's difficult to zero in on what you need.

People aren't going to 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 can typically be responded to through their web browser's autofill, such as their name, email address, location and phone number. The less time a user has to spend on filling your form out, the more likely they are to respond to it.

"Capture only what you need in the order of how badly you need it," said Spencer Fry, founder of Podia. "For example, if a customer is purchasing [an online product], the first thing we need is their payment information. A credit card number, expiration date and security code are all that we ask for in our checkout form." The company will only ask for further information, such as an email address or password, after they have received a customer's credit card information.

"Asking for too much information upfront can be overwhelming," Fry said. "To streamline the process, break it down into steps that build on each other."

Key takeaway: Online forms should have clear questions. Only ask questions you think will provide valuable insight. Asking too many questions can be a turnoff and lead people to not answer any of them.

How to create an online form

There are many free and paid online form builders you can use to create them for your website and integrate them into your marketing automation workflow. While the layouts, features and workflow all vary to different degrees, the steps to create an online form are generally the same with every program:

  1. Create a new form. Regardless of which form builder you use, you 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 to it. These can be preset or custom fields. Once you've decided what type of form you want to use, write your questions and responses out. It helps to do this in a word processing document in case you ever need to come back to the original form.

  3. Test your form. Double-check to make sure your form works on multiple web browsers and devices. Fill out and submit the form through your non-default web browsers and phone, so you can ensure users' responses go through regardless of how they submit them.

  4. Send or publish your form. Once you've reviewed your form and everything looks clean, it's time to send your form out to the masses. You can publish it as a web page on your site or include it in an email to customers and clients.

Key takeaway: You can buildan online form from scratch or use a template. Be sure to edit and test it before sending it out or publishing it.

Tools for building online forms

A great online form builder should be simple, intuitive and easy to customize. Here are a few of the best free and paid online form builders you can use to create your own forms.

  • Google Forms: Google Forms is free and easy to use; it only requires a Google account to use. It saves all of your information into Google Sheets spreadsheets for your analysis. They also have premade templates in case you aren't sure how you want to format your online form.
  • HubSpot Free Online Form Builder: HubSpot offers a free and versatile form builder that allows you to create up to 1,000 form fields with 12 different field types to help optimize your responses.
  • WuFoo: WuFoo, which starts at $14.08 per month, is a great form builder if you're looking to collect plentiful data and use it for complex reporting. Its secure interface allows you to receive online payments.
  • Typeform: If you're prioritizing design for your online forms, Typeform may be the way to go. Typeform starts at $35 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. They have an extensive template library, with over 10,000 form templates, and it can be easily integrated with your marketing tools.
  • Formstack: Used by Netflix and Twitter, Formstack allows you to create online forms without needing to know how to code. Their workflow lets you connect to all your business apps and keeps you up to date on your forms through email notifications. Prices start at $19 per month.

Key takeaway: There are a number of online sites that can help you create your forms, including Google Forms, HubSpot, WuFoo and Formstack.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Nicole Fallon
Nicole Fallon,
Business News Daily Writer
See Nicole Fallon's Profile
Nicole Fallon is the co-founder and CEO of Lightning Media Partners. She holds a bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University, and spent five years writing, editing and producing articles for Business.com and Business News Daily before launching her own content marketing agency.